Monday, September 29, 2014

Let's Play Ball!

Tomorrow, my favorite baseball team from my childhood - the Kansas City Royals - will play in a one game wildcard play-in game. If they win, they go on to the American League Division Series. If they lose - they leave behind the best season Kansas City fans have witnessed in a long time. Up until two days ago, there remained the slimmest of hopes that the Royals could avoid the play-in game and win the division, but it wasn't to be. If they had won the division, they'd be playing Baltimore on Thursday, in a game I have a pair of tickets to attend. I still look forward to taking Connor to a play-off game of his beloved Orioles, but I was REALLY hoping the Royals would be there.

Connor has been a huge sport throughout these last several games. The Os have been a lock for the post-season for a while. Not so with the Royals. My parents gave Connor a Royals shirt, and up until Saturday, every time he wore the shirt, they won. Superstitious? Why yes, I am. But he's been rooting hard for the Royals because he knows my whole family has their hearts on this one. He'll go back to rooting for his O's come Thursday evening, as he should, but for now, it's nice to have the whole house rooting for the Royals.

If the Royals do manage to make it into the ALDS, then it is essential they win at least one game because if they do, my sister (who might be the biggest Royals' fan ever) will be watching the game from seats I was lucky enough to get when I went online after seeing on Facebook that the ticket system kept crashing. I'm pretty sure that I'll hear her shouting from the stadium as I watch from my home. She asked me if I was going to fly home for the game, and it did take me a minute to decide that no, I would not do that. I'm holding out hope that the Os and Royals will play in the ALCS, and that's when I'll see them in action.

And then, of course, there's my current hometown team, the Nationals. They have secured home field throughout the play-offs. Ed, Connor, and I will be at home game 1. We opted to pass on game 2 since Ed and the kids had a camping trip planned before the playoff picture was clear, and we'll be back at the stadium if they end up making it a five game series. Most of me hopes they have wrapped up the division series before it comes to game five, though I'm sure it would be exciting. But oh, the heartburn it could case.

With three strong rooting interests in this year's play-offs, I'm hoping at least one of these teams will make it to the end! But even if they don't, we're pretty much experiencing baseball nirvana in this house - which as a Royals' fan, I had given up on long ago.

His favorite team.
The shirt he wears to make me smile.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Morning Good-Bye

Since virtually the start of the school year, mornings that I drop Connor and Helen at school go like this.

I don Helen's backpack and then Connor tosses on his backpack, runs out to the shed, grabs his bike, and tells me good-bye and I love you as he flies down the driveway on his own to school. I wave and tell him I love him and wish him a great day. I tell him I'll lock his bike when I get to school.

I get Helen's bike out of the shed, make sure her bike lock and Connor's bike lock are in the bike basket, she drops her headband in the basket, and then I position the bike at the top of the driveway. Helen waits there for a moment while I run down the driveway and when the road is empty, shout "all clear". This is her cue to get peddling as fast as she can. She heads down the driveway and then directly up a hill. It's a big hill, and at first, she could only make it a house or two before needing a push. Now, she can get over halfway up without assistance, and I'm confident in a week or two she'll be nailing it the whole way. I run beside Helen giving her a boost when needed, and then run ahead of her at intersections so I can shout "all clear" once more. (This avoids having her lose momentum, assuming the road is all clear.) Helen rides to the crosswalk by school, hops off her bike, and then I walk it across the street and she hops back on to get to the bike racks. I lock both bikes as Helen waits, and then we hold hands and walk into school together.

Until this morning, that is.

This morning, she grabbed her backpack once we got to school and shouted "I don't need you anymore, Mom".

And off she went. I walked beside her until she got to the door anyway (that's the way I have to go to get back home) and told her she could just pretend she didn't know me. She laughed, and then skipped into the building, high-fiving the gym teachers that greet students every morning.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Happy National Play-Doh Day!

Today is National Play-Doh day. Helen celebrated a bit early by choosing strawberry scented play-doh as her prize from the prize box yesterday. She was very thrilled to shove it in my nose and shout SMELL IT, SMELL IT! It is so precious.

The folks at Play-doh celebrated by making structures of famous schools in movies out of Play-doh. Check out the rendition of the school from Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

I laughed out loud when this showed up in my inbox, because my friend Ellen has taken to using the hashtag #NeverHadOneLesson whenever she posts about her children performing.

And, even though Helen has definitely had more than one lesson, every time I hear her play violin, I think of Ellen and her hashtag.

Without further adieu - I present to you Helen, playing not just the open strings on her violin, but using her index finger to make an F#. Being told she could do this was almost as exciting as the prize box.

Maybe we'll use that new Play-doh of Helen's to make a violin.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Second Half Marathon - Race Report

I ran the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club half marathon on Saturday. It was a super fun race. The tree covering was fantastic to run beneath, the rain was welcome relief because I was hot, and with the exception of one person in the race, everyone I met was amazing.*

After running the Rock-n-Roll half in the spring, I decided to run a trail half marathon in the fall. This was at the urging of my friend Rob, who paced me for Rock-n-Roll. He primarily runs incredibly long distances on trails, so that's where his heart is. This is considered a bit of a warm-up to trail runners.

Preparation steps.

1. Think about running on trails.

I actually did this quite a bit. I thought about running, getting lost, tripping, getting hurt. Really, I had all aspects of the race covered. When I would run with folks and they would ask if I was training for anything, I would tell them about the run. Then they would ask what it was like to run trails, and I would say "I have no idea!".

2. Volunteer at a trail race to talk to actual trail runners.

In this phase, I learned that trail runners are very nice. They have a lot of tips for roadies like myself, though some of them don't really respect roadies. It was a 50 mile race, and the day was super hot, so I also watched a lot of people drop out of the race. Ouch! I gave many people flat soda, which is something trail runners seem to enjoy.

3. Get urged by friend to move from the "planning to run" phase to the "actually run phase".

This was Rob's wife. I see her almost weekly, and she would always ask "how's the training going?" and I would respond "I'm still in the planning to plan phase" and then later I'd say I was in the "meeting people phase", and then I'd say I was in the "planning to run" phase. She clearly doubted the wisdom of my training plan. She may have had a point.

4. Ask the women of Moms Run This Town if anyone knows how to run on trails.

Anyone?!? There are 1,000 people in my chapter of this group. Surely someone knows how to run on trails and where the trails around here are.

5. Receive one response from a woman willing to try it out.

You've never run trails either? Awesome! This will be fantastic. Did I mention I cannot read a map? Is that a problem? Oh look! I have a phone, too. Let's use it. Where are we?

6. Find map for trail. Try and follow map. Fail many times - but because the person in #5 is so nice, and willing to wander around looking for trailheads, start running.
  • pro-tip: if you're crossing a street that dissects a trail you are on, look for a trash can or other such object across the street - it probably marks the next trail head. Pavement probably marks a very long driveway on private property.
7. Run weekly on trails with #5 and others who have varying availability.

I ran 6 - 8 miles every week on trails, in place of what would've been a longer weekend run. Definitely a good choice. If I could swing running on trails twice weekly, I'd be in even better race shape.

8. Find you have no running partner the week before the race and be grateful your parents happen to be in town and your husband is willing to run with you while your parents watch your children.
  • yes, dear, we run early.
  • no, dear, I won't make you run more than 8 miles.
9. Get to race super prepared. Beat your goal time by 8 minutes.

Total time: 2:22:57; 52 overall; 6th in age group.

Mid-race - nice work by the photographer! I love my flying hair.

Coming down the home stretch towards the finish. Another nice shot! Am I levitating?

*If you start a comment with "I mean this in the nicest way possible", you should probably just stop talking. Because what comes next will probably be unlikely to endear you to the person you're directing your comment at, although it may provide a motivational boost as the person tries to get away from you.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Questions About First Grade

A few years ago, my friend started dating an ultra-marathoner - as in, he runs 100 miles at a time and runs shorter, but still insanely long distances on a regular basis. I will call him UltraMarathonMan, even though that's not his real name. My friend tended to date interesting people for short amounts of time. By the time Ed and I had dinner with UltraMarathonMan, a few months AFTER she had started talking about him, I figured he was doomed to the scrap heap soon. If there was anything I wanted to know, I better ask it.

And there was stuff I wanted to know. Questions about how you make your body move for over 24 hours. Do you sleep and run at the same time? What about the other standard body functions? And your feet...what do they look like after that? And what is the end game here? You injure yourself and never run again, or do you just get bored running and decide to do something else? I was interested in UltraMarathonMan in part because I had never even pondered running these distances and it was hard to understand.

It seems that Helen is her own version of UltraMarathonMan to the girls in first grade. Her teacher has been trying to get my attention after school in a subtle way, but after school is possibly the craziest 10 minutes of my life these days. I should describe that another time, but I start hyperventilating just thinking about how much action is contained in those few minutes.

Friday morning was the first chance the teacher and I had to connect, out of earshot of Helen.

Teacher: The other day on the playground, the girls came running up to me and had the following conversation.

Girls: Helen didn't learn anything in Kindergarten!

Teacher: What do you mean?

Girls: All she did was play all day. She didn't learn to read or write or anything!

Helen: Yep. I just played all day.

Now at this point, it strikes me that all the other girls should be saying "Dude, you have the most awesome parents in the universe! We were confined to desks and chairs and were taught rote skills that the research very clearly show have little to no benefit at our age." But instead, the girls are acting as if it is a problem that Helen neither reads nor writes proficiently, and still gets confused between what a 6 and 9 look like.

Teacher: Helen, did you learn how to be a good friend last year?

Helen: Yes!

Teacher: Did you learn how to play and make up games?

Helen: Yes!

Teacher: Then you know exactly what you are supposed to know to be in my class. You all should go play.

Girls: But we are going to teach her. We are going to help  her!

Teacher: No thanks. That's my job. I'll make sure Helen knows everything she needs to know.

I understand the girls are extremely curious about this non-academic Kindergarten class that Helen talks about. To them, she must be UneducatedCrazyGirl. And they've never run in to UneducatedCrazyGirl before, and her background was something that nobody ever talked about before. And they have questions, oh, they have questions.

So, girls, and anyone else who wonders what happened in that Waldorf classroom last year, here we go.

Did you learn anything? What did your classroom look like? What was your teacher like? What did you do all day? And what about the afternoons? Was there a lunch room? Was there recess? What about art? Did you miss out on anything? What is the end game, will you just be the dumbest kid in the class forever?

Answers: Yes. She learned how to deal with other people, she learned conflict resolution skills, she piled blocks, boards, rocks and other objects together in the greatest study of physics performed at the Kindergarten level of all time. She learned how to divide the toys in a fair way, and when she made pretend lunch in her pretend family, she learned that everyone shared in the meal. She learned that time moves in seasons, that the week and year have their own rhythms, and that she was in an extremely safe space. She perfected her finger knitting skills, made a sword, sewed a case for the sword, and like St. Michael, she is ready to conquer her dragons.

The classroom was painted in beautiful pastels. The room was free from distractions on the wall. Where you saw letters, words, and pictures cluttering every space on the walls and even the floor and ceiling sometimes, Helen saw a seasonal wool picture.

The teacher told some of the most beautiful stories she'll ever have the opportunity to hear. Her assistant teacher was as good as having a grandmother in the class, always smiling, always loving. Her teachers would clear space for play, but didn't direct the play. Her teachers were there to help her learn how to get along with everyone in the room, a skill I see adults fail at daily.

Afternoons were spent with her mom or a babysitter. They went to parks, shared a leisurely lunch, went swimming, painted on the sidewalks, made crepes, made yogurt cakes, and read stories. Lots of stories. You will hardly believe the vocabulary she has amassed at this point.

Nope. No lunch room. Snack was shared in a room with two tables, and Pico the gnome sat next to the children. Pico has very sensitive ears, so the children learned not to shout in his presence. Helen had the honor of placing Pico at the table every day. We have our own Pico, because Helen loved that gnome so much.

Officially, no recess. Helen started her day outside on the playground, moved inside for indoor play, and ended the day on the outside playground.

For art, Helen colored once a week and painted once a week. These creations were bound together and represent the only papers Helen brought home all year. I treasure them. All of the creations came from her imagination, and I can see how it changed over the year. She started out mostly working with different colors. Then there was a rainbow phase, a cave phase, a sunshine phase, and more.

Helen didn't miss out on anything she needed. You'll understand by the end of the year.

The end game? She'll rock first grade just like her brother and the other children from her Waldorf school who have gone through her elementary school. She comes with a rich vocabulary, a rich imagination, and she can pay attention better than anyone in the classroom. These things she'll carry with her for her whole life.

This afternoon, I'm going to be sure and talk to Helen about this. I think her best response is "My mom just wanted me to play!", which I think will mean her friends can start thinking of her as Helen, the girl with CrazyMom. I'm tough. I can take it.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Grade 4

Connor started fourth grade this year! And because third grade set the bar sufficiently low (academically) for me at least, I'm confident fourth grade will be better. Key to happiness is low expectations, right? After school playdates picked up exactly where they left off, with Connor and classmates trading homes regularly. Fun times are in store this year.

Connor shares a locker with a good friend of his - which is very lucky for him. Upon hearing the news of his locker mate, he told me "I'm glad to be sharing a locker with G. He's not an extremely neat person himself, so he won't mind if I'm on the untidy side as well". Fastidious does not describe these two boys. I'm hoping that by week three, they'll still be able to close the door.

I know nothing about his homeroom teacher except her name, which is a steep departure from past years. We missed the open house because we were on vacation and I've been so concerned with Helen's transition that all my energy has been directed toward smoothing that. I dropped Connor off the first morning at the cafeteria (where the older children meet), pointed to another student in his class, and gave him the sage advice "follow W. He went to the open house and knows where the classroom is." It worked, I guess, because he made it to class - as far as I can tell.

I emailed the teacher a few days ago to see if I could bring Connor's cupcakes in tomorrow and apologized for not dropping by yet, but letting her know things must be going pretty well since Connor seems happy. She sent a nice note back, and I do look forward to at least seeing her tomorrow so I know who she is when I'm up at school. Back-to-school night is next week, which is when I should figure out who his other teachers are.

Connor is playing soccer again, and in a huge win for my sanity, has opted to not play baseball this fall. The baseball team is considerably smaller in the fall, and I just didn't think I could get through another two-season sport with Connor. Running from baseball to soccer last fall and this past spring were not among my favorite memories as a parent. Plus, Helen starts softball again this weekend, which is a logistics problem that at least does not involve me trying to have one child in two places, but will require some man-to-man defense employing both cars and both parents in this house.

Here's how much Connor grew from the first day of school last year to this. Same bad photography, unfortunately, but taller kid. He looks a little more confident to me as well.

Start of 3rd grade

Start of 4th grade

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

How to break your mama's heart in one quick step - and then put it back together

Day 1. Announce, matter-of-factly, while getting your hair braided, that you will probably be the dumbest kid in your whole class because you don't know how to read or write. Then, come home and tell your mom that you just played by yourself at recess because everybody else has so many friends from kindergarten!

Day 2. Announce you spent your whole recess running around with your new friends on the playground.

You got this, kid. Two more days and you will have completed week one.

On a side note, Helen has an extremely loose front tooth. Her plan was to pull it out on day one, but she changed her mind - and it's still hanging on. She discussed its looseness with at least one classmate, who told her that slamming a door would be a good way to get it out. Helen replied that at her home, they are not allowed to slam doors. So the classmate offered that apples are also a good way to get a loose tooth to fall out. Helen requested apples in her lunch today.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Let's Start This Thing Right - Grade 1

Dear Mrs. H.,

Another year has started. I am thrilled Helen will be in your class. You were amazing with Connor. I'll never forget two things about you. First, you have been teaching for many years now, but you bring an energy to the classroom that is hard to miss. Second, you recognized Connor's every change and changed right along with him. Thank you. I realize I'm sending you another child who cannot read, but I know she'll be rocking this by the end of the year, due in large part to that magic you work on a daily basis.

And thank you in advance for every day you come into my child's classroom and insist that she be her best. Thank you for every time you agree to meet with me (trust me, it won't just be at conference time - but you already know this). And mostly, for every time you absolutely insist that every child in your classroom treat you and every other child in that classroom with respect and kindness, thank you. And thank you also for that day when you look up and notice my child for the individual she is. You're helping me raise one of the two people I love most in the world, one of the two people's who success I care about more than any other, and one of the the two people who carry little parts of my heart and soul with them everywhere they go. Take care of her, please, she is my everything. Our hearts bruise more easily than we might let on.

I'm going to give you enough information about Helen that you won't have to bore her by trying to figure this out in the first month of the school year. Efficiency is the name of the game, friend. I'm not giving you a free pass this year, and I expect you not to give Helen a free pass either. We're all going to have to work hard - this is the year it all begins for Helen. Please use your time thoughtfully, I promise to return the favor.

Helen has never sat at a desk for longer than it takes to complete an art project - and typically, she's on the floor when she's working on her art projects at home. It's just more comfortable down there. Plus, if she sits on the floor, both her desk AND chair can serve as horizontal surfaces on which to stash things. Did I mention Helen loves stuff?

This love of stuff is important. You see, Helen's trying to be an inventor - like Violet in the Lemony Snickets books. Just this past summer she created a lifesaving device that can be used on our rafting trips, a chocolate mint cake that is divine (DO NOT EAT! IT CONTAINS MUD!), headbands that she is marketing to other girls with crazy hair, and she crafted a blanket from potholders. If nothing else, that last item shows you her sense of dedication to a project! She is also learned to knit last week and already has about 2 feet of a scarf completed - a scarf that is so precious she plans to gift it to every member of the house. But I already know once it's completed it'll be used for something else entirely.

I know you will notice this immediately when you meet Helen, but she is tiny. Like - off-the-charts, looks like she can't open a door tiny. And when she's a little intimidated, I swear she can become even tinier and someday, you might look around and wonder where the heck she is. If you are like most people, you will be physically drawn to doing things for her. I know this phenomena well - I've lived it. Just ask my older sister who still resents all the reaching and door opening she did for me. But here's the rub. Resist this temptation to do physical things for her. Let her spend the longest minute of your life as she struggles with that door, and eventually figures out how to get enough leverage to open it. Because if you don't, you are selling her short. And that's not helping anybody. She actually can climb from floor to stool to counter to cabinet to get a glass, climb back down, open that refrigerator door that looks so heavy compared to her, fill up the water glass with the pitcher that is entirely too full for a little girl to handle, and deliver a glass of water to each person sitting at the dinner table. This appears hugely inefficient - which I already alluded to not liking, but you know what? She is really proud of the system she devised - by herself. And she needs to know you have confidence in her to perform basic activities as well. Go spend a minute with that kid at the back of the line teaching him about patience, and let her get that door for you. Please be mindful of the long-term. You may only spend a year with her, but if I'm lucky, I'm going to spend a lot more of them with her. She needs to have the confidence it takes to maneuver through this world.

Helen has a terrible sense of direction. And while she has mostly adapted to this, it can make things seem scarier than you might imagine. She comes by this honestly from me and her maternal grandma. Sorry about that. But here's my advice: do not send her on a mission alone unless you are willing to lose her. She's unlikely to break the perimeter, so you have that going for you, but she's also highly unlikely to get from point A to point B in any sort of reasonable manner. We've lived in our home for five years now and still, she must pause to figure out where the front door is and where the back door is. Did I mention the back of our house is mostly windows - so she can SEE the backyard?

Helen cannot stand being unable to do something, and like most kids, she'll feign not being interested. But as soon as she figures it out? She will follow along full tilt. As long as she knows you're not going to give up on her, she won't give up on herself, either.

Look, I know the days can be long. Days with a particularly stubborn little girl can be even longer. Just keep moving. Your smile and calm will get you and Helen through this year.

Call me if you get stuck or think things could be going better. I promise I will be able to figure out what's going on in less than an hour. And if you don't need me, that's fine, too. I'll be the mom in the back of the room putting together Friday folders and sharpening pencils. I loved spending time in your classroom three years ago. I'm going to love it even more this year, I think.