Thursday, February 4, 2016

Role Models

Helen has been a feminist since she could speak. Maybe she's just doing what her mama does, but I think it's more than that. For example, as early as age 3, she was using the word "she" as her gender neutral pronoun. She strikes me as the kind of gal who will do what she wants as she gets old - because she knows deep in her heart that it's the right thing to do. She might not be lost along the way, but others will.

I worry about the place she and her friends will decide to carve out. Her disappointment in the world is growing - and it's breaking my heart. It makes no sense to her, for example, that in a book written for children about scientists - all but a handful are men. She scours the pages virtually ignoring some amazing men, trying to figure out what place women hold. Curie, Lovelace, Hopper, McClintock, Carson, Goodall. I can see it across the room. She's looking for her place. WHERE ARE THE WOMEN? And Mom - did you see that Jane Goodall is still alive? She's one of US.

And as easy as it is for me to explain that we don't have a lot of early women scientists because people (mostly men) thought it was inappropriate or unnecessary to educate women, it still hurts. Mostly because I know the research. We like to hire people that look like us. And there is a legacy debt owed to women who were routinely excluded from many aspects of life. But there's nobody to pay up.

I see small waves of change. I see more women making their way in science and math. But I would be remiss if I didn't also see that women face unique challenges in traditionally male fields, and it really stinks to look at your daughter and know that someday, someone will dog her for being "too emotional", or "bossy", or "calculating", or any of those other negative words I see reserved routinely to be used in a negative manner when it comes to women, even though she's just trying to carve out her piece of the world.

And that's a big part of the reason that I still stand with Hillary. Because no matter how crappy Congress is the next four or eight years, and how little they end up accomplishing - they would never be able to take away that a woman was in the White House leading the US. And if that's all I can get out of the next four or eight years - I'll take it.

Because my daughter deserves better than what she's inheriting.


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Science Fair

Helen and  Connor have been out of school since a week ago last Thursday (12 days!). We got a couple of inches of snow, the streets promptly turned into icy parking lots, and Arlington threw in the towel. Then came two feet of snow and we are just not capable of dealing with that.

I was determined to knock at least a few projects off our to-do list, and science fair bubbled to the top. Helen decided to see what would melt snow the fastest - bringing  it into our home,  bringing it into our home and putting chili pepper on it, or salting it.

It was actually pretty cool watching the plain snow and the chili powder snow shrink while the salted snow was turning into water. Perhaps there's a lesson in there for Arlington.

Connor built a popsicle stick bridge. He studied two different kinds of support systems and a few nights ago, we had the big test.

All good...
...all is not so good.

The lesson I learned from  Connor's experiment? I am super grateful that my Odyssey of the Mind team  did not choose the balsa wood challenge -  because I'm not ready for another building project that will have its success defined by how much weight it holds!


Thursday, January 28, 2016

Pinewood Derby - Year 5

Connor ended his pinewood derby career last Saturday night. In first grade, he had the fastest car in his group and in third and fourth grade he had the best looking car in the larger pack. This year, he was gunning for best looking car again, and he came close.

His space shuttle received second place and a medal, which he loved. First place was a hotdog.

I think my favorite car was the shark he made for fourth grade. Two other boys came with sharks this year, perhaps inspired by his car from last year.

I missed the event entirely. Helen had a yoga event with her girl scout troop, and rather than being the one hour class I expected, it was at least an hour and a half. I arrived just as things were wrapping up. On the bright side, that meant the event ran more smoothly than in past years. On the downside, I have no photos to commemorate the actual running of the car.

From first to fifth - bus to shuttle.
As each event passes, Ed ticks off one more "last thing" as his two years of leading the boys comes to an end. Connor has told me he's enjoyed having Ed lead the group, although he realizes it might be at least a little fun to have someone else lead the group since he could be naughtier then!


Thursday, January 21, 2016

Smart = Bad = So Don't Educate?

When I was growing up, there were plenty of "cool" kids who were also smart. Yes, we had more than our share of the uncool, I'm sure, but being in an upper-level class wasn't grounds for being a social outcast. And even if it had been, it wouldn't have been a huge deal because the school was big, the classes were full, and no doubt there were plenty of peers available in the class.

Which might be part of the reason I cringe when I hear people talking about being smart and uncool in the same sentence. And it hurts a little more when it's a gifted resource teacher who utters this sentiment.

At a middle school information night, Connor and I went to a break-out session on gifted services. The teacher acknowledged that - except for math - there are no leveled classes at the school. And whether I agree with that or not is somewhat immaterial. But when she tells the group of parents and students that one of the reasons for this is that it would be "social suicide" to identify a kid as gifted,  or super smart, or anything other than a 100 IQ middle of the road thinker, I want to reach out and smack her.

Because in fact, school culture is something that the community builds. And it can, actually, be cool not just to be the star football player who may - quite literally - be sacrificing a piece of his future for the school, but also to be the smart kid who's able to process information at very fast speeds. S/he may solve a problem you don't even know you have.

I could give you several examples from my own middle and high school experience.

Also, it is not lost on me, that this excuse for not having leveled classes is the laziest excuse out there. A child who is gifted who doesn't want to be identified as such can always choose to drop down a level in classwork (if levels actually existed) if being in a class of high learners is too uncomfortable. Why we would take away the option of being grouped with similarly minded peers is beyond me, and I dearly hope there's a better reason out there.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016


Yesterday morning, the forecast called for 12 degrees and windy. I love my Tuesday runs with a friend who lives close by, and I was planning on running - until I got her note mid-day on Monday suggesting maybe the treadmill or the pool would make a better setting for our Tuesday morning meetup.

She had a point, of course, and I told her I'd do either. I figure once a year it's a good exercise to try and run on a treadmill at a gym, remind myself that I do not like the gym, and then hit the streets the next time it's cold.

To my surprise, she opted for swimming. I have not swum for more than ten consecutive minutes since 2004. I learned that I am not only unable to perform a flip turn anymore, I am scared of doing so. I'm worried I will hit the wall with my head.

We arrived 15 minutes before the pool officially opened and still, all of the lanes labeled medium speed were filled, and the one lane with fewer than two people in it was labeled slow. My friend is actually a super fast swimmer, so she decided we should just hop in the open fast lane. We split the lane, and I'm guessing the only reason nobody joined us was because they saw one half of the lane dominated by someone who knew what she was doing and the other half of the lane with me, struggling away.

Just like the first many track workouts I went to, I was unable to finish the workout. But I did pretty much swim for 50 minutes, with only a few brief rests - so that seemed like a good enough start. In fact, I've decided that although I am a sworn non-cross trainer, I'm going to try swimming once a week. I don't know how long it will last, but it just might happen that I'm able to use the last eight punches on a pool pass that is dated 2011! (That's how long it's been since Ed and I purchased the 20 swim pass, back in the days when Helen or Connor was taking lessons and Helen was always begging to go to the pool.)

Let's hope it translates into a faster running speed!


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Goal Met!

Helen went door to door peddling her sugar discs. Pretty much every door she knocked on had a willing buy on the other side. At first, her goal was to sell 75 boxes and get a charm bracelet. But after she did that, she set her sights on 115 boxes in order to score a stuffed animal. And she succeeded!

We did have to make a few last minute drives to homes where I knew there were no girl scouts in order to get those last few sales in. But she happily ran up the driveway with Connor by her side. I went to a few houses with her and we learned that one of our neighbors was the top seller every year for her troop and another neighbor had met an ORIGINAL girl scout. I'm looking forward to helping Helen deliver boxes to that man, because I'd love to hear more of his stories.

The incentives definitely motivated Helen - and they also resulted in perhaps my proudest parenting moment yet. Faced with a math error that left Helen one box short, without hesitation Connor chimed in that he would buy one more box from Helen. Connor likes his money, so this was a big deal.

I'm already curious about whether the girls will get to opt into prizes or not next year. But for now, I'll call this a sale successfully ended!


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Arlington Public Schools Deliver Another Migraine

I remember Kindergarten Information Night like it was yesterday. The thought of Connor being in the wrong setting for kindergarten made me so very sad I got a migraine. Last night, as I sat in on a middle school orientation, I was awash with those same feelings of sadness - and that same terrible headache.

There's a county middle and high school program that is filled by a lottery. The theory the school purports to follow is that if you give children responsibility, they will behave responsibly. I can already see my sister's eyes rolling as she tells me that some day, I need to step out of my hippy-dippy self. But even her eye roll isn't making me second guess my gut.

Connor needs to be in this school.

Well, maybe he doesn't need to be in this school. But I do believe it is where he would thrive. Which is not to deny that every other applicant would thrive there or to suggest that Connor is more deserving of a spot than anyone else.

Spots are assigned based on neighborhood population. Students from far away neighborhoods tend to be less likely to apply than students close by, so reportedly have better odds of getting in. We live a few blocks away from the school. Of course.

Connor's odds of getting in are tiny. And while normally I throw my hands up to the fates and say if it is to be, it will be. But tonight? I'm wondering if those fates can hear me and if they can, I'm begging them - please look down on my best little guy and gift him a spot in that school.

I just know it's where he should be.


Tuesday, January 12, 2016


A few months ago, my friend Tracy and I decided to mortgage our homes and take our children to see Matilda at the Kennedy Center. We had fantastic seats, which turns out was an even better choice than I initially thought. Prior to entering the theater, there was a warning, mentioning that in Matilda - people talk loudly and in strange accents, and perhaps the audience-goer might like to check out the Kennedy Center's assisted listening devices. They also had printed out sheets with the lyrics to several songs (which were useless because the theater is dark - and though I thought about lighting Helen's sheet with my phone, I decided this was just too gauche).

I later learned, that the Washington Post reviewer had this to say about the acoustics of Matilda:

"... the hall’s sound system or acoustics are so atrocious that they have the capability of transforming merrily expectant theatergoers into embittered Scrooges. I know that I am not alone in my belief that the biggest of the Kennedy Center’s performance spaces needs a thorough rethinking on how it handles large-ensemble musicals, because virtually every time one materializes there, I receive emails from people who have emptied their wallets for the show, only to discover they’ve paid to hear half the lyrics — at best."

Thankfully, we could hear just fine.

And oh, wow, was it amazing. There is something different about a first-run touring cast. It was as good as Broadway. I was in heaven. A few days before the show, I had pulled out a few songbooks and Helen and I had been crooning away. I'm looking forward to getting a copy of the score for this show so we can enjoy some more time with the piano.

It's been awhile since we made it to a full-length musical, and though Connor was once my willing theater buddy, it's not his first choice activity these days. But he didn't want to miss out on this experience, and I was delighted to take my seat between both of my children.


Monday, January 11, 2016

New Year's Resolutions

Helen was asked to come up with some resolutions for the year, as well as answer a few questions about the coming year.

Not shown in the photo below, but my favorite of her resolutions was to learn to bake chocolate chip cookies. I remember a friend of mine knew the recipe for cookies so well, she could whip up a batch without even consulting the cookbook. What I can't remember is exactly how old we were. But, 2nd grade seems as good of time as any to learn this basic skill, so we set to work on it last night.

The first batch was greeted with smiles, though this is something we plan to do many more times. Helen was able to do everything except whisk the melted butter and sugar together and take the cookies out of the oven. Next time, I'm hoping she masters the first, but I'm not really ready for her to master the second.

More fun - she's looking forward birthday! Cool! Maybe that's what she wants to learn to make cookies for? Maybe she's looking forward to me being gone? (My oldest niece graduates from high school on MAY 17!)

And she wants to try lemon? This makes no sense. But she knocked it off at Faccia Luna on Saturday night when neither Ed nor I were inspired to cook. She told me she wanted to try something else, but when I told her she had written lemon on  her form, she asked me to pass the lemon, and took a bite.

She's been talking about "Kung Fu Panda", which is one of the many movies I know nothing about, so this one made a lot of sense to me. I think she watched the first movie on New Year's Eve, so hopefully the library will have the third at some point so she can watch it, too.

Things she wants to learn? Perhaps she ought to add spelling to her list. (Actually, she's a great speller, but seems to have missed the mark on this worksheet.). She wants to learn multiplication so she can play Math Dice with Connor, I suspect.

And finally - her travel plans are pretty impressive. We'll hit Prague and Vienna this summer. But we're all going to need to be a little older to travel to Africa or China. Maybe a friend of mine will move there (or back, as would be the case with China) so we can get to one of these places in the next couple of years.

Happy New Year, Helen!


Friday, January 8, 2016


I'm not exactly certain how it started, but at some point, Helen decided she loved roller skating. So much so, that we went to the local middle school gym on Saturday night, which hosts a skate night throughout the winter. Unfortunately for her, that love of skating did not translate into the speedster in the rink she fancied herself. But the numerous knocks to her tush as she hit the ground that night did not result in her fondness fading. In fact, it only inspired her to figure the sport out. (And kudos to her friend, who was falling - hard - all over the place and just kept telling Helen - let go of your mom's hand! It's OK to fall! That's how we'll figure it out! - Note to the universe, I want to emulate whatever is happening at that house, because it's something good!)

Since our skating adventure, I've been letting Helen cruise around on the basement carpet and the kitchen linoleum - two surfaces that are smooth and slow - and she's been somehow convincing her friends to join her when they come for playdates. Knock on wood, I have not had to call any parents to let them know the kitchen counter and their daughter's head had a meeting. I did have one mother pick her daughter up and exclaim that next time, she'd be sure her daughter had wrist guards, elbow pads, and her helmet. This mom is clearly better at the safety side of parenting than I am.

For Christmas, Ed's mom gave Helen and Connor each a pair of roller blades. After seeing mine (circa 1994 - when I was a nanny for the summer! - why did I keep them so long, I do not know), the kids decided they must be easier than the traditional skates. And finally, last week, Helen made a triumphant roll from our house, down the street, around the corner to the end of the block, and back. She wanted to cruise around the entire block, but I reminder her that hills were probably not her friend.

The verdict? She loves them!  Thank you, Grandma Lynn!