Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Group Bike Ride

Connor commuted by bike for the entire school year. A friend started biking with him pretty early on, and despite a few bike wrecks (one of which ended in a broken tooth!), they pretty much made it to school by themselves every day. Occasionally his friend's mom or Ed would drive them, and then Connor would either walk home or take the school bus.

As a result of his daily biking, he became quite proficient. His ride to school is over a couple of rolling hills. In the past few days, Ed and I both noticed he could charge up and down them with ease. He's also learned to see the value of biking. He wanted to put his pokemon in a nearby gym, so he hopped on his bike and did the deed. Independence!

Saturday afternoon, the local bike store was having a group ride that was family friendly. Best of all, it ended with two scoops of gelato at the store next door. This seemed like a win-win. Connor and I biked to the start, biked the route with the group, had our gelato, and biked home. (And every time we eat gelato, we remind ourselves how much we love it and say "Grandma Carlene loves gelato, too!", and Saturday was no different.

Round trip, our ride was only about 5 miles. Connor could've gone much further, and perhaps we'll try a longer ride this week since Helen is gone (she's good for about 5 miles, but the lack of gears on her bike means our neighborhood hills can be a bit much).


Monday, June 26, 2017

Older vs. Younger Child? Boy vs. Girl?

Yesterday, I dropped Helen off at her first sleep away camp. She's been wanting to go for over a year. Last summer, I wasn't quite ready, and the week her friends went didn't work out for her. This year, she had two friends ready to go and there was no way I was stopping her. Off to Girl Scout camp she went.

When Connor first went to Boy Scout camp, Ed accompanied him for the first part of the week. I'm not sure if that's what made me more comfortable about him going away, or if it's because in general - I tend to approach Connor's milestones as "yay! you made it!". In contrast, I tend to approach Helen's milestones as "Ugh! Slow down!". By way of example, when Connor gave up nursing (19 months - forced off because I was sick)? I was pregnant with Helen on the way. When Helen gave up nursing (30 months!)? I knew I would never nurse a baby again. And that's been pretty much the pattern their whole lives.

In some ways, I think it's the difference between an older and younger child. But I worry that it's also that Connor is a boy and Helen is a girl, and somewhere deep inside I just worry about her more. Which of course, isn't one bit fair because of both my children, she's the one much more likely to know and demand what she needs. Objectively, she's better equipped to handle new situations.

It is not the fact that we're separated that makes me anxious. She's been to my parents' home for a few summers now without me, always having a great time. But there, she has Connor, which is often the case. And Connor will stick up for her, help her out, and in general make sure she's doing OK.

Have a great week, Hel! I can't wait to hear your stories. And I promise you now, I will not mention at all how anxious I was for you. Because I know you deserve this.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Memorial Day Camping

I'm not a huge fan of camping. Mostly, I don't like the mess that comes with it. I also don't have access to the internet and my computer, so I can't sneak in an hour of work in the evening. And while yes, I can admit this is probably a good thing, because of the hours I work - it's pretty necessary for me to spend some time in the evening catching up.

However, everyone else in my family loves camping. This has resulted in the three of them taking trips without me, while I am away doing something I prefer. But this past Memorial Day weekend, Ed planned a trip, and though he gave me the opportunity to opt out, I figured it was about time to show up at one of these.

On Saturday, I went running with friends and then hopped in the mostly packed car. Ed, characteristically, did the driving, which allowed me a little time to nap. I had decided to bring my friend Pico to enjoy the trip with me, and he settled right into the car. (Pico, as some of you know, is my favorite child because all day long he sits quietly, making not a sound. True to form, he kept his calm all weekend long.)

We arrived at camp, got set up, and then we waited out a brief shower before heading over to the lake to rent a paddleboat. Having older children makes paddle boats pretty nice. Not only did I not have to worry about someone jumping off the boat, I enjoyed being a rider the entire hour.

By the time evening rolled around, we were hungry. Ed had forgotten to pack some of the s'more ingredients, so he headed into town to get them. As our hunger mounted, I decided to try and execute Ed's plan of campfire pizza. And guess what? It was a total success - and I would do it again!

Sunday, we went on a lovely hike, although Pico spent most of the time hitching a ride with Helen.

That's Pico peeking out of Helen's hood.

Helen and Connor spent much of their time deciding how high and far they could climb, without causing me to have a heart attack. (See why I like Pico best?)

In the end, I'll call it a successful camping trip, thanks mostly to Ed's planning and Ed having learned that the thing I really hate about camping is all the stuff sitting around out of place for days after the trip. I believe everything was tucked back into its place before Monday night.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Middle School Math

In reviewing blog posts from last year, I can only guess that the reason I didn't record my fight with the school district for an adequate math class was because I was a woman suffering from policy whiplash and administrator induced PTSD. But as I sit on the other end of the year, I think it's worth putting down on these archives. If nothing else, Connor can read it later and know that I did my part, and eventually, the school system did its part as well.

Connor had amazing first and second grade teachers. They moved right along with him and when he needed a challenge, they handed it to him. Third grade crushed Connor's and my soul. By fourth grade, he had a set of teachers that cared but, after the school year ended and I talked with them (after having met with them multiple times over the course of the year), they told me that they knew they had failed Connor. The strategy is to teach to the middle, go pick up the students who are struggling, and then turn to the kids who are bored. The strategy, almost always leaves nothing for the kids seeking enrichment. Typically, it meant a packet of work with no explanation or assistance. Fifth grade, he had a teacher who was quite impressive, but in the end, just couldn't give him what he needed.

At the end of 5th grade, students in my school system take the Math Inventory (MI - formerly the SMI). The math inventory, coupled with the end-of-year tests are used to determine a student's math placement in middle school. Connor's score indicated he was ready for geometry. That's an 8th or 9th grade class in our school system (on the advanced track).

The school system assigned him math 7 for 6th graders. That class is two full years below where Connor tested. I talked with the gifted facilitator (not helpful). I talked with the math teacher (she was supportive of anything to get Connor into a better class, knowing he was facing boredom and knowing how bad that can be for everyone involved). I had meetings with the assistant superintendent of instruction for math. And, after our first meeting, she told me Connor could be skipped ahead an entire grade level (which I rejected) or she would get the principal at the middle school to put him in algebra, so one level below geometry. This was what I wanted, so I was happy with that. Present at the meeting were the math department head and the head of middle school math.

The assistant superintendent retired, the  principal balked, so I started down the path of talking with the middle school math coach and the math department head. They were unrelenting. We had more conversations than I care to recall, and with each one, I sensed time slipping right through my hands.

And then, the math coach proffered a compromise. She would take the top 20 or so students based on their MI scores (at least 1100), CoGAT scores (at least 130), and state test scores (these last tests are useless because every child in the class scored 100 percent on them). She'd stick them in the same room. The class would be called Math 7 for 6th graders, but she guaranteed the content would be rich and Connor would not be bored.

With a lot of skepticism, I relented, crossed my fingers and said a quick prayer to St. Anthony. I met with the teacher of the class and the math coach outside of conferences once, and I had a rough patch of email with the teacher which ended in Connor telling her "my mom said not to send this stupid stuff home to me". (For the record, he at least cleaned up my language, but I thought he wouldn't bother repeating the sentiment. The prior evening, as he had done for about a week, he handed me his iPad because this ridiculously easy program wasn't working. I couldn't get the stupid program to work again and I said "take this piece of sh*t back to your teacher and tell her not to ever send it back home with you".) By the time I emailed the teacher the following day, she'd already had the exchange with Connor, and the program never came home again.

But guess what? Once the class got on track, it provided an actual challenge to Connor. The school system kept its word. No one could be more please than I when Connor brought home is new MI score. He came home with a score indicating he had not just advanced "one academic year" - the stated goal of the school system, he had advanced 2 academic years. Which means he now owns a score indicating he is proficient in 12th grade math (the test considers geometry to be a 10th grade class - so he's now two academic years farther along than he was at the end of last year).

This is a miracle. I am grateful. Connor lit up when I told him how much progress he has made. It provides the perfect reason for WHY you challenge kids. I would say Connor was interested in the class about 60 percent of the time, which is light years ahead of where he's been the past several years. It is also about the level a math coach told me he needed to be at to stay interested in math.

Last I talked to the math teacher, she wanted to keep the students together for another year, but it's not guaranteed. Added to the fact that a new principal starts in July, I already know what I'll be spending July and August doing. Because I cannot handle going backwards and watching Connor sit in a class next year bored out of his mind. I need that class to keep going for my sanity, as does Connor.

Bur for now, I am really grateful the compromise worked out. One year of middle school math is in the books!


Friday, June 9, 2017


Last weekend, Helen and I went to Hershey Park with her girl scout troop. We had planned to have the whole family join, but Connor came down with strep throat on Saturday night (and learned the lesson of never going to an urgent care clinic without a book). Ed stayed home with Connor.

Helen is even wilder now than she was last year, which I remember thinking was pretty wild. There is not a roller coaster in the park that she didn't love, and for some strange reason (overcast skies? kind of chilly?) there were almost no lines at the park. We rode more rides before 4:00 than we usually get in during a longer day. Helen did indulge my love of the bumper cars once, but mostly she was a thrill seeker.

Lucky for me, a few parents that went with us were hard core roller coaster riders, even opting to ride coasters the girls were too short to ride. That meant I had a nice balance of riding and resting. I think only one parent kept her feet firmly planted on the ground throughout the day.

I had feared this would be a trip where the Girl Scouts essentially bought tickets for the girls with their cookie money, but then didn't actually spend time together - but that didn't happen at all. For most of the morning we were a pretty tight group (facilitated by the almost non-existent lines) and in the afternoon, there were essentially two groups making their way through the park.

This is my favorite - since Helen is clearly trying to look afraid.

And this one does the best job of summing up Helen's day!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Math Dice Volunteer

Many weeks ago, the gifted facilitator at Helen's school asked me if Connor would be interested in helping her out with the after school math dice club. (Connor's middle school lets out about an hour before elementary school.) When Connor learned it was his former gifted facilitator who had recommended him for the position, he was thrilled, and happy to participate.

I am really proud of Connor for the commitment he made. He attended every session and, because it was on Wednesday, he also waited an extra 15 minutes after every session to walk home with Helen (she was participating in a different after-school activity that let out 15 minutes later than math dice).

Last year, Connor was one of 6 students that represented his elementary school on the math dice team. When he played, he played to win, though he would often modify the rules when he played against me because I was unwilling to play by the actual rules. This year, he learned to sit back, keep it interesting for the younger students in the club, and LOSE to them on occasion. As far as I can tell, he was a bit of a celebrity. Our neighbor's son was in the class, and when I would see him, he'd tell me how great a player Connor was. And then, at a neighborhood festival,  there was a small crowd of young children pointing at him and explaining to their mothers "there's the math dice guy!".

At the end of the session, the teacher told Connor she'd gotten him a small gift, but forgot to bring it with her. This really excited him, as he truly was expecting no gift. So - he learned a lot about keeping the game fun for younger participants, sharing his love of something with someone else, and not expecting anything in return.

Yesterday, he received a 10-sided Rubik's Cube -  I don't even understand how to move the pieces around, let alone solve even one side. I'm pretty curious whether Connor will figure it out this summer.


Monday, June 5, 2017

Night in - pass the popcorn!

It has admittedly, been a busy few weeks (end of school year rush, travel to graduation, etc). And while it's been fun - it has meant that Ed and I are more likely to plop down on the couch and watch the ONE TV show we've been into lately than head out the door.

Popcorn is our standard snack, because it makes me a feel a wee less guilty than the sugar treats I adore. And while Connor has become an expert popcorn maker, he's not always available. So I cheated. When G.H. Cretors offered me some popcorn, I said "YES" and then I posted a photo on facebook and said I wasn't sharing any. And that wasn't far from the truth. I ate almost all of it by myself.

A few years ago, my friend in Chicago introduced me to mixed caramel and cheese popcorn, and that is an unusual, but delicious, treat. I hadn't had it since she visited, because I just don't see it around here. But now I can buy it at the grocery store. And, fun fact, G.H.Cretors is a Chicago brand so maybe people from the midwest just love this combo? Maybe we have more finely tuned palates when it comes to balancing just a little sweet with some salty? I don't know - but as a Kansan, I can assure you I feel for the combo.

What's more, my brother-in-law saw my selfish Facebook post, so when I arrived in Kansas for my niece's graduation, he pulled out a bag of  jalapeno white cheddar and since we had run a few miles that day, what we did to that bag of popcorn was a bit destructive. That flavor has the bonus that my picky children won't even try and share because - spicy!

So...cheers to stay-at-home date night, and the rest that I need, and the ease of bagged popcorn that - while not as buttery as Connor's style popcorn, is darn delicious.


G.H.Cretors sent me this popcorn. I then sent Ed to the store for more. Opinions my own. Apologies to my brother-in-law for eating so much of his popcorn.