Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Final writing project - M2

Throughout the course of the school year, we've covered a lot of ground.  I've discussed that before.  But sometimes, as a parent/teacher, I get curious to see what the kids can accomplish without me.  So I gave them one. final. writing. assignment.  Next week we will write silly poems and invent crazy free-writing stories that they can expand on over the summer break if they so choose. 

For their final assignment, I asked them to have an opinion.  This is not hard for my kids; they are apples falling not far from the matriarchal tree.  I told them their opinion could be anything they liked, but they needed to back it up with facts and/or examples.  I told them the paper could be as long as they wanted, and that if they wanted feedback, I would be happy to give it, but I also said that I would not be providing an easy way out.  I would not stand over them and tell them to indent or add a sentence here... unless they asked.

They asked.

They really like getting feedback, it seems.  They really enjoy the give-and-take process that writing is at our house.  That pleases me.

This is our third week working on this project.  M2 finished hers today.  M1 has finished making revisions and plans to type his up over the next few days before completing it early next week.  I'm really proud of both of them for becoming so willing to write and so independent in the process.  I know that M2 is still an advanced writer for her age and M1 still struggles, but they're making progress.  And that's what matters!

Now, without further discourse and ado, M2's final paper (imagine indentions at the beginning of each paragraph):

I have to feed and exercise my dog each day.  I also have to let him out twice each day to go to the bathroom.  It sometimes frustrates me, but I think dogs are important because they can help you.
For example, what if you were blind?  Your dog could help you get safely to the door or help you know when to stop in front of the street.  Dogs can also help people by herding farm animals like sheep or chickens.  Training a dog is the hardest part.
Dogs can also  be very good company without training.  They can make a bad day turn into a very good day, and they can also make you feel confident in yourself.  Once I was feeling grumpy, so I went outside to play with my dog Gizzmo in the sun.  It made me feel so much happier. 
Dogs can also get you a bunch of attention.  Once I saw a man with a golden retriever on one of our family walks, and because of his dog we stopped and began to talk with this man.
Dogs can help people in many different ways, like helping disabled people, making your day better, herding farm animals, and much more.  I think almost everybody should have a dog. 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Swimming with Olympian(s)

Today was a day that I hope my son will remember for the rest of his life.  A while back, one of the older boys on his swim team requested a BREAKout! swim clinic from the web site... and his request was granted!  So the swim school got everything planned, and I signed M1 up to go.

It was a glorious experience.  Even though it was three hours long, the time absolutely flew by.  I sat out on the pool deck for nearly the entire three hours, and I was never bored.

The clinic is run by former Olympic swimmer Josh Davis.  He shared some of his stories and gave a quick motivational speech that had everyone laughing and then almost crying (OK, so the moms were the only ones tearing up... don't judge) before climbing into the water and starting the clinic.

He kept the kids moving, kept them repeating important points, and gave compliments and help wherever he could.  M1 came out of the pool thrilled to death because Mr. Davis stopped him at one point when they were working on freestyle and said, "Are you a breaststroke man?"  M1 said yes, because breaststroke is his favorite.  "I thought so.  You've got a great body for it, especially your feet."  Who knew?!?  Apparently those giant feet that naturally turn out to the point that he can sit completely flat on his knees with his feet pointed straight out to the side... those are an asset in breaststroke!

The pool was full, but the only major collision (that I saw) happened between the boy who requested the clinic and my son.  The other boy accidentally kicked M1 right smack dab in the bridge of the nose.  My son cried, and I called him over and asked if he wanted to leave, because quite frankly if I got kicked in the nose and couldn't see straight, I'd consider quitting, but he didn't want to leave.  He settled down, climbed back in the pool and kept going!  That nearly set me crying again, because I know not that long ago he'd have left after an accident like that.  He's getting so big and tough.

Olympian Aaron Peirsol was also there, swimming and generally making an appearance.  Watching him and Davis swim together was amazing.  Our little pool wasn't big enough to hold that much swimming power.  Olympic-sized swimming pools are Olympic-sized for a reason.

At the end (some kids got to do this before the clinic started, but we didn't get there in time, so at the end...), M1 got to 'try on' the three gold medals that Davis has won.  Davis himself wears his favorite medal, a silver from the 2000 Olympics where he broke an American record.

Then he signed M1's clinic shirt.  It read, "Michael, way to go.  Josh Davis"

And look... he's a lefty.  Finding other lefties always makes me feel good.

See that giant grin my son has?  I truly hope this day sticks with him forever.  I know it'll stick with me.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Journey to Citizenship

Thirteen-plus years ago, my mother-in-law moved from Australia to the United States.  She brought her two youngest sons with her at the time, and the older two (Oz is the eldest) came over a few months later.  The years have also brought over Oz's father and grandmother, so that now the vast majority of my mother-in-law's family is here - only her one brother remains behind.  

Oz became a U.S. citizen shortly after M1 was born.  I have a photo somewhere that some nice lady took and sent to us (I was holding an 11-month-old at the time and didn't have two extra arms to deal with a camera as well).  However, he's been the only one that's taken that step... until now.

My mother-in-law and one of my brothers-in-law (the next in line after Oz) took the oath today.  Since it was a school day - and a Tuesday to boot - my mother-in-law wasn't sure if I would want to drive the 1.5 hours down to watch the ceremony, but as a homeschooling parent AND the mother of her grandkids, how could I miss such an opportunity?

I know she's gone back and forth many times about whether citizenship is the right step for her.  I know that it's taken a lot of time and money to fill in and file forms, attend interviews, and take the citizenship test.  (I went over the basic details with the kids, since we've been through the process and seen it for ourselves, but if you're interested, here's a link to the steps to becoming a U.S. citizen).  I'm proud of her for following through.

The kids and I rolled out of bed nice and disgustingly early on this very cold, November-or-February-like day and climbed in the car for the ride down to the state capital for the oath ceremony.  We got there and made it through security ("Mom, why do we have to take our shoes off?  They know we don't have anything.  We're kids!" - M2) and took a seat in the room where the naturalization would be held.  We didn't have to wait long - the ceremony started with a brief video about 15 minutes later.

After the video ended, we stood for the National Anthem and a USCIS representative came out and spoke briefly - briefly enough that even my kids didn't lose patience - before getting down to the heart of the matter.

The first thing he did was read out a list of all the 'home' countries represented at the ceremony.  Australia was first.  That's my mother-in-law and brother-in-law standing; you can see the speaker in the mirror behind them.

Hi, Mum :)

After all the countries had been listed, the oath was taken.  The kids were impressed by the length and content of the oath.  M1 had thought it would just be one sentence, maybe two.  (Read the full text of the oath here.)

Once everyone was sworn in as new citizens, everyone - spectators included - stood and said the Pledge of Allegiance.

Finally, the certificates of naturalization were handed out.  The speaker went over a few housekeeping details (like making sure the certificates were 100% accurate before leaving the building to save time and money later), and that was it!  From start to finish, the entire ceremony took about 35-40 minutes.  Not half bad, I must say.

Personal data removed from image
And now my kids have a U.S. citizen for a paternal grandmother.  Congratulations, Mum!

Monday, April 15, 2013

"Final" photos

I've finished my beginner digital photography class.  So glad I took it.  I think I did all right.  For the last week of class, we were given a list of 21 items (20 + a free space) and asked to photograph 15, then print them, mount them on posterboard, and bring them to class.

There were some really good photographers in my class; I think mine held up all right.  I hereby submit them for your criticism:

My 'Free Space' photo - oil lamp,
my great-great-grandfather's Bible and catechism

Candid portrait - the not-so-wee girl was rocking
in the glider and let me snap a portrait



Person in motion

Large statue

Reflection - candle on my glass-topped coffee table,
fireplace in background

Moving water

Something purple

Sports equipment

Something sticky - I microwaved a Peep until it got soft,
then stuck it to my countertop and stretched it

Tail lights at night

Time piece

Tall building

Yard ornament

Friday, April 12, 2013

Prepubertal boy is prepubertal

Warning: Novel ahead.

M1 gets angry on a regular basis.  I'm cool with that.  He's a kid.  It happens.  He throws his little tantrums (OK, so they usually aren't little, but comparatively speaking...) and we move on.

Yesterday, though, the Sign of the Hormone appeared.  I've seen it off and on lately - one day he'll want to snuggle and be my little boy and I know everything and I'm wonderful, and the next he wants nothing to do with me because clearly I'm here only to ruin his life and I know nothing and he's ready to run the place without me - but yesterday was a real eye-opener.

It actually started Wednesday night.  I had taken M1 to swim, and when we got home, Oz met us at the door.  M1 had been given a plasma ball for his birthday, and it had been sitting on his dresser.  We don't know exactly what happened, but Oz had been drawing water to handwash dishes (thanks, Babe!) when he heard a huge noise, almost like an explosion, from upstairs. 

Warning: When these break, they will ruin your day
He hurried upstairs and discovered the plasma ball had fallen from the dresser and shattered, and shards of glass had flown all over M1's bedroom.  We don't know if M2 was responsible, a cat was responsible, if it simply fell, or if it was a case of spontaneous plasma combustion (doubtful, since the thing wasn't even plugged in), but regardless, it made a giant mess of the room.  Oz spent the next hour cleaning up as much as he could, but we still found pieces of glass in his bed and around the room for the next day and a half.

Anyway, during the cleaning process, Oz moved M1's dresser to try to get to pieces of glass that had flown behind it.  M1's dresser sits about an inch off the floor, but stuffed underneath it was more stuff than you could imagine would be physically possible.  We call this habit 'stashing.'  He's done it since he was tiny, and it's become a particularly bad habit over the years.  Anyway, since it was already 9 p.m. and M1 had been up since about 6, he was exhausted, so we told him to go to bed and deal with it in the morning.

Morning came.  We did most of our schoolwork, and I asked M1 if he wouldn't mind putting the stashed items away before lunch.  This gave him approximately an hour to put it all away, a time frame that was more than reasonable given the contents and size of the pile.  I checked in regularly during that hour to make sure that M1 was on task, and he assured me he was.  At noon, I walked in and discovered a perfectly clean floor.  All seemed well.  Until I picked up the antique pocketwatch case and opened it.  It was empty.  Now, I KNEW that the watch had been in the pile and just figured that M1 had forgotten where the case was when he put the watch away.  So I asked him, "Where's the watch?  Let's put it in here."

"I dunno."

"Is it in your miscellaneous drawer?" I asked as I walked over to said drawer to have a look (both kids have a 'miscellaneous drawer' where all things that don't have a place are allowed to live).  I had to force the drawer open because of the amount of clothing and K'Nex and other bits and pieces stuffed into it.  This all went on the floor while I was looking for the watch.  Meanwhile, M1 was shrieking, "You weren't supposed to look in there!!!"


I finally found the watch - and the rest of the stashed pile - stuffed into his bottom nightstand drawer, not a single thing actually taken care of.  All in all, I emptied three drawers of their stashed contents and asked him to put things - mostly clothes and cash - away.

This triggered the anger.  "I hate you!  I'm leaving!" was the first thing I heard, to which I assured him if he walked out of the house, he would not have a bedroom upon returning.  "FINE!  But I'm not cleaning this!  YOU made the mess, so YOU clean it up!"  All of this was accompanied by hopping - literally hopping - rage and shrieks of agony and punctuated by him flinging himself on the bed or hitting the wall.  Finally, in sheer frustration, I asked him if he really thought I was enjoying this.

He spat a hateful answer back.  "WELL, YOU MUST BE, BECAUSE YOU DO IT ALL THE TIME."

Oh, no, you didn't.  Now, when I was a child (imagine that statement accompanied by a puffing out of the chest and haughty expression), if I'd said something like that, I'd have gotten the tar beat out of me.  Thankfully, I have evolved, and I didn't smack sense into him.  The thought flashed through my mind, but I didn't do it.  Instead, I marched him downstairs and made him watch while I grabbed a trash bag.  Then he had to watch as I marched back upstairs and proceeded to throw away anything that I didn't deem of intrinsic or sentimental value to the boy.  I left his clothes, any cash, and all cards or other mementos.  The rest got pitched.  Then I informed him that if he wanted to live in my house, he would start treating it like a house and not his personal trash can, and that any time from now on that I found anything stashed, it would be instantly pitched, and it would no longer matter if it was money, clothing, or an item of sentimental value.  If he wanted to be an adult living under my roof, I would treat him like one.

Then I left him to it.  Half an hour later he emerged, tearful but calm, to tell me that he was sad that things had to escalate to the level they had for him to get the point.  I hugged him and told him that I still loved him but that I would not tolerate disrespect; I would be happy to talk and negotiate but hopping rage really wasn't the answer.  He cleaned up his room - properly this time - and all seemed fine.

Until this morning, when the first thing I heard out of him as he dragged his overly-full hamper down the stairs was, "Mom, this thing is really heavy, because YOU made me put in every shirt except one and every pair of pants except two when you cleaned out my stashed drawers yesterday."

Jesus Christ Superstar Almighty, REALLY?!?  I didn't even dignify that one other than to suggest that he adjust his attitude before continuing with his day.  Twenty minutes later, we had tears again as he informed me, "Mom, I'm just always really angry with you these days and I don't know why, and I'm sorry, and I love you!  Can you help me?"

I hugged him and assured him that it's all normal, and that we would get through it together.  I promised him that I wouldn't do what my mother did (tell me to go to my room and close the door and stay there till I could speak nicely to people, which caused me to stay there until I was 18). 

Still, yikes.  I'm not ready for this.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Countdown to Summer

We're on the home stretch now.  Five - well, four and a half - more weeks until we take a couple months off for summer.  It's amazing how quickly time can fly.  It doesn't seem like nine months ago since M2 'officially' came home for her education and we started this school year.  I've been checking what we've done with the goals that I set at the beginning of the year, and we've accomplished most of them.  I never expect to get all of them done, primarily since we always wind up covering stuff NOT on the list at the same time.  Still, I'm very proud of what's been covered, and I think the kids have had a good school year. 

It always makes me a little bit misty-eyed to look at their work from the beginning of the year and compare it to the end.  I don't often save their work over the summer, so I don't have many drastic examples to show the progression through the years for M1, but I showed M2 her work from the beginning of the year, and she was blown away at how far she's come.  Her handwriting has improved, she now knows how to write a proper sentence, and she knows more about history and science than she ever imagined.  M1 has really progressed as well - he uses cursive almost exclusively, which makes his work far easier to read, and he's really come a long way with regard to his writing.  He has finally found his own voice and doesn't feel the need to copy words straight out of a book.  It's a big step.

I'm definitely excited to get into fifth grade for him, third grade for her.  I'm excited to study genetics, to get into the nitty-gritty with geography, to see how far they get mathematically, and to cover ancient history with M2 for the first time.  I'm excited to ask the bigger "why" questions, to write plays and create presentations, and just to keep going.

But I'm not going to get too far ahead of myself.  First comes summer.  Camps, swimming, seeing friends, field trips, lazy days, gardening... it all sounds absolutely glorious.  I know it'll fly by far too quickly, but I'm ready... ready for summer.

Only a few more weeks to go!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Random Tuesday Thoughts

Hello, and welcome to this week's edition of Random Thoughts.  Hope you're all having a lovely day.

--- Last night I went to my photography class while the kids and Oz went to a swim meet.  I left last and got home first.  As I walked through the house flipping on lights and putting things away, I realized I don't have many years left until coming home by myself at 8:30 p.m. won't be unheard of.  The kids will have jobs, friends, a car.  Then they'll move out.  It made my heart ache a little.

--- The photography class is fun.  The teacher has been teaching it for years, and while he has a vague outline of what he wants to cover in each class, he flies by the seat of his pants on actual class content.  This means that when we understand (or seem to understand) a concept, he digs deeper, and if we get stuck, he can stop and show us examples and ask questions until we get it.  I appreciate that.  For one thing, it shows true knowledge of his topic.  For another, it means the class isn't dry and boring.  Finally, it means that he understands the actual definition of the word 'beginner' and doesn't expect spectacular photos straight out of the gate, which is good, because I haven't an artsy bone in my body.

--- We've suffered some setbacks in our 12-week program.  M1 has suddenly decided that he wants to be a grown-up, not the little kid that he cried about not being last week, but apparently 'being a grown-up' means, in his world, that he can tell Oz and me anything and we'll instantly believe it, no matter how far-fetched it sounds.  We call this "making a hippo-rat," because he read something the other day about a scientist who lived a couple hundred years ago who thought hippos were extra-large rodents, and I used it as an illustration to inform M1 that just because you BELIEVE something to be true or WANT it to be true, it doesn't MAKE it true.  Evidence is evidence, bucko.  We've had lots of hippo-rats wandering our house lately; I think we're finally nipping them in the bud.  I hope this phase is short-lived.

--- I looked in M2's drawers last night when I discovered a roll of paper towels under her bed and put them away under her sink and discovered several other things, which led to several other things where those were supposed to go, which led to... you get the idea.  She burst into tears when I asked her what had happened.  She loves to organize things, but she's 'organized' herself into chaos.  She has everything crammed into drawers and almost nothing in her closet, and she doesn't know where anything is any more.  So she and I are going to spend the week going through her room and putting things in one place, where they shall (hopefully) remain.  My first clue that I needed to do this came when she got a sewing box for her birthday and promptly announced that she was going to take everything out of it and put it in various places because "that's where they need to be organized."  Um, no, dear.  Items like needles and pins and scissors stay in the sewing box.  That's what it's for.

--- I would like to get outside and dig up the garden and transfer the surviving herbs (I have the hardest time hardening plants off without killing them, but I've only lost four out of the 11 I started with, so that's really good for me!!) into actual soil, but it keeps raining.  I'm not whining about that - not at all - but it's still frustrating.  I don't like moving items from one day's to-do list to the next... to the next... to the next.  The rain has also been bringing colder temperatures with it, so today it's only supposed to get up to about 45 degrees.  I don't want the rain to stop, but I would like warm spring rains instead of cold winter ones if you please, Mother Nature.