Saturday, September 2, 2017

7 quick school takes


So the kids started school last week. [Edit: more than that now.]  That's been ... exciting.

Michael has been enthusiastic from the start.  He's been all about getting to start school and finally have some fun, learning, and social time with other kids his age.  I think he's been too much in Marko's shadow and hasn't gotten enough that's really geared toward his age, so it's great for him to have a chance to branch out.

Marko has been upset about this from the start, but he's slowly gotten more and more used to the idea.  There were only a few brief tears on the first day.  He wasn't the most nervous kid in the class, anyway.

John took off work so we could be lonely and nostalgic together.  And we were.  But ohhh, it was so QUIET!  I don't think our house has been so quiet in the daytime since 2012.


I expected things to be a lot easier when school started.  In fact, I was counting on it, and it was a major reason we signed them up in the first place.  And it kind of is.  I mean, there's a lot less noise and overstimulation and bored children clawing each other's eyes out.

On the other hand, I'm still not relieved of enough duties to actually get anything done which I wasn't previously, because Jackie is still far and away the most challenging and she's still here.  And she's going through a rough phase -- or rather, reverting to normal after a brief actually-taking-naps phase -- which makes life unpredictable and difficult.  Her naps go from five to forty-five minutes, max, while when she's awake she is either clingy and wailing, or getting into stuff.  I can't do any job which requires running up and down stairs carrying things, because then I have to take my eyes off her and I can't do that ever.  She heads up the stairs or pulls the trash can over on herself or eats legos.  If I try to clean the kitchen with her playing at my feet, she does what all cruisers do and pulls herself up by my pant legs, so I can't walk over to the sink without knocking her over.  And if my hands are covered in raw chicken or something, I can't detach her either.  It's not the end of the world, but I'm still super unproductive.  I also can't really type while holding her, thus how long it took me to write this blog post (three weeks, not even kidding.  And I'm still only on point 2).  Aaand now she's screaming again, because I pulled her off the stairs.

I just wish, if she were going to be so doggone clingy, she wanted to nurse.  But she doesn't.  Or rather she'll act like she does, and then yank off.  She's much happier grabbing stuff or clawing my face or digging her feet into my belly.  If Miriam was the World's Happiest Baby, Jackie is the World's Most Discontented.


Other reasons my life hasn't gotten much easier include the extra work that school entails.  I have to make the kids get dressed every day, with socks and underwear too.  I have to pack lunches.  I have to walk them to school.

We live approximately one block from school, as the eagle flies.  That's if we cross lots and come up behind the school.  But, despite there being doors ALL OVER the school, there are only two places you can drop kids off: the side door, which is for the "kiss and ride," and the front door, which is for parents who park and walk their kids in.  Walkers are supposed to use the front door too.

This means we have to weave through a line of cars waiting at the kiss and ride, cross the parking lot, go through the playground gate, clamber down a steep grassy hill, and take the sidewalk the rest of the way around the building.  It's too steep for a stroller, which means Miriam has to walk and our whole progress is very slow, plus I have to carry Jackie in the wrap, which neither she nor I really like.

I keep saying I'm going to call the principal and ask if we can switch our drop off and pick up location to the side door, where I can just pretend I'm a car, swing by, and pick up the kids -- but I've waited too long, and now Marko is attached to the door we normally go in by, and insists that we are never allowed to change it.  Meanwhile Michael sobs if I don't walk him to his classroom and help him unpack his backpack every day.  I could fight this, but right now the weather is nice and I'm like -- what's three times the distance, anyway?  I'm sure I'll be sorry when it's rainy.  Especially as, if I choose to drive, that means buckling two kids in, driving two blocks, unbuckling them both, walking to the door, checking my kids out, walking back to the car, buckling everyone in, driving two blocks ....

On the other hand, the kiss and ride line is so long that even with all that walking, we still get home while the cars are still stacked up.  Since school doesn't even get out till 3:40, every minute of our afternoon counts.

After school, we have snack.  I put the snack on the table before leaving to pick the kids up, so when we get inside they can just run up and eat it.  Before I started doing that, it was mass chaos as everyone was taking off shoes and throwing backpacks around and demanding snacks and hitting each other while Jackie would suddenly decide it was time for nurse and nap.  While the kids eat their snack, if Jackie isn't asleep, I unpack the backpacks and see what they've brought home.

Marko always has homework.  I consider this The Worst Thing Ever.  I mean, if I wanted to fight with him for an hour to do five minutes' worth of work, wouldn't I still be homeschooling?  It's an especial shame given that he has about two hours total that he gets to spend on unstructured play with his siblings before dinner, and half of that is going to homework.  And then I have to make dinner, so that leaves zero minutes for me to spend with Michael, who has no homework.

The hour total it often takes?  That's with me doing half of it.  I do almost all the writing, because writing is still extremely difficult for him.  There are often tears, flat refusals, hyperbole ("homework is the worst thing that has ever happened to me in my whole life"), threats ("I will never be nice to you ever again") and then, somehow, the homework gets done.  Generally I remind him of future rewards (computer time on the weekend) or that his teacher will be so happy and give him one hundred percent.  He really loves his teacher, and he loves earning good grades and points for good behavior.

Basically my day is frenetically busy between the hours of 7 and 9, and 3:30 to 7:30, but all the rest is peace and quiet.  Well, mostly.  Miriam is basically no trouble ever, as long as there are no brothers to fight with.  She plays nicely with Jackie or by herself.  Jackie is trouble, but it's baby trouble ... that is, you basically just hold her.  It's mostly pretty quiet and peaceful, and while I am theoretically supposed to be getting stuff done during the day, it's mostly a time to recharge.  I also run errands.  Running errands with only two children feels like a vacation.


What do I like about school?

I like that the kids' teachers seem super nice and they seem to be learning a lot and mostly like it.  I like that they're no longer bored and starting fights with each other all day just because they're understimulated.  I like that when they're home, they don't nag at me to turn on the TV, they get straight into serious playing.  I like that the teachers make a real effort to communicate often.

Marko's behavior in particular has gotten better.  He can be a bit on edge; he throws a fit from time to time, but not more than before.  And he's better at completing tasks independently.  He gets dressed usually with very little guidance (so long as there is a clean green shirt to wear! Lately he will wear only green shirts) and the other day he sorted all my laundry in return for a chance to watch My Little Pony.  He goes into his classroom by himself and unpacks his backpack and turns in his homework.  He's successfully communicating with people at school about his needs, and he's able to report at least some of what he did at school back to me when he gets home.  Sometimes the details are fuzzy; other times he knows in detail when the various teachers have doctor's appointments but has no idea if he has any homework.  But I'm mostly impressed he is communicating so well.  And he's started tentatively writing a few lower-case letters!

I like getting to spend quality time with Miriam instead of just dealing with the kids as a pack.  I like knowing when Jackie wakes up five minutes after laying her down, it's not because of the noise because it's nice and quiet at home.  And I like that when everyone gets home and everything's hectic, I've been keeping my calm better because I've had a (quasi) break.

What don't I like?

I don't like being away from my kids so long.  I miss them.  I wish it were only a few hours a day, or better yet, that I had it in me to provide the amount of fun and learning they need all by myself.  They leave the house at 8:30 and don't get back till almost four.  That's almost a full workday .... for a five and a seven-year-old.

With all their time spent on school, I have no time to teach them to do chores, or have fun learning experiences, or read aloud to them, or answer all their zillion questions.  Sometimes they have a ton of questions and I think "ooh we could do a cool project to learn this" but there isn't any time to do it.  Marko asked a question about why the word "indivisible" was in the Pledge of Allegiance, and I wanted to teach him about the whole Civil War, but there was no time.  I like homeschooling and so sacrificing time learning with my kids is something I kind of resent.  I envy their teachers for getting to do that kind of thing with them, and I can't even volunteer in the classroom because I have little kids.  I miss being a teacher.

I also don't like that they have only one recess per day, or that most of the day is spent on reading and writing so science and history are basically just electives.  I bet the teachers don't love that either, but it's a result of the testing and ranking that American schools are plagued by.  Apparently our school is not ranked very high.  That doesn't matter to me at all, though, because regardless of what test scores are, I can tell the teachers are caring, the class sizes aren't that large (like 24 kids each), special needs kids are getting the help they need, and pretty much everyone we run into knows my kids' names.  That's what counts for a lot more in my book.  I just wish the teachers with my kids were the ones choosing what to spend time on, because I think they'd make better choices.

I don't like all the paperwork, the fundraisers, the pick-up routines, the socialist kindergarten snack (bring a snack for the whole class once a month instead of packing for your kid), or the germs the kids bring home.  School is not the bureaucratic nightmare I would have assumed, but it is a bit bureaucratic.

Basically, Marko and I have about the same assessment of it: not as bad as we thought, but we still like homeschooling better.  So far I'm still planning to return to homeschooling next year; I figure with a toddler and no baby, it'll be a heck of a lot easier to do co-ops and activities and stuff.  But I think I'll be a lot more official about my homeschooling, with more ready-made workbooks and more hours a day spent.  I can tell that increased time and effort spent really does result in more learned; counting on my kid to eventually want to write resulted in zero writing, while Ms. M's gentle guidance has gotten him writing a little every day.   The idea is a few hours a day on the boring math and spelling stuff, and then we can keep unschooling the history and science with books and movies and projects.


So we had that eclipse, of course.  Here we had about 85%.  That's code for "basically nothing but weird shadows, unless you have eclipse glasses."  On the other hand we did have eclipse glasses, so we got to see a crescent sun.

Teeny tiny little sun!

Miriam holds a colander for some crescent shadows.

All the dapples turned crescent-shaped.  Kind of cool.

The famous "diamond ring" effect, with my head playing the part of the moon.  This was right at the peak of what we had, so you can see the sun remains extremely bright -- you couldn't photograph it without just getting a bright smear, and I couldn't even try to look at it.  All that fuss about "don't look at it" and I was not tempted at all.  It was amazing to look through the glasses and see just how tiny the sun actually is.  It looks like it takes up a huge chunk of the sky, but nope, it's as small as the moon.

I was really upset, ahead of time, that the boys would be in school when it happened.  Not only would we not get this fun, educational experience together, but they were being kept inside altogether (for fear they would look at the sun and blind themselves) and weren't going to see it at all.  But since they get out at 3:40 and the eclipse wasn't completely over till 4, I brought the eclipse glasses along and we stood on the sidewalk and had a look.  The sun was down to the "cookie with a tiny bite out of it" stage but they still thought it was super cool.

But both they and I agree that what we really want is a total one.  There's one not far away in 2024, and it makes me happy imagining having kids from 7 to 14 and having really no trouble zipping up to Ohio or someplace for a little camping.


About a month ago I first heard that pertussis was going around the area.  This ticks me off because apparently the first cases showed up in May, and nobody said anything, so I spent all summer going to the park and the library and every playdate we could.  That, and putting off the girls' vaccines till after school started because I didn't want to haul four kids to the doctor together.  Regrets: I has them.

Well, they've now had one dose, and we're not going anywhere.  So far I don't think we've been exposed.  It seems to be centered around the parish, and we haven't been there, or to any church activities.  However we've all had a slight cold, which past in a couple days for everyone but Jackie.  Of course I am worried it's pertussis and she will die.

I am also finding my new pro-vaccine views are getting more emphatic.  After going through all that research and deciding the AAP and CDC are trustworthy sources about vaccines, I'm really frustrated to see "alternative" sources peddling misinformation.  I've become pretty good at judging a website straight off -- if you're familiar, you can easily catch the phrases quacks use -- but proving it's wrong is another matter.  For instance, someone in a local group was trying to convince everyone that the pertussis vaccine doesn't prevent you from getting the bacteria, but only prevents the symptoms.  I knew the article she shared was bunk, because the blog was obviously "alternative" and peddled some theories I know are false, but it was packed full of (probably meaningless) detail and the footnotes led back to the CDC website, so it looked like it must be by someone who knew what they were talking about.  Immediately vaccinated people started worrying they were carriers and should quarantine themselves even though they had no symptoms.

In time, I eventually managed to find a reliable source that answered the first one.  The very first comment?  "That's clearly a pro-vax source, you can't expect me to trust that!"  Well ... actually, no.  I know exactly how it is.  The science itself is too complex to pick apart, so you're stuck just testing the author on how much they agree with your other beliefs.

You know how I'm always changing my mind about what I want to do when I grow up when the kids grow up?  Right now I'm thinking biology teacher.  People are growing to adulthood with no idea how to decode scientific studies and articles, journalists write about them in a way that's downright irresponsible, and you can't possibly make good decisions if you don't know the facts.


Basically, life's going fine.  I'm not actively unhappy.  I think my anxiety is a little better lately too, since I've finally been able to outsource some of the worrying.  But I'm still not back to where I was before I got pregnant with Jackie.  I'm definitely in the trenches.  I haven't gotten out my spinning wheel since she was born.  I've brainstormed some story ideas, but written nothing down.  I am still barely cranking out a blog post every three or four weeks.  It's just been a really long time since I was caught up enough on my job to do anything I want to do.

I guess that sounds greedy.  Many people would love to be able to care adequately for their kids, feed them sufficient food, have a big clean(ish) house to put them in.  The recent flood really brings that home.  And I am thankful.  Even in the past year, I have been a lot worse off than I am right now.  But it's still just a wee bit demoralizing to finish the day's work, finally collapse on the couch to watch some TV or text with a friend, and get interrupted by the sound of crying and have to slog up the stairs to nurse the baby again.  It's been seven years now that I've been doing this -- seven years that I've always been on call, always had to drop what I'm doing and go nurse somebody.  I'm tired.

And I really had hoped that I would have an easy baby this time around.  Miriam was so chill, I guess when I got another girl I was hoping it meant another chill one.  And Jackie is severely unchill.  She is fun too, at last, and I'm grateful I can play with her and exchange smiles and all that.  But she is really, really demanding.  I would have thought a fourth child would shrug its little baby shoulders and say "guess I can't be high needs, with all these other kids around here," but nope, high needs babies don't care how many resources there are around.

How high needs is she?  Well, she spends probably half an hour per day on average wailing inconsolably, even in arms.  Sometimes it's a lot more than that.  Even when she's not crying, she's not contented -- she spends a lot of her time climbing up my body, digging her feet into my gut and clawing my face.  I have a scab on my nose where she took a chunk of skin off -- even though I'm pretty careful to cut her nails, obviously.  I have scratches and pinch marks on my belly and breasts and neck.  But if I put her down, usually, she howls.  Sometimes the swing helps.  Sometimes not.  It's good that she's getting more active so she can actually play -- Miriam and Jackie and I spend a lot of the time in the playroom while she crawls all over.  If you turn over the trampoline so she can't climb on it and fall off, and make sure the legos are put away, there isn't much trouble she can get into in there.  Even then, though, she spends a lot of her time using me to pull to a stand, then grabbing my face or hair.

I'm just kind of looking forward to things getting easier.  Like when she's two, or maybe three.  I've never had no kids under three.  Imagine the things I could do.

And there she goes.  Awake again.  In the time she was asleep, I wrote point 7.  I did not clean up the lunch mess in the kitchen, or use the bathroom, or carry the laundry upstairs.  I prioritized this post, and I may be sorry.

On the other hand, she has a blond curl on the top of her head.  Were my other kids this blond at this age, and was their hair so long?  It could not have been. *rubs face in baby hair*  It's not all bad.

How was your week?  Or rather, month?
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