Monday, December 12, 2011

"What about socialization?"

I saw this post on a list I'm on, and liked it so much that I wanted to put it here. Socialization remains the number 1 thing people ask me about when they learn that we homeschool. But it's really the last thing we ever worry about. In fact there are so very many opportunities for socializing and socialization that the challenge is really not to overextend ourselves. Anyway, read on for an amusing take on the issue.


about socialization? (from another angle)

Two women meet at a playground, where their children are swinging and playing ball. The women are sitting on a bench watching. Eventually, they begin to talk.

W1: Hi. My name is Maggie. My kids are the three in red shirts.

W2: (Smiles) I'm Terri. Mine are in the pink and yellow shirts. Do you come here a lot?

W1: Usually two or three times a week, after we go to the library.

W2: Wow. Where do you find the time?

W1: We home school, so we do it during the day most of the time.

W2: Some of my neighbors home school, but I send my kids to public school.

W1: How do you do it?

W2: It's not easy. I go to all the PTO meetings and work with the kids every day after school and stay real involved.

W1: But what about socialization? Aren't you worried about them being cooped up all day with kids their own ages, never getting the opportunity for natural relationships?

W2: Well, yes. But I work hard to balance that. They have some friends who're home schooled, and we visit their grandparents almost every month.

W1: Sounds like you're a very dedicated mom. But don't you worry about all the opportunities they're missing out on? I mean they're so isolated from real life -- how will they know what the world is like -- what people do to make a living -- how to get along with all different kinds of people?

W2: Oh, we discussed that at PTO, and we started a fund to bring real people into the classrooms. Last month, we had a policeman and a doctor come in to talk to every class. And next month, we're having a woman from Japan and a man from Kenya come to speak.

W1: Oh, we met a man from Japan in the grocery store the other week, and he got to talking about his childhood in Tokyo. My kids were absolutely fascinated. We invited him to dinner and got to meet his wife and their three children.

W2: That's nice. Hmm. Maybe we should plan some Japanese food for the lunchroom on Multicultural Day.

W1: Maybe your Japanese guest could eat with the children.

W2: Oh, no. She's on a very tight schedule. She has two other schools to visit that day. It's a system-wide thing we're doing.

W1: Oh, I'm sorry. Well, maybe you'll meet someone interesting in the grocery store sometime and you'll end up having them over for dinner.

W2: I don't think so. I never talk to people in the store -- certainly not people who might not even speak my language. What if that Japanese man hadn't spoken English?

W1: To tell you the truth, I never had time to think about it. Before I even saw him, my six-year-old had asked him what he was going to do with all the oranges he was buying.

W2: Your child talks to strangers?

W1: I was right there with him. He knows that as long as he's with me, he can talk to anyone he wishes.

W2: But you're developing dangerous habits in him. My children never talk to strangers.

W1: Not even when they're with you?

W2: They're never with me, except at home after school. So you see why it's so important for them to understand that talking to strangers is a big no-no.

W1: Yes, I do. But if they were with you, they could get to meet interesting people and still be safe. They'd get a taste of the real world, in real settings. They'd also get a real feel for how to tell
when a situation is dangerous or suspicious.

W2: They'll get that in the third and fifth grades in their health courses.

W1: Well, I can tell you're a very caring mom. Let me give you my number--if you ever want to talk, give me call. It was good to meet you.

--Author unknown

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Band

There's lots of band-related news. As I mentioned, our album "Hidin' Out with the Blues" is out on iTunes. And, we have a new band website: We are particularly excited about the "What People Are Saying" tab... And, in honor of Black Friday, we've posted our song "Walmart Killed Main Street" to YouTube. Shop local, if you still can!

Friday, November 11, 2011


It's been a ridiculously long time since I've written anything here, and of course there's so much I'd like to write about. I'm mostly sorry that I haven't been keeping up with writing about Ben, because I have also not written a word in his baby book in over a year. Oh well; at least there are plenty of pictures...and Facebook updates! Maybe I'll print them out one day and tuck them into his mostly blank baby book.

I also have lots to report about the band (like, that our CD is out on iTunes!), but that will have to wait. I want to write a birthday letter to Ben like I've always done for George, though it will have to be for his "half-birthday" since he just turned 1 1/2. And yes, I'm even late on that. As I said, Oh well. Anyway... here goes.

Dear Ben,

Happy, happy eighteen months! And happy they have been indeed. In fact, you are such a happy boy that friends routinely tell us that you're the happiest baby they've ever seen.

, so, you're not really a baby anymore, since you've been walking for so long that we barely remember when you didn't, but I'm afraid it is going to take a good long while for you to lose your moniker of Baby Ben. It just suits you so well!

I'm sorry I haven't been chronicling your extraordinary babyhood/toddlerhood very well. I've really been insanely busy with work and, well, with you! When I'm *not* working, I'm spending the time with you (and the other kids, of course), and while I've gotten pretty good at multi-tasking, I haven't yet figured out how to give you my full attention and blog or write in your baby book at the same time. The real kids in front of me win out over the chronicling... (Right now, btw, you are napping, and I should be doing the same, or grading papers... but I have really, really been wanting to write this!)

A few things about you. Though we call you Baby Ben, no one can convince you that you're not one of the big kids. You always want to be right there, in the middle of the action, with everyone. My favorite example was over the summer. We were all in the pool and we were playing beach-ball-tag, where we have about 10 or more beach balls of various sizes that we throw at each other. (There's no "it"--it's more of a free-for-all.) Anyway, Brad and I had George cornered and were pelting him at very close range (not hard enough to hurt, mind you! But it was pretty rambunctious). You were nearby, wearing your arm floaties (which you took to like a pro from the get-go), playing on the steps. When you saw us laughing and throwing the balls at George, you climbed out of the pool, walked over to the corner where we were, and lowered yourself into the pool in between George and the side, right where we were throwing all of the balls. How pleased with yourself you were! I wouldn't have even thought that there would be room for you in there, and also, I don't think you had ever lowered yourself into the pool like that before. But, like I said, no one was going to convince you that you were just a baby and shouldn't be right smack in the middle of all the rowdy fun we were having!

Let me list at least a few things that I love about you right now (since that's what I usually do in these birthday letters).... I love how happy you are when you wake up, and how usually you look at me and say in this really sleepy and loving and sort of satisfied voice, "Mama." And then you look over at your daddy and say "Bob-Bob" with the same sleepy, loving tone. (You still don't call him Dad!) You used to look for the cats next, and say one or the other of their names, but you have added a new intermediate step. You scooch or crawl over to Bob and kneel over him and say right up in his face, "Rock and roll!" Usually with great insistence and enthusiasm. Yesterday morning when you awoke, you opened your eyes, smiled at me, and said "Mama... Mommy, Bobby, Baby, rock and roll!" As you can imagine, we're quite pleased with this development! (Especially given your early obsession with sh!t-kickin' country music :-)

The next thing you do, after you wake up and do your sweet little roll call, is to get up and head into the bathroom. And if we've forgotten to close the door to the toilet, you go right in and start plunging the toilet. For some reason, this is irresistible fun for you. This morning you went downstairs and I was lagging behind a bit; when you heard me coming down the stairs I could hear you running across the kitchen. When I got down there, there was no sign of you, but when I peeked into the bathroom off of the kitchen, I saw that you had left your calling card--the plunger in the toilet. When I turned around to look for you again, I saw that you had run around the corner into the doorway to the stairs leading down to the basement; you were poking your head around the doorway looking at me with this impossibly adorable, slightly guilty, trying-to-be-nonchalant look on your face, as if to say "What? What's the problem? I haven't been plunging the toilet or anything. I've been right here, by the basement stairs."

Anyway... Next, you generally say "boom-boom-boom", which means you want to go down to the basement to our jam space and start playing the drums. When we get down there, you insist on having us turn on all the colored lights, and then you ask to be set up on the drum throne so you can play. You can't reach the pedals, of course, but you don't let that stop you--you instruct us when it's time to hit them.

Another little story from the time before you had discovered toilet plunging... this was just a couple of days after we had gotten the drum kit, which was about two months ago now, I guess. So you were about 16 months old. We had a routine of going for a walk every morning when you woke up (though now the weather is getting a little chilly, so we usually go later in the day, if at all). You went down the stairs ahead of me, while I was still putting my shoes on (by the way, you've been an extremely adept stair-climber and -descender for months, which is a good thing, since our house is full of so many stairs!). When I got down to the kitchen, I didn't see you, but I figured you must be just hiding around the corner--you never went very far. So I said something like "Ok, Ben, I'm ready; let's Go!" Which *always* made you come running. (You LOVE to "Go!" and are always up for it, wherever we are going.) But, nothing. So I said it again a couple of times, and added that it was time to go for our walk (which also always got you excited), and that I had num-nums for you (again, any one of these things NEVER failed to make you come running). I even went so far as to open and close the door, which up to that point would have made you come running, and might have even made you cry out of fear that someone was going somewhere fun without you. But still, nothing. So I ventured over to the doorway to the basement stairs, fully expecting to see you hiding right there and smiling at me, but no. I went down the stairs and rounded the corner and still didn't see you, but at that point I heard the drums.... I kept going on until I reach the jam space, and there you were--with that same little "What? Who, me?" look on your face--holding the drum sticks but now standing in front of the kit, as you had obviously heard me coming and thought I'd be disapproving. I laughed and smiled and told you to go ahead and play, and you ran right back around to the other side and started banging away. Holding the sticks the right way and hitting the drums pretty much the right way! Unbelievably adorable and awesome. I did actually capture some of it on video, on my phone, which you will have probably seen by the time you are old enough to read this....

So, anyway, we usually have a little drumming session, and then we have a little breakfast and go for a walk if it's warm or we go up to the man cave which we have sort of Ben-proofed, although that is a constant work-in-progress, since you're constantly growing and also thinking up new ways to reach things... (Like pulling big cushions off of chairs, or moving chairs around....)
Another really sweet memory of you from very early in the summer... We were all at the back of the yard, putting together the trampoline that Maga and Grandma Jane had gotten us for Christmas. You were over closer to the house, but then decided to come see what we were doing. It's a pretty long walk for a little guy (you weren't much over a year old at that point), but you were undaunted. About halfway across, you spotted Coco, curled up (or stretched out--I can't quite recall) next to the edge of the fence around the pool. You deviated slightly from your path so that you would go right by him and when you got to him you bent down and "kissed" him right on his fluffy body. I put "kiss" in quotation marks because your kisses at that point were more like just putting your mouth up to the designated kiss-recipient. Anyway, then you proceeded on your way across the rest of the yard to us. Soooo sweet.

You love the kitties and, thank goodness, they are very tolerant and patient with you! I mean you really adore them, and you like to show your love by yes, kissing them, and sometimes petting them gently, but also by grabbing and pulling their tails/paws/a handful of fur.... You used to like to lie down right on top of them! Or crawl right over them when you were in your crawling phase. You don't do that so much anymore, but you're still big into the grabbing and pulling thing. They are unbelievably patient. Except for Lucy, who hisses at you from time to time, which you hate. Sometimes you hiss back at her, which is so funny and sad--sad because you just don't understand why she would behave that way when all you want to do is love her!

You love your siblings and light up when you see them. You have been great at saying Lindsey's name from very early on (it was one of your first words, and you say it quite clearly), but you have nicknames for your brothers. George is A-duh and Brad is Ung, which evolved from what was at first Ugh. As I said, you adore them, and you love repeating their names over and over whenever you see them or whenever you even hear us talking about them.

You continue to have an amazing, special relationship with your daddy, who takes care of you every day. (I take care of you every day, too! But you two really do spend a lot of time together.) You still love napping on him, and your latest thing is to rough-house with him, which he clearly loves every bit as much as you do, if not more! You also love watching football with him (you call out "football!" any time you get even a glimpse of a game), and you two call your rough-housing "tackling".

Another truly extraordinary thing about you that your daddy and I really love is that you are very fond of the concept "back"--not just as in people coming back, but as in putting things back! You love to put pretty much anything back, and most of the time we don't even have to prompt you. You'll pick something up, walk around with it, show it to us, and then, in your adorable little voice, with great pride and decisiveness, you'll say "Back!" as you put it back. I've never seen anything like it. You obviously got this trait from your dad. We're hoping it might rub off on your older siblings and, ahem, your mom.

You and swimming.... I've already talked a little about it, but you really took to the water this summer like a little fish. From pretty early on in the summer you loved your arm floaties, and were swimming around the entire pool like a pro with them. You were so tiny! To see your little head floating above water as your arms and legs propelled you all over... it was really something to see. But as much as you loved the freedom the arm floaties afforded you, you eventually concluded that they were for babies, as no one else was wearing them, and you took them off and actually started swimming a little bit on your own toward the end of the summer. We're pretty sure you'll keep it up over the winter in the hot tub, though you're now tall enough to stand in it, so you're not swimming quite as much these days!

And also filed under the category of I'm-not-a-baby is the way you are bound and determined to go down the stairs the way we all do. At first, you would crawl, and it was so cute--you'd get down in the crawling position at the top of the man cave stairs, and then you'd back up toward the top step, except sometimes you'd miscalculate and end up with one leg on the wrong side of the railing, so you'd have to crawl forward and then come around again for another pass. Really, it was unbelievably adorable. And kind of amazing that such a little guy could handle the stairs so well! But it's not enough for you. You will now wait at the top of the stairs for us to come hold your hand so you can go down the grown-up way. Or you'll try to reach up and grab the railing, which is just a bit out of reach, but surely won't be for long....

You LOVE the Itsy-Bitsy spider song and for months have been putting your thumbs together trying to decipher how to do the spider-motion. You also love Patty-Cake and you especially associate it with Grandma Jane, with whom you also have a very special and close relationship. And you've also developed a great bond with Maga, despite the fact that she lives across the country.... She adores you and can't ever stay away for too terribly long!

You love your Duplo Legos and are even learning some of the letters on them (we got you the alphabet ones). And you're working on your colors as well. One of the few books that you haven't torn apart is Spot's Colors and you love to read that with us. I can't wait until you get over your book-destroying-thing and we can bring out more books to read with you!

Oh yeah, that reminds me... I do have one book that I keep in the car and read to you either before or after our walk (yes, we drive to the park to take our walks most of the time!). It's Llama, Llama, Red Pajama. You LOVE it and never seem to tire of having me read it to you. I keep it in the car because when you're there you're strapped in and you can't destroy it!

You also LOVE spoons. You love to hold them and play with them, but you haven't quite worked out the details of feeding yourself with them just yet. Oh yes, and you also love the piano, which unfortunately no one besides you ever really plays. Basically, you are just crazy about music. The other day George practiced his recorder in front of you (which he doesn't usually do) and you ran right up to him and put your face up next to his, getting as close as you possibly could so that you could see exactly what it was that he was doing. You were utterly enthralled. I can't wait until you're old enough to take up an instrument in earnest. I have a feeling it won't be all that long.

But I take it back; I can wait! I love you so much, just as you are. I am savoring pretty much every moment of your babyhood/toddlerhood. Your face... your eyes... your smile... your walk/run... your hugs and kisses... your voice... You bring me boundless joy, each and every day. So much love and happiness, and all of it so unexpected at this point in my life! Thanks for being you, Ben. I love you.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Happy Birthday to my writer

11 years ago tonight I was in the hospital, waiting for George to be born...

I'm going to write my annual list of "Things I love about George right now," but first a word about his latest writing project, which was just published online here. It's called "Commander Cat" and it's about a kid who finds a secret portal to an online gaming world, enters it, and ends up becoming their hero. He actually came up with the story when he was in kindergarten, on the playground--at recess he used to assign roles to a bunch of other kids and they would act out various parts of the story. He finally wrote it all out (changing it a fair amount in the process) for an online creative writing workshop he just finished through Northwestern's CTD.


Well, the way life goes these days, I started this post, and now a few weeks have gone by and I haven't finished it. So now it's after George's birthday, but I'm still going to write my list/letter.

Dear George,

You are now eleven and are quite the young man. You have always been wise beyond your years, but you have really matured by leaps and bounds since becoming a big brother. I catch myself even more often than I used to forgetting that you're a kid! Which in some ways you don't mind, because you hate it when adults patronize kids by having reduced expectations of them.

Despite all the maturing, of course, you're still the same wonderful George you've always been.... I continue to be very much in awe of your creativity! It flows through you. I love acting as your scribe when it's flowing too fast for you to keep up with yourself. I sit with my laptop on the leather couch up in the man cave while you pace back and forth, and around the pool table, dictating to me. When you pause, I used to think something like "Oh no, he's out of ideas for what's going to happen next," but it makes me laugh to remember that now because you are *never* out of ideas. It is great fun, and it feels like a great privilege, to witness your creative process in action.

But it's not just all of your amazing ideas that have me in awe. It's your tremendous facility, ability, in expressing them. You have such flair. You can turn a phrase like nobody's business. You are very aware of the conventions and devices of the various genres that you write in, and employ them with ease--and talk about them critically when questioned about them. At 10 (now 11), you are one of the best writers I know. (I mean one of the best writers I know personally :-)

I love that I can talk to you about just about anything.

I love that you took a CTD course called "Computer Gaming Academy," where you learned how to design computer games using a certain program, and you haven't stopped designing games ever since, and have even helped several of your friends (and your cousin, I think) design some games.

I love being able to homeschool you, and I love exploring different models of learning/schooling with you. I love that I can discuss those models with you as we explore them! That you're interested in that sort of thing. And I love that because you are homeschooled (increasingly unschooled), you have plenty of time for all of your creative endeavors. I hope I'm doing right by you. Sometimes homeschooling feels like a huge responsibility. I rarely wonder if public school would be a better option for you, but I do sometimes wonder if I'm approaching homeschooling in the best way possible for you. I'm definitely making it up as I go along! In any case, I do love being on that journey with you.

I love watching "Good Luck, Charlie" with you, and laughing and laughing.

I love what a sophisticated consumer of popular culture you are. You said to me one morning recently, "Have you ever noticed how kids' cereal commercials are all the same?" and then you proceeded to give me a critique/analysis of the common elements of about 5 different cereal commercials. You did the same about family sitcoms, pointing out various stock characters that always seem to be in play. It's funny because this kind of literary/cultural analysis is in some sense what I do for a living, but I think it comes easier to you than it does to me!

You know that most of all I love your kindness. And your incredible consideration for other people's feelings in all kinds of circumstances.

I love how sweet you are with your baby brother. Like how when Bob and I are playing tennis, you'll talk to Ben and play with him in the car until he's bored and then you'll put him in his stroller and walk him around the park. I love how you make him laugh.

I love your exuberance toward the band, and my songs, and my singing. (You are really great for my self-confidence!) I love it when you walk around the house singing--one minute it will be a song Bob and I have written, and the next it will be something from your choir, and the next it might be a song you're currently learning on recorder. So it's not just that I love how supportive you are of my music, I also love your involvement with and appreciation of all kinds of music.

I love how unflinching you are in the face of peer pressure. You are your own person. You do not live your life wondering, worrying, what other people think. It's not that you don't care what others think. But you're not going to let that stop you from doing or liking something. And it's another reason why I'm glad I'm able to homeschool you--that you don't have to deal with all of that pressure to conform all day long. I know from when you were in public school that the pressure to conform (much of which came from your teacher!) didn't ever really make you conform, but it did cause a lot of friction and unpleasantness in your day. And I love how you are almost sort of baffled when people you know are affected by peer pressure.

I just took another break in writing this post because you came up to the man cave, where I've been, and we talked and talked for like an hour... about church(es), about peer pressure, about school, homeschooling, and unschooling, about what we're going to do this afternoon to get out of the house, besides chess club (I'm off from teaching this week, and Bob's going to be cleaning the house so we want to get out of his way!).... I love our conversations, and I know you do, too (I know 'cuz you just told me). And I love that you love the man cave. That might sound silly or weird but I do. You have a sort of relationship to this space and I think it's really cool. You love to come up here in the morning before anyone else is up, especially if it's raining--sometimes you'll bring your pillow and blanket and a book (ok, it's never just one book--it's always a whole stack), and you'll snuggle up under your blanket on the couch and listen to the rain on the roof while you read.... I love it.

I guess it's time to get on with my/our day, so I'll wrap this up. But happy birthday, George. It's a privilege and a pleasure being your mom. I can't wait to see what fun things this next year will bring, what great stories you'll write, what new passions will develop (speaking of which, I feel this letter would be incomplete without a mention of Pokemon and Lego Ninjago, two of your current passions!).... Thanks for being you. I love you.


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Baby Ben Update

Life has been way too crazy to find time for blogging... and also too crazy to keep up with the baby book I had so diligently been filling out every month for Ben. But I have a few spare minutes (not really, but...), so I thought I'd jot down what Baby Ben has been up to the last few days.

He continues, of course, to be a total joy! Pretty much the happiest, smiley-est little guy you ever did see.

He had been working so much on various physical developments (crawling, standing, cruising...) that he hadn't said any new words in quite a while. But now he's on a verbal learning streak again. New additions to his vocabulary include uh-oh, which sounds more like "uh-uh", uttered whenever something falls or gets knocked over (usually by him, and usually on purpose); all gone, which sounds more like "ah-guh!"; all done, which, you guessed it, sounds like "ah-duh"; up, pronounced very clearly and decipherably; and arms up, which sounds like "ah-up" or "ah-uh", and is always accompanied by his putting his arms up in the air. While all of these utterances are completely adorable and sweet, "up" has to be my favorite. He finds occasion to say it all the time. For example, he'll sit up in bed right when he first wakes up, with his eyes still half-closed, he'll bust out a definitive, authoritative "up!" Or if we're up in the man cave, he'll proudly proclaim "up" when he sees Bob coming up the stairs. Or when he's in one of his exersaucers or a high chair and wants to get out. Or when he sees someone stand up. Or when he pulls himself up. What a great early word! So multi-purpose, and so positive....

On the flip side, he has figured out what "no" is and when you say it to him he'll give you the most serious little look, almost a stern look, and start shaking his head. This is when he's doing something he really wants to keep doing and you're telling him not to. If he doesn't mind being told no or if he hears us saying no to each other or if we read it in a book, he gets the most adorable little smile on his face and then shakes his head. If you ask him a question, any question, he'll usually smile and shake his head.

Actually, that's not quite true. If you ask him, when he's on the bed, if he wants to go up to the man cave, he'll smile and clap. If you ask him if he wants some num-nums he'll perk right up and start looking around for where you're hiding the goods. And if you ask him if he wants to go somewhere with you and he does, he'll book right on over to you as fast as he can and put his arms up, waiting for you to pick him up. He's definitely a baby on the go, and would rather not be left behind!

More physical feats of late... in addition to the head-shaking and the clapping, and the crawling, standing, and cruising, he's become quite the acrobat. The other day he did a full flip off the side of the bed, fortunately landing in the laundry basket. With a pillow on top of himself (he was trying to climb over the pillow, which was on the side of the bed, and which flipped right along with him). He has also figured out the best way to get down off of something (couch, chair, bed) is to dive, head first. He does it slowly, and puts his arms out, but he does often land on his head. He's such a tough little guy, though. He very rarely cries.

Laurie, one of his godmothers, noticed what a little tough guy he is the other day when he closed his baby laptop right on his thumb. She said he pulled the thumb out, looked at it for a second, then sort of brushed it off on his leg and continued playing.

I was similarly impressed when he fell off the bed the other day (not his careful sliding that he does on purpose) and landed on his head, with a thud, on the wood floor. (Where was his mother?! I was sitting right next to him but had taken my eye off of him for a second. It does not take long for a baby to fall off the side of a bed!). Anyway, he didn't so much as whimper. He said something sort of like "eh!" and then got up into a crawling position, and crawled right out the bedroom door, obviously quite pleased with himself for breaking out of the prison of the bed, and eager to explore. He headed out into the hallway (with mom tailing him very, very closely) and paused as if trying to decide which way to go. He opted for the route up to the man cave, crawling quite quickly across the floor and over to the stairs. Previously, he had only ever mounted one or two of them, but I guess he was feeling emboldened by his new-found freedom, and he climbed up every last stair until he got up to Dada at the top.

Speaking of Dada, though he remains utterly attached to Bob, he still doesn't really say Dada so much! It's gotten to be almost a running joke now and in fact we sometimes wonder if Ben is holding out on purpose because he thinks it's funny or something. Until recently, if you'd say "Dada" to Ben, he'd look at you like he was thinking about it and then he'd reply "MA-MA". But now he has a new response: "Bah-Bob!" It sort of sounds like a cross between "Bob" and the word for daddy in Italian ("Babbo"), both of which he's heard Bob called, but honestly, we all call Bob "Dada" wayyyy more than we call him anything else, so it's kind of funny that for whatever reason Ben's just not saying it. The funny thing about it is both how dada is supposed to be one of the easiest words to say, and also how attached he is to his dada. I mean, he was saying mama by about 3 months, and Lindsey and George soon thereafter, and he even said Linda (quite discernibly) when we went to visit my family in CA and he took a strong, instant liking to his Aunt Linda.

He also remains very attached to his big sissy. The other night when it was time for Lindsey to go to bed, and Ben saw that she was leaving the room, he protested so insistently and loudly that we just had to let her stay up an extra hour to hang out with him! He'll be very happy this summer when she's back with us every day.

He continues to love music, and fortunately he has expanded his tastes from $&!#-kickin' country to various other genres. The other day I had Mardi Gras music on Music Choice on the TV. He cruised across the front of the TV stand until he got to the volume button on the sound system. He cranked it all the way to "max volume" (which really is quite loud!), looked back at me, and then proceeded to start dancing!

I have so much more to say, but I'll wrap this up with one of the sweetest things he does, and that is giving out kisses. He doesn't really do the kissing motion with his lips--he just sort of opens his mouth and puts it on your cheek, and then pulls his face back a little and gives you the most adorable little smile, like he knows he's done something sweet. He's done this on occasion for quite some time (mostly to Bob at first), but now he's really doing it often. And he's started dispensing these to the cats, when he can catch them--somewhat to their dismay!

Somehow I'm managing to enjoy all of this quite fully, despite being stressed out/overwhelmed by work much of the time. I'm definitely counting the weeks to the end of the semester....

Monday, January 24, 2011

"Supermom" returns... with a whole lotta help

Today was my first day back at work after my maternity leave. Ok, so technically it was a leave from teaching, not from all work--I've continued to run the journal I edit, preparing one volume to go to press and working hard on soliciting articles (and referees for each article) for the next one, and transitioning to a new press, etc. etc. I've been working pretty intensely on it... but mostly from home, so it's really a different kind of thing. Today was my first day back working outside the home. And it went remarkably well--thanks largely to Bob, whose role as Mr. Mom started today in earnest. Or perhaps I should say started a new phase, because he's been taking care of Ben quite a bit ever since Ben was born. Anyway...

I teach in the late afternoon. As I was leaving, Baby Ben was curled up asleep next to his daddy, but when I came into the room to get my backpack he woke up, of course. Oops. Note to self: leave backpack by the door! But it was fine--Bob started reading him Blue Hat, Green Hat, which Ben loves, and so I left the house to the sounds of massive giggling. Just about my favorite sound in the universe. It was a perfect send-off, really!

Did I mention that it was the Coldest First Day Ever? In fact, I had to deal with two weather-related crises before going into work (frozen pipes, etc.). Not exactly how I'd envisioned my first day back, but I did get everything resolved in time, so it worked out ok. But anyway, walking from the car to my office, I was really glad for my birthday present from Bob--a very warm winter coat. And last year's Christmas present from him--toasty warm gloves.

My class went really well... I may have overwhelmed them a bit with the descriptions of all the work they're going to be doing, but then I lightened the mood a bit with a chunk of a Monty Python movie (which, believe it or not, *was* relevant to the material!)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, after reading time, Ben and Bob went down to the exercise area in the basement. Bob worked out and Ben did, too, in his Exersaucer. After the workout, Ben was hungry! Bob fed him two kinds of baby food, part of a banana, some watered down apple juice, and some steak (no, you don't really need teeth to eat steak, it turns out). By the way, Ben goes crazy for steak. Just try eating it in front of him without giving him any. Actually, don't. It's not pretty.

After mealtime, they went up to the man cave, where Ben played with his toys on the floor for a little while, and then sacked out hard on top of Dad.

When I came home he was still asleep, so I whipped up dinner, with George keeping me company, telling me all about his afternoon....

After dinner, I hung out with Ben while Bob cleaned up from dinner, then it was my turn to have Ben sack out on top of me. George put himself to bed, while Bob sat next to me and acquiesced to watching The Bachelor. A wonderfully relaxing end to a really good day.

How did it feel to be back? Honestly, it felt great. It felt great because as much as I love staying at home with my family, I also love my job. And I felt so very good knowing that Bob was at home holding down the fort. There's no way I would have felt that great if I'd had to leave Ben with a sitter or in daycare. Yes, we're making some financial sacrifices to make this work, but we can swing it, and it's beyond worth it to us.

I've been a single working mom for so long... and then even after Bob and I got married, Bob was away for long hours (two hours of commuting every day), and was exhausted much of the time when he was home.... I can hardly express how different, and how amazing, it feels to have the support of a stay-at-home spouse. Of course, a crucial part of that is that Bob loves it, too. It wouldn't work if he weren't happy with the arrangement. But I think he loves it even more than I do. Retired at 45? Why not?! Good thing I love my job as much as I do, or I'd be jealous :-)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

To Grade, or Not to Grade?

I'm late turning in my first quarterly report for George (shhhh! Don't tell the authorities--they seem not to have noticed yet). But it's not because I don't have it done. I actually finished it early, over a month ago. It's because I'm wrestling with the question of grades.

I'm not required by NYS to assign grades. I could just say he "passes" everything. Or even that he's "excellent" at everything--though even that brings up a similar set of questions.

Basically, if I give him grades, my question boils down to this: do I base them on his effort, his achievement relative to other 5th graders, or his achievement relative to what I think he's capable of?

There are arguments that could be made for and against each of the above options. Let's take effort. The effort he puts into things. He works hard at reading and writing (though actually, none of it feels like work to him, because it's his passion! But he spends an abundance of time and energy on these things), so based on that, it would be an easy call to give him an A. Ok, maybe this is a bad example--if we're going to hand out grades, there's no way he deserves anything other than an A in Language Arts. But you get my point. Should grades be assigned based on effort? Part of me likes the idea, and part of me thinks it's kind of, well, lame. Because you could try really hard at something and still not be good at it... is that going to earn you the blue ribbon? And of course you can try not very hard at all at something and still be quite good at it. So I think perhaps "achievement" is a better thing for grades to measure.

But if we are going to measure achievement, what do we base that on? If it's based on what he is achieving relative to other 5th graders, then I'd give him an A in everything, because he's ahead of grade level in everything. Does that render the grades meaningless? Maybe. Yet, isn't that in some sense what the grades are intended to measure in the first place? How well any given kid is doing based on what our expectations are for the given level?

Or do we measure achievement based on what I feel he could possibly, potentially achieve? What a slippery slope that is, however. Are there areas I feel he could be achieving more in? Perhaps. I mean, one could pretty much always do better in anything, at least potentially. So, I'm not sure that's such a helpful road to travel.

All of these things might point to not giving him any grades at all. On some level, that appeals to me. His learning is very much its own reward, and I think he would agree with that. Several years into this homeschooling thing, we've managed to find, in pretty much every area, curricula/approaches/work that are a great fit for him. He's passionate about learning, has been doing plenty of it, and seems to be very much enjoying it all.

On the other hand, I'm at least mildly concerned about building a transcript or record of some sort for him for his future endeavors. I know he's only 10. And probably I could always go back and fill in grades if he suddenly needed them for something.

Or maybe I'm still on some level attached to the idea of grades (having loved the feeling of getting good grades myself back in the day). Maybe the notion of George having straight As just makes me feel good. Or maybe I feel it somehow legitimizes what we're doing here. I know that probably sounds sort of dumb, but if I'm being honest, I think somewhere inside of me I do just like the idea of grades (just as well, since they're a big part of my job and all!!!!). I don't know.

Then there are the related issues of motivation and self-esteem. Take math. He's working ahead of grade level on it. But he's not as far ahead in math as he is in reading/writing, nor does he devote the time or energy to it that he devotes to words. So does he deserve a lower grade in it? Maybe. But I know he's learning the material, and I'd be willing to bet good money that what he's doing would earn him a solid A in school. But should I give him a slightly lower grade anyway, to inspire him to work harder at it? I could try that. But I'm afraid that might backfire. Despite his successes in math (including some very high scores on standardized tests), because it doesn't come as easily to him as other subjects have, he's convinced that he's "terrible" at it. I would hate to reinforce this view in any way, which a lower grade would likely do.

But, still on the self-esteem question, is giving him As for being ahead of grade-level simply rewarding him for being smart? I read a very convincing article awhile back about the importance of praising kids for their effort (something over which they have control) rather than for being intelligent (something they were born with and over which they have little control). Praising them for their hard work empowers them, while praising them for being smart makes their self-image too tied to the idea of being so, and makes them afraid to try new things that they might not be so good at and that might "reveal" that they aren't as smart as everyone thinks. (I wrote more about this in the past, here.) But maybe that's not so relevant. He is, after all, doing the above-grade-level work. I wouldn't be rewarding him simply for being *capable* of doing above-grade-level work.

I don't know. Probably I'm over-thinking this. Besides, I need to get on with my holiday preparations. I guess I'll give it another day or two, and then just decide. In the meantime, comments and suggestions are welcome!