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Sharp stick in the eye

So KVON posted a link to an excellent blog post the other day called “It’s OK to be a Boy.” This struck home with me, especially this point:

What if we assumed that boys’ instincts and inclinations were good and right, instead of inherently destructive or deviant?

 That’s me, waving my hand over here. Because as a mother, I struggle with the inherent destruction that comes along with boys. Have you ever seen the ‘definition’ of the word ‘boy’?

boy: noun A noise with dirt on it.

In my experience, parenting two of them, this is true. If E chooses khakis to wear to school, they will come home with grass stains and a hole in the knee (even though they had indoor recess). An activity as quiet as coloring at the table will result in G sporting a red bandito mustache and fingers as black as Crayola markers will make him.

As mothers, we protect our kids from the moment we find out they’re fluttering in our wombs. We eat as well as morning sickness will allow, we abstain from alcohol and tobacco, we avoid dangerous activities that could harm our growing child. We craft a birth plan to help our medical providers ease our child into the world, including the “cut me open without anesthesia if he’s in distress” clause (was I the only one who had that conversation with my husband?). The first time we leave the house with him, we wish madly for a way to erect a force field around our car to protect him from the insane drivers. He’s the most precious thing, and we’re charged with protecting him until he can protect himself.

Fast forward eight years, when you’re fighting over bicycle riding boundaries and “Why do I have to wear a helmet when D—- down the street doesn’t?” and you can’t exactly explain to your hazel-eyed negotiator that your husband has been first on scene to a kid vs. car accident where the kid’s head hit the curb and it’s smashed like a cantaloupe because he wasn’t wearing a helmet. So you say the word that they hate more than all others (except for ‘leftovers’), which is SAFETY.

Boys hate safety. They hate it. Mine roll their eyes and airquote me when I ask, “What’s the most important thing?” And I’m learning why they hate it. Because they’re wired to take risks and climb trees and jump off the garage (I had to shut this little experiment down again just last week). They do backflips off the pool ladder, they have kick fights (you should see their shins) and take turns sliding off the top bunk bed on a piece of cardboard. They live for danger, thrive on it, look for the chance to balance on the edge of a rock wall and set ants on fire with magnifying glasses. They learn and create through excitement and destruction.

It’s why, when I see a boy with his arm in a cast, I smile and nod knowingly at his mother. I hope that smile conveys my understanding.  

He’s a boy. He does these things. He’s dangerous with a purpose.

My husband recently cut down two trees in our yard, and the boys helped stack the smaller limbs by the fire pit. The last few times we’ve had a fire, G & E have been picking out long limbs, catching the ends on fire, then running around the darkened yard with their ‘torches.’

This sets my heart to hammering. Because I remember the first fall, the first head bump, the first bloody lips, the first finger avulsions, the first fractures resulting in ER trips and X-rays. And I see in my mind one of my precious, dirty boys getting poked in the eye with a sharp (fiery) stick. And I have to bite my lip and my tongue and let them be.

Because they are boys. And they are dangerous with a purpose.

Lapbook on Black Holes

George has been complaining that he’s bored at school. (This is usually followed by a ‘can I PLEEEEEEZE homeschool?’ to which I reply, ‘You think school is tough now, it’s NOTHING compared to what it would be like to homeschool with  me, dude.’)

So, I have embarked on a project; every other month he chooses a science or history subject he’d like to do research on, and on opposing months he does a book report (his choice). The first subject he chose was black holes. And here’s a video I took back in November of the lapbook I created for him.

The materials I used were all from the juvenile science section of the local library. The one book that was most helpful was Eyes on the Sky: Black Holes by Don Nardo (ISBN 0737713666). It’s written for ages 8 and up, and the index and glossary were simple enough for George to navigate.

As my first lapbook attempt, I can say this: Thank God I have a Xyron sticker maker. It made the process so much faster.

He did a great job; in fact, he took it to school to show his teacher, who in turn sent it to the principal, who wrote him a nice note about what a great job he did. (He was very proud).

I’m hoping he picks a reasonable book for his next report.

Homeschooling Public Schoolers

Two of our three children are in public school, and the youngest is homeschooling for preschool. We agonized about the education decision; public vs private, homeschool vs traditional schooling. The main reason why we elected to send our kids to public school is (a) cost and (b) the fact that I’m going back to school for my degree so that I can carry benefits once George retires. If I planned on staying home, or returning to work part-time only, I’d be homeschooling. Simple as that.

This year, both boys have fantastic teachers; Ethan’s Kinder teacher is smart, kind, and loves her kids. That’s something that can’t be faked. (George’s Kinder teacher was… well, let’s just say we requested that E NOT have the same teacher. It was bad; very, very bad.) George’s second-grade teacher this year is excellent, and both teachers communicate exceptionally well.

Here’s the thing; I still consider myself a homeschooler. Yes, I send my children to public school, but ultimately, I’m the one responsible for their education. I review the work sent home, maintain an open line of communication with the professional educators, see if there are projects we can do where the kids need reinforcement in certain areas, or ‘rewards’ in others. For example; George loves creative writing. In fact, when he’s working on a ‘non-fiction’ writing project at school, he has a tough time not embellishing or adding anecdotal information. So, when he is successful with his non-fiction writing, I reward him with a creative writing project. A few months ago, when he told me he was ‘bored’ at school, I had him choose a subject to for a lapbook report. He chose black holes (not much information on this subject at the 2nd-grade level, but we managed) and did an excellent lapbook report; one that got a note from his principal saying how impressed she was. (I did a video showing the different parts; maybe one day I’ll actually get around to posting it.)

Ethan seems to have some issues with differentiating between b and d and p, g and q. He also prefers to guess at words instead of sounding them out. So, I made a flip book of sight words, which he goes through at least 4-5 times a week. We also use Funny Words (from Confessions of a Homeschooler‘s K4 Curriculum), where he flips the C-V-C letters, sounds them out and writes down whatever words he makes up. His Kinder teacher gave us a new game called Valentine’s Monster Mash, which is a similar concept but requires him to sound out all of the letters in the nonsense C-V-C ‘words’ in order to keep the card. It’s great practice for him.

It comes down to choice; how involved are you in your child’s education? There are parents who choose traditional schooling who are very involved, review homework, plan their own educational field trips, talk to their child’s teacher regularly to make sure both are on the same page. There are homeschoolers who rely completely on a software program and their child’s autonomy for his or her education. And there are the rest of us, who fall somewhere in between in terms of involvement and impetus. I think I’ll always consider myself a homeschooler, regardless of where my child officially attends school. Because I alone am responsible for educating my children; the public schools and all they offer are merely tools to that end.

Thoughts on Penn State

Joe Paterno passed away last week, and it caused the sexual abuse allegations against Jerry Sandusky to resurface. And it caused me to think about how this situation is not just an indictment of how men put the needs of an institution above the rights of a child; it’s about something much more insidious in our society.

Fatherless boys.

Jerry Sandusky, who is alleged to have sexually abused several young boys over the years (I believe the current count is ten), started the charity in 1977 as:

“…a statewide non-profit organization for children who need additional support and who would benefit from positive human contact. The Second Mile plans, organizes, and offers activities and programs for children – and adults who work with them – to promote self-confidence as well as physical, academic, and personal success.”


Basically, underprivileged, potentially at-risk children, largely from dysfunctional homes without one (or both) parents. Through The Second Mile, Sandusky had access to hundreds of vulnerable boys. The details enumerated in the grand jury report against Jerry Sandusky reads like a pedophile handbook; find a vulnerable boy, groom him, buy him gifts, take him places, make him feel obligated… then take advantage of him.

All the while, the boy’s mother thinks it’s wonderful that her son has a strong male figure in his life; successful, trusted, well-respected in the community. In short, someone her son can look up to.

But in this day and age, when divorce is more prevalent than not, and mothers are the ones often left shouldering the burden of raising their children alone, how do we insulate ourselves from the potential of this type of tragedy?

Author Gavin de Becker in his book “Protecting The Gift”, discusses how human predators select their targets and how parents can protect their children. A boy with a single working mother, absent father, disadvantaged, is a prime target for these types of predators.

If nothing else, this terrible situation should serve to remind us to care for the least among us. Be observant and speak up if we see an adult exhibiting inappropriate behaviors toward a child. Reach out to the fatherless boys in our communities and build them up in a healthy manner so that they are less likely to become fodder for predators.


This past Thanksgiving, an online friend’s son died from brain cancer. He was just shy of his fifth birthday.

Recently, my friend posted on his blog about a dream he had about his son. That he was the way before he was ill, before he struggled to breathe.

I was reminded of another friend and former co-worker. His

First Day

Today was our first day of preschool. Stella and I dropped the boys at their respective schools and came home. While she put on her necklaces, (an obvious prerequisite for educational ventures) I unloaded the dishwasher and poured myself a second cup of coffee.

We started at 9AM with the Pledge of Allegiance (which she kept calling “Pledge of the Cool Things”), did the date/calendar and weather, then started in on the workboxes. We were finished by 9:55AM. She wanted to keep ‘playing school’, which is a good thing — she obviously enjoys it. I think the fact that she has 100% of my attention for that hour is almost more important to her than successfully matching up the clothespin letters to the letter wheel.

I still have trouble wrapping my brain around the idea that she’s four today. It seems just yesterday I was taking pictures of her smooshy little face when she was barely 24 hours old. How big my little girl is already.

Taking the plunge

Summer is winding down and I’m preparing for the boys to go to school; George will be in second grade and Ethan is starting Kindergarten.

A few weeks ago I started figuring out what my school schedule would be, and felt my blood pressure start to rise. Here’s what a typical day would be for me:

5:30 AM — Up, treadmill, shower, pack George’s breakfast/lunch
7:00 AM — Get kids up, breakfast, lunch packed
8:15 AM — Drop George off at school
9:15 AM — Drop Stella off at preschool
11:00AM — Leave to pick Stella up from preschool. Ethan eats lunch in the van
11:15AM — Pick Stella up from preschool
11:35AM — Ethan’s bus pickup. (I’ll have to drive him when he misses it, which will be almost daily.)
2:10PM — Leave to pick George up from school
3:30PM — Get Ethan off the bus

This does not take into account me going to tutoring for my Math class, or doing errands, or cleaning, or any of my other daily work. Needless to say, I was starting to stress out considerably.

George, in a fit of logic, said: “Just don’t send her to preschool.”

What? Oh. That’s right. That is an option, isn’t it?

So I looked at the situation and asked myself, ‘What is going to work out best for our family as a whole?’ (In other words: What is going to keep me from stressing out, in return stressing out the rest of the people who live here?)

Me being me, I started thinking. And doing research. My thinking led me to realize that my best solution would be putting Ethan in morning Kindergarten. He’s much more focused early in the day, which is very important. Plus it makes for a less-stressful day, which benefits everyone.

My research led me to realize that lots of moms homeschool their preschoolers. Some have a structured curriculum, some organized play, some keep it simple with books and playdough and trips to the nature center.

I found a simple curriculum online called K4 Curriculum, and I’m using a modified workbox system to help keep me organized. Not to mention less stressed.

Are you sensing a theme here?

Stella seemed a little bummed when I told her she wouldn’t be going to school this year. When I asked her if she’d like to do school at home, she thought for a minute and asked, “Can I have a snack every day?”

Yes, little girl. Yes you can.

So I hope to post some pictures of her school area once I have it set up, and I intend to detail our homeschooling experiences.

By the way, I got an A in my Algebra class. Perfect example of how study and hard work pays off.

So unlike me

When I was younger, I hated dealing with problems. I put off doing homework as long as possible, ignored bills, and generally stuck my head in the sand when it came to issues I didn’t feel like facing.

Part of maturity means confronting issues; everything from paying the credit cards off every month to doing estate planning, regardless of how much I don’t want to do it. Something as small as making a dreaded but necessary phone call is no longer a big deal; I’ve learned it’s easier in the long run to deal with things right away than to let them fester and cause even bigger problems down the road.

There is a lot of cancer in my family. And by a lot of cancer, I mean ‘there’s a better chance that I’ll win the lottery than not have cancer at some point in my life.’ I can’t even begin to count the number of people I am related to who have either died from or are currently battling cancer, or who are in remission.

A few years ago, I had an abnormal PAP, which freaked me out. Beyond measure. It slammed me head-on into my mortality. The second PAP came back normal, which was reassuring, but it spooked me considerably.

Last year, when it was time to schedule my PAP, I balked. I don’t have a babysitter; it’s too hard to work around George’s schedule; the test will probably be wrong; if something is wrong, it’s better not to know. These lame excuses ran through my head and I continued to put it off. But I found myself waking at in the middle of the night, unable to think about anything else.

Finally I picked up the phone and made my appointment. My midwife, who is awesome, called me a few days later to let me know that the results were fine. The relief was immense, and I swore that I would never allow myself to stick my head in the sand again with regards to something as important as my health. After all, I have a responsibility to my husband and children to be around as long as I can.

In which I come to terms with my shortcomings

I have never been good at math. Struggled all the way through school and resigned myself to the idea that I would never do well in it. Failed Introduction to Algebra Part I. Twice. Never stepped foot into the Math Lab at school because I was too embarrassed to admit that I needed help with math. The only A I ever received was in Business Math, and to this day I think it was largely because the teacher liked me and saw that I put forth real effort. Despite that success, I never took a math past my junior year in high school.

The irony of this choice is that I have used math ever since. Regularly. In all of the jobs I’ve had — marketing, retail, tech support — I’ve used math. And I’ve actually used more math since I’ve become a stay-at-home-mom than I ever did before. Adding and subtracting fractions, maintaining a budget, reconciling checkbooks, figuring gains/losses on investments, cost per pound, figuring the payroll and taxes for a small non-profit business; you name it, I use it on a regular basis. Fundamentals like this are not bad, but when the subject turns to negative numbers, my brain turns to gelatin.

In my Composition, Psychology and Anatomy/Physiology courses, I was the Super Obnoxious Student; the one who reminded the teacher about our quizzes and kept track of just how ‘big’ of an A I was getting. I’m very proud that I worked hard and received the highest marks in both my Psych and A&P classes, and was in the top 5 of my English Comp class (RIP, Mr. Kassebaum). Words are easy for me; intuitive. It’s like there’s a small itch behind my eyeball that tells me when something isn’t quite right on the page.

I don’t have that same itch in math. Math gives me the distinct feeling of being set adrift on a small lake in a kayak without a paddle, where everyone else is standing on the shore watching me. Somehow they all seem to have located their paddles, whereas I’m the only one who just didn’t get one. And I’m too embarrassed to ask for someone to lend me theirs.

I have to pass MATH 1200 (Intermediate Algebra) in order to complete my prerequisites for nursing school. When I took the assessment test, I placed in MATH 950 (Beginning Algebra I). Which means I have to study my arse off, score high enough, and beg the instructor to place me in 1200. I don’t see him doing that unless I achieve an A.

I’m three weeks in, and the information thus far has been basic review (as the whiny d-bag who sat behind me on Saturday put it, ‘how come we gotta review all this stuff that we already learned in the fifth grade?’ with my response being, ‘if you’re so smart, how come you were placed in a remedial math?’), but already I sincerely doubt my ability to achieve an A.

In comparison to high school, this is substantially different. (I almost said ‘quantitatively different’ but I didn’t want to be that nerd.) First, I am paying for this course out of my own pocket, which changes the amount of effort I am putting into it. Second, I did something that I never have done before:

I went to the math lab.

This is a bigger step for me than you might think. I have a serious, deep-seated, almost pathological problem with admitting when I cannot do or handle something. Going to the math lab at the college required that I humble myself, admit that I need help, and go talk to someone who is 15 years younger than me and get some direction on the basics of Algebra. Not an easy feat for me.

One of the greatest benefits of this little adventure was finding out that the tutor (Lou, who I can already tell I will like very much), did not start out as a math major. In fact, he wanted to become a nurse. He hated math, always did poorly in high school, and never had an intuitive understanding of numbers. So he understands where I’m coming from and can help me to grasp concepts that are difficult.

So, although I know that this will be a struggle for me, I’m meeting this challenge head-on. I will put forth more effort than anyone else in my class, and I guarantee that I will not fail.