Working Hard for the iPod


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The Goal

Following the Newt Gingrich child labor plan, we have put Sissy to work as a janitor.  Being fairly poor, we felt that it was time for her to abandon her studies and actually start contributing something to the family that would be of use.  COLD HARD CASH.

Shit…I mean…Sissy has started earning an allowance. (NOT child labor.  Really.  Just forget what I said before…*Blink*…*Blink*)

Wifey has picked up a small job cleaning my parent’s office building once a week and Sissy helps her.  For her efforts she receives cash money in the amount of $5 per week.  And by receives I mean that we earmark her money in our bank account so that she doesn’t blow it on useless garbage like candy or cheap toys.  Or annoying dolls/stuffed animals (I’m still pissed at that damn bear.)  So for the last several weeks Sissy has been racking her brain trying to come up with the big-ticket item that she can spend her hard-earned dough on.

Her choice?  An iPhone.

Riiiight.  Like she has people to call.  I think my former students and my children’s grandparents would quickly tire of getting daily calls from a 7-year-old.  That idea received a definitive “NO!”

So we compromised (teaching life lessons, see?  Rock star parenting.) She could purchase an iPod touch with her money if she saved up enough of her earnings.  Sissy got online and researched the costs.  She might be able to find one for as low as $189, depending on sales, and with tax she needs to save around $210.  With the amount she’s already earned she figured that she has to save for about 8 months in order to make her purchase.

Earned so far: $35.  Left to earn: $175.  Weeks until iPod touch purchase: 35.

The countdown has begun.

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Puff Puff, the Bear from Hell

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Me Strangling Puff Puff

Last Saturday we bought Sissy a “Build Your Own Build-a-Bear” at Big Lots. It was a bear skin in a box that your child (or you) can sew up and stuff. A fun project for our aspiring seamstress and lover of “stuffies” (her term, not ours). She pestered us all evening on Saturday to make the bear but it wasn’t the time. We should have known then to just throw the damn thing in the trash, especially after the epic meltdown that followed when we told her she would have to wait until Sunday to start. But we didn’t, and Sunday came and Sissy sewed and stuffed the bear. And when it was done she was proud of her accomplishment, poured out all of her love on her new baby bear, and christened it “Puff Puff.”

I HATE Puff Puff.

It has become Sissy’s obsession. She carries it everywhere, talks to it, calls Wifey and I its grandparents, brings it to the table for dinner, puts it down for naps, and sleeps with it. She insists that we snuggle with it, kiss it, hug it, say that we love it. Sometimes kids with imagination can be so annoying.

Just to clarify the timeline:

Saturday: Puff Puff is purchased.

Sunday: Puff Puff is made and christened.

Monday: Puff Puff loses an eye.

Oh happy dagger! This is thy sheath; there rust and let me die! Wailing. Gnashing of teeth. Oh the tragedy! Jesus wept for Puff Puff’s eye!!!

For fear of accidentally ripping through Puff Puff’s entire head, Sissy carefully placed her beloved bear on Wifey’s sewing table to be mended. And there it lay forgotten. Until 9:00 that night when Sissy walked into our bedroom.

Sissy(wailing): “I ca-an’t sleep without Pu-u-uff Pu-u-uff!”

Me (having missed the eye incident): “Then take it to bed with you.”

Sissy(sobbing): “She lo-ost her eye and I don’t wa-ant to rip her head in my slee-ee-eep!”

Me: “Well then, you’ll just have to wait until tomorrow after Mommy has fixed it.”

Sissy(gnashing teeth): “BUT I ALWAYS SLEEP WITH HER! I CAN’T SLEEP WITHOUT HER!”

Me (to Wifey, whispering): “Didn’t she get that yesterday?”

Wifey: slight nod while rolling eyes

Me: “Sweetie, I don’t think she’ll rip if you sleep with her. Just go ahead and take her and ask Mommy to fix her tomorrow BEFORE bedtime.”

Sissy: “O-oka-ay.”

But of course she didn’t ask Mommy to fix her. Until 9:00 the next evening when the whole scene replayed itself again. More wailing, more drama, more eye rolling (by me, not her).

Fast-forward to Friday. I am home from work because Wifey has been struck with the flu and can’t get out of bed, let alone tend to our horde. While playing in the floor with The Baby, Sissy hands me a piece of paper. It is an invite to Puff Puff’s Baby Party. She has spent the last hour “decorating” (aka trashing) her room and requests my presence at what is sure to be the shin-dig of the century. And, because I’m a sucker, I accept the invitation. At the appointed time I walk back to her room to join in the festivities, which include a variation of hot-potato designed to make me lose (she hands me the dinosaur so she can turn off the music), some sort of “game” where I have to be Squidward trying to get SpongeBob (her) and Patrick (Bubba) to stop singing so loudly by shouting over them, and ending with Freeze Dance, which involves dancing until the music stops and then freezing in whatever position you are in (that one was actually kind of fun). Apparently, this is all for the benefit of Puff Puff, who is overseeing the festivities from atop Sissy’s cabinet. Wait a sec…she is overseeing with…TWO EYES! The eyes are sewn into the fabric, not buttons like I assumed they were. And they were both very much still present on the damn bear’s stupid head. I grab the bear and shove it in Sissy’s face:

Me: “What part of these eyes is broken? It seems pretty whole to me.”

Sissy: “Look…the dot in the middle of the eye has come off.”

You have got to be kidding me. A small dot of tan thread in middle of the right eye unraveled and came out. There wasn’t even a hole where the thread had once been. And I had to put up with a week’s worth of drama for THAT! I couldn’t even tell that anything was missing! I wanted to rip the bear’s head off and throw it at her while shouting “NOW THIS IS SOMETHING TO CRY ABOUT!”

But I didn’t. I sat down in the floor and proceeded to play a game in which we passed the bear back and forth having to answer any question that Sissy asked while holding her. And while passing Puff Puff back and forth telling Sissy about my favorite colors, places, books, and dreams, I started to soften. This little bear, for all of its BS, was creating a wonderful memory with my daughter, so I guess I should be thankful.

Wait, no…scratch that. I still hate that stupid bear and will continue to pray for her to fall victim to some sort of horrible accident. But I love my daughter, so I’ll put up with Puff Puff…

For now.

Rejecting Sainthood

Me with Artemis and Apollo

Me with Artemis and Apollo

On Saturday one of the priests at our church received a call from woman that she knows who had come to the heartbreaking decision that she was no longer able to care for and support her 15 month old twin children. Her home was unfit for habitation, her water and electricity had been shut off for over a month, and she was just unable to provide what these children needed. So she made the best (and most difficult) decision possible and allowed her children to go into the care of someone else. On Saturday night they stayed with a family from our church.

We learned of the situation on Sunday and in order to assist we collected some of the clothes that Peanut had outgrown and found some of Bubba’s toddler clothes in the garage and took them over to the family that was fostering them, along with some toys and a spare high-chair. We felt good that we had been able to help these precious children who were in desperate need of some compassion.

On Monday morning, we received an email from the Children’s Minister at our church that the family that had taken the babies over the weekend were unable to keep them for an extended period of time and so other accommodations were needed ASAP. And Wifey felt a stirring to take them into our home.

I said no. We already have 4 children and barely manage to keep our sanity as it is. Nor do we have a vehicle large enough to transport 6 children, all of whom are in car seats. And, to be perfectly honest, it is my Spring Break and I’ve been looking forward to some down time before a hellish couple of weeks when I go back. Plus, we’d promised to have a great week with the kids taking day trips and doing a lot of fun activities which we couldn’t do if the twins came to stay. It just seemed really inconvenient and impractical and I didn’t want to do it.

Wifey graciously accepted my decision. If we were going to do it we both had to be on board. And she agreed with all of my reasons. But I could tell that she wasn’t convinced, and the more I thought about it, the more unsettled I became. What if they couldn’t find another home and they had to be moved day to day? Those kids didn’t need that after the trauma that they were already experiencing. And we were certainly already equipped with almost everything we needed to care for toddlers and what we didn’t have the church would provide. And it seems selfish to not be willing to help so that I can take more naps. My one hold-out was our promise to the kids. So I decided to leave it up to them. I explained the situation, making sure they understood what they would be giving up, and gave them a few minutes to think about it. They seemed to be struggling with some of the same reservations and feelings that we were. They wanted to help out, but were they willing to sacrifice this special week? Finally, we asked for their decision and they both emphatically said that they wanted to help the twins. I was so moved by their generosity, and so proud!

But I was still unwilling to fully commit. So we offered to take them as the option of last resort. If NO ONE else was willing or able, we would take them. We furiously cleaned the house in the off-chance that they were coming, and as we readied our home, both Wifey and I became more and more compelled to just take the plunge. When we finished up, we called the church to check the status of volunteers. There were several families that were able to help for a few days, but no one who could take them long-term. That decided it. We wanted them to come live with us until a permanent home could be found. Sure it would take some sacrifice and quite a bit of rearranging, but we knew it was the right thing to do. So an hour later we opened the door to two of the most beautiful, precious and sweet children that you could imagine (we’ll call them Apollo and Artemis). And despite a night of little sleep and overall controlled chaos, I know we are blessed to have been chosen for this task.

Naturally, since making the decision, we have been inundated with praise about how wonderful and brave we are and have even been called saintly. But it makes me uncomfortable that people react in this way. Perhaps for the non-religious, such an act does seem to be saintly. We are putting ourselves at great inconvenience for some kids we’ve never met and for absolutely no personal gain…other than warm fuzzy feelings that is. But we don’t see it that way. When we were struggling to decide whether or not to open our home, what kept nagging at us was this verse “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). The Bible is full of calls to care for orphans and makes it a top priority for every Christian. So it isn’t really because we’re so saintly that we do this. It is because we are called to do it specifically by God. We’re not saints, we’re just Christians. Regular people following the example of Christ.

Last night our priest stopped by to drop off some final supplies, and before leaving she said that we were role models. Now THAT is a label I’m willing to accept. I pray that by our actions we can inspire others to give more deeply of themselves in service of others, following the example of Christ. I am inspired by my children who were so willing to sacrifice of themselves, and I am proud to set the example for them that even when difficult, it is paramount to assist those in greater need. I think that more Christians need to be willing to give what they have and beyond with the faith that God will support those that follow his commands.

A saint is someone who rises to the top among his or her peers by going above and beyond in service to God. I pray that by our actions we are NOT saints, but that we fit into the crowd of other Christians who are all doing the same.

The Big Decision

As you may or may not know, Sissy has had a pretty rough year in kindergarten.  She has always been academically gifted, hitting her milestones early, learning to read proficiently by the age of 4, and a pretty solid understanding of numbers and addition before the age of 5.  She is also incredibly imaginative and artistic.  The downside to giftedness is that it is often accompanied by extreme anxiety, and she has unfortunately also developed this as well.  I posted a few weeks ago that she was experiencing panic attacks in school and had begun vomiting at times when she was feeling overwhelmed and that she had even started to vomit at times of relative calm.  Her pediatrician expressed concern that this type of reaction could lead to an eating disorder at a young age as a way to exert control over her life and emotions and she suggested that we have her evaluated by the school psychologist.  We followed this suggestion and for the past few weeks Sissy has been observed in various settings, has had a SST review (an analysis of the need for special services), weekly meetings with the school counselor, and finally a sit down with the psychologist.  Earlier this week I sat down with the school principals, the counselor, the psychologist, and Sissy’s teacher to go over their observations and recommendations.  And the overall findings are:

Sissy is too academically advanced to function properly in her class.

Her teacher has been wonderful this year in creating a truly differentiated curriculum for her, but she can only do so much with 18 other kindergarteners to contend with.  In addition, part of Sissy’s anxiety comes from a self-imposed need for perfection and a desire to please those in authority, so she has actually digressed in many areas because she tries to mimic the work of her “peers” when the teacher compliments their work.  She doesn’t understand that “great” for them at a kindergarten level isn’t the same as “great” for her at a more advanced level.  So she gets worked up and overwhelmed and…vomits.  In her mouth.  And then doesn’t tell anyone about it until she gets into the car to go home where she will erupt into a sobbing mess, often for several hours.  She is making social connections in class, but is having trouble relating to her “peers” because they are not yet in the same place as she is intellectually.  She does much better with older children and adults who can relate to her in a more mature way.

All this to say that public school just doesn’t seem to be the place for Sissy.  She has qualified for the GT program, but it only for one hour each week and there is only one other kindergartener that qualified.  And we could try to skip her ahead a grade level, but even that would not really put her into the right academic group in several areas.  She is a self-motivated learner and the public school system is built on a mass-feed mentality where it is difficult to allow for students to pursue learning in their own unique ways.  So we are about 99.8% sure that for at least the remainder of elementary school that Sissy will be attending school in our own home.  That way we can create a curriculum that is suited especially to her and allow her to learn in the ways that are best for her unique gifts and temperament.  She will socialize through group activities, some local non-religious home school leagues, and through our church community.  We will utilize the amazing educational resources that technology provides (and that the public schools are unwilling and/or unable to commit to) to help her expand her learning in meaningful ways and also to make connections with other students and experts.  We will begin with an independent academic evaluation to assess her grade-level proficiency in the various academic areas and will then build our curriculum from there, using a mix of rote and project-based learning (PBL) as dictated by her learning style.  We will document and portfolio her work and will have her assessed annually to measure her progress.

I say we are 99.8% sure because this is a huge decision and commitment and we are taking the rest of this school year and summer to pull together resources, network, and evaluate ALL the pros and cons, and until we finish that we are not going to make the final decision.  But based on several months of discussion and research, this seems like the best option for her.  So, keep us in your thoughts as we start on this journey, and we would appreciate any help or feedback that you would like to share!

The Balancing Act

Since I decided to try to post at least once per day, naturally I have gotten completely distracted by other things.  I have never been one to spend a great deal of time online, especially since my Blackberry allows me to check my Facebook from my phone.  But starting this blog made me curious about other dad blogs, which led me to other blogs and websites in general.  This coupled with a recent decision to integrate more technology into my classroom and a newfound obsession with Twitter has led to me spending an unhealthy amount of time cruising the net trying to connect with other educators and trying to find Web 2.o tools that can impact my instruction in a meaningful way.

Let me interject here that I am a full-throttle type of person, meaning when I decide to start something new I tend to jump in with both feet and take it to an extreme.  The downside to this personality trait is that I also tend to crash HARD.  If plans don’t work out in the way that I imagined they would or if too many roadblocks get in my way I lose hope and steam and often abandon the effort altogether.

This trait also has other repercussions, most notably that it drives my wife crazy because my tunnel vision detracts from my involvement in the lives of my family.  I will spend every spare moment engaged in whatever project I am working on and it will take a force of nature (or my wife’s exasperated scolding) to snap me out of it.

I want to be awesome at all things that I do.  I think that working hard to do the best that you can do is an important lesson to instill in our children.  It is important for my kids to see that I am a lifelong learner and that I am always striving to improve.  It is important to my marriage that I feel successful in my professional life so that I am happier overall and am bringing positivity and internal peace to the table.  But how can I manage my time so that neither my personal nor professional life suffer for the other?  To be the best I can be at work I have to dedicate personal time to improving my teaching practices and connecting with other professionals.  To be the best husband and father I need to be able to dedicate my time at home to my family.  And I can’t keep staying up until the wee hours of the morn to try to squeeze both in because then I am too tired to function successfully in both areas.

The solution isn’t as simple as “just prioritize” because both sides feed each other.  I can’t put off all of my professional planning until summer break because I must be consistently evaluating and improving or face having wasted an entire school year.  And I can’t just settle on mediocrity in both areas because that would make me miserable and would set a terrible example for my children.

If I had more time in my day or only had to work 4 days a week I would be more able to fit everything in (or maybe not), but as both are highly unlikely I don’t know how to find the balance.  So, what’s the answer?  Is there a solution?  Are my personal standards naïve?  Or am I just missing something that will make everything fall into place?

Enlighten me dear readers!  How do you find balance?

Three Little Bears Sitting on Chairs

When Sissy was a toddler and Bubba was The Baby, we began a bedtime ritual that lasted for several years. Every night I would gather the kids into my lap, and we would read Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon. I don’t remember reading this story as a child, but in adulthood it has become one of my favorite books…and not just to read to my kids.  I’m mean it ranks up there with The Grapes of Wrath and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay for me.  I love the rhythm of the text, Clement Hurd’s beautiful illustrations, and the way the two combine to engage the reader.

We read the story so many times that my children at 2 and 3 could recite the book in its entirety.  There was nothing more moving than listening to their tiny voices speaking the story along with me as I read it from the book.  On several occasions, we even just spoke the story without even opening the book!  I’m not entirely certain when we stopped reading it every night, but I believe we just started supplementing other stories once my children were old enough to start showing preferences of their own.  Eventually, our tattered copy got mixed in with the host of other books that my children own and the routine just faded from our lives.

Until Peanut stumbled across the book just the other day.

She is in a wonderful phase right now where she wants to read the same books over and over and over again until you begin to doubt everything that you know to be true about the world.  We’ve actually started hiding some of her favorites, lest we suddenly snap and rip them apart, throwing them into the air with maniacal glee.  So when she dropped yet another book in my lap shouting “boo, daddy, boo!” my initial response was to toss it across the room.  But as my wrist was just about to spring, my eye caught sight of the cover and I stopped mid-throw.

“BOO, DADDY, BOO!!”

“Alright, Peanut, I would love to read you this book.”

So we sat down, and we read the book.  She listened intently, laughing at the pictures and pointing out the animals that she knows and repeating her favorite words.

“Cah-oo, mooooo”

“Kee-ee!  Mah-oo mah-oo!”

“Nigh nigh.”

As she experienced this book for the first time, I relived all the times that I had read it before.  All the sleepy nights we sat together, reciting it as a family.  All the snuggles and hugs.  All the times we whispered “hush.”  Midway through, I realized that I wasn’t even reading the words on the page, but was reciting it as it resurfaced from the recesses of my memory.  I looked over at my wife, and we shared a heartfelt smile of remembrance.

So we’ve reestablished the Goodnight Moon bedtime routine with Peanut.  For the last several nights we have sat together in the chair in her room and read the story while snuggling close and rocking back and forth.  I am so excited to be able to share this experience with the next pair of my children.

Do/did you have a bedtime ritual with your kids that you treasure?  Do recall with fondness a routine from your own childhood?  Did you have a favorite book that you liked to read as a child or with your children that you still remember?  I’d love to hear about your own experiences!

“Goodnight stars.  Goodnight air.  Goodnight noises everywhere.”

Who Needs the Toys When You’ve Got the Packaging!

Sissy, Bubba and Peanut playing with The Box

Last week, my wife brought home a large TV box from church.  You see, we realized about a year ago that our kids really didn’t like playing with conventional toys all that much.  Sissy enjoys playing with Barbies, and Bubba is amassing quite a collection of Legos, but other than that their toys sit largely unused.  What our children really enjoy doing is being creative and imaginative.  They are constantly drawing pictures on blank paper, they beg us to paint with watercolors, they dress up in costumes and old clothes, they write screenplays (seriously), make cards, pen letters…the list could go on and on.  For Christmas this year, they received construction paper, sewing supplies, a weaving kit, a terrarium, a paint-your-own-mug set, and cooking utensils.  The few regular toys that they received are now collecting dust with the Zhu Zhu Pets, Spider-man action figures, and Go Diego Go playsets.

Honestly, what could be better than having basic supplies on-hand that allow them to create any toys that they could want to play with?  For the most part, these items are cheap, easy to clean-up, and take up very little space.  Plus, they have the added benefit of inspiring imagination and creative thinking.

As parents, we need to scale back on buying our kids so much stuff.  Simple objects like shoe boxes and empty spools can entertain for hours.  A book I once read said that a Millenium Falcon toy will only ever be a Millenium Falcon, but a block can be a spaceship, a house, a car, a person, and anything else a child cares to dream up.  While it may seem awesome to buy our kids the lastest and “greatest” gadgets and fads, we are actually doing them a disservice by limiting their opportunities to imagine and create.  If we went back to the basics (blocks, craft supplies, basic household castoffs) we might find that our kids could find a lot more to do besides sitting in front of the TV or playing video games.

So, needless to say, when the box entered our home, it was like Christmas all over again.  Thus far the box had been used as:

  • a television (they get inside and act out little stories)
  • a coloring book
  • a car
  • a fort
  • a house
  • a monster

I’m sure it will continue to be used until it loses all shape, at which point it will be ripped and shredded into the most fun toy of all: a mess.  But until that time comes, it is great fun and a source of pride to watch my children transform such a simple piece of trash into so many wonderful and amazing things.