100 Days

100 days of school behind us.  100 days of tears, fighting, enthusiasm, screaming, laughing, rejoicing, threatening, pleading, failure and success.  100 days of brick-and-mortar school… and a reluctant 4th grader who stays up too late and refuses to get out of bed in the morning until I’ve gone in there no less than five times to wake him up.  100 days of home-schooling the “spirited” kindergartener, whose maddening mood swings would challenge even the most seasoned psychologist and make every day a night worth drowning in alcohol.

I said it before – I can’t believe we got this far.  More than halfway through the school year and we’re all still alive – and still doing what we started.  It’s been painful, where I repeated several times – she needs to go to the elementary school, I just can’t do it anymore.  And then it’s been joyful – where her eagerness to learn surpassed even my own post-run enthusiasm for life.  I liken home-schooling my daughter a little to childbirth… it is an exhilarating joyride laced with moments of incomprehensible pain. 

I’ve witnessed first-hand my daughter’s journey to literacy.  I – I alone – have taught my daughter to read!  It is an incredible thrill to be the integral part of her education – something I missed out on with Owen, where I had no idea on most days what he was learning.  And you know what?  It was okay with me.  Until now.  Now that I’ve been in the front row of the concert of Ava’s education – it’s so exciting to know exactly what she’s learning every day, exactly what she knows, exactly what her weaknesses are.

After 100 days, she can read and identify over 75 words and can sound out many, many more.  She read me an entire first reader book cover to cover – it was awesome!  We completed our second DORA/DOMA assessments and she is as our instructional support person says, right on target with scores ranging anywhere from late kindergarten to high first grade.  She amazes me almost daily – with not only how accurately she can hit her brother with a flying object but with her ability to break down words and grasp mathematical concepts.  I so love the way her mind works, her ability to rationalize and reason, from reading comprehension and problem-solving to gross manipulation of her diabetes to get something she wants, such as refusing to eat dinner until she gets dessert first. 

Meanwhile my other scholar continues to amaze me with how well he performs in school, given his daily emotional declaration of how much he hates it and doesn’t want to go.   I can proudly report that he recently earned A’s in Reading, Language Arts, Math and Health and B’s in Science and Social Studies.   I am amazed too by how little he has to actually do to earn these grades – he finishes his homework in record time and barely studies for his tests.  So – is this a reflection of our public education, or a testament to his genius?

Case in point: my genius recently brought home a social studies test on Native Americans.  He got a 77%.  Naturally I looked it over to see exactly what he missed.  I’m not unsympathetic – I know that social studies requires a great deal of memorization and clearly “winging it” will only get you so far in multiple choice and virtually nowhere in short answer questions.  He did well with multiple choice.  Short answers – well -not so good.  Did he study enough?  Well, I’ll let you decide.

How do scientists believe the first Native Americans got to North America?  “Scientists believe the first Native Americans got to North America because they have probably studied how they got to North America.  The scientists probably know that the Native Americans walked from Asia to North America.”  [minus 3 points for stating the obvious.]

How did farming affect the lives of Native Americans?  No points for stating that farming kept them from “moving onward,” or that “they had gotten distracted from farming to move on.”  Holy contradiction!  I’m a bit mortified at my son’s lack of clear writing skills… but really have to give him credit for the fine art of bullshitting – as you will all see next.

Name two reasons that most Native Americans moved westward.  “They wanted to find North America.  They probably wanted their feet to get moving and exercise.”  Well, can’t say he’s not creative, right?  At least he didn’t leave it blank.  Although it might have been less embarrassing if he had.

And, as a tribute to his sensitivity and compassion, I leave you with his multiple choice answer to how lions benefit from living in a pride: “Because they are in a group the lions don’t get lonely.”  Wrong answer?

A Time for Goodbye

We lost our beloved cat – Baily – our beautiful Himalayan on New Year’s Eve. Baily was my husband’s cat – when we decided to share a home together, his two cats came with us.  Lucas, the white Persian, left us two months after Ava was born.

Baily celebrated his 14th birthday in December, and 2 weeks later prompty kicked the bucket.  It began like any other night – he was lying in the bed with the husband and kids,hanging out watching tv.  Then I came up from cleaning the kitchen, the dog followed and, as it is between most cats and dogs – Rosco playfully backed up and barked at Baily and Baily, even after 8 months with this pain in the ass, hissed at him and ran off to his basement hiding place.

My night continued as usual, up every two hours testing Ava’s blood sugar… but it wasn’t until about 6am that it suddenly dawned on me that I hadn’t seen Baily on the bed all night.  And then that feeling of just knowing set in.  Before I went to look for him I paced the hall outside our bedroom, talking to myself.  Should I, or shouldn’t I, go look now?  Should I, or shouldn’t I, wake my husband – who will be devastated when I tell him?  I decided to go look for him, and found him.  Then, I woke my husband.  Two hours later I was the only one fit to drive the body to the vet before they closed early for the holiday weekend.  I loved him, I fed and looked after him, but didn’t have the bond with him that my husband had.  But when I picked him up and held him in my arms, already carefully wrapped in a towel, I had to choke back tears for this cat who had never let me hold him – ever. 

Ava had loved and claimed Baily as her own cat – she would pick him up (which he’d allow for maybe a minute) and hold him, pet him and sought him out whether he liked it or not – daily.  And he was remarkably tolerant of her.  So we knew she would be devastated.  Her questions about where he went, how he got there and why she couldn’t see him went on unabated for most of the early evening after we told her.

It wasn’t until the evening wore on, and she became more tired – at bathtime – that she had a full-blown meltdown.  I miss Baily!  I miss him Mommy!  Bring him back!  The tears streamed down her reddened face, and she just became more and more hysterical.  I didn’t get to say goodbye to him!  All these words she repeated over and over for an hour, the tears falling from a broken dam, her voice hoarse with her pleadings.  And all I could think of, as the hysteria struck me like an electric shock and my own tears fell in unison, was – why didn’t I tell her before I took him away?  It’s something I’m sure all parents struggle with – whether to let your child see a dead pet one last time.  We had little time to waste, given the holiday, and I made the snap decision not to show her the body.  In retrospect, given her passionate reaction, I wish I would have.  Instead she cried in my arms for two solid hours, repeating his name and pleading with me to please, mommy, drive her to heaven so she can see him again… until she finally fell asleep, less than an hour before the ball dropped. 

With any loss it does get easier over time – and maybe it’s a bit faster for children.   In the days that followed, she asked after him and what he was doing in heaven.  I did my best to comfort her by explaining that he was happy and playing with Lucas, who had waited for him a long time.  As I finished writing this, I was going to summarize that now – a month later – she rarely mentions him at all… but just last night she looked at me somberly and said, I really miss Baily.

What’s All the Fighting About?

My kids fight.  I mean, they fight a LOT.  I used to worry that something must be wrong with them, or that maybe something was wrong with me.  Eight years in the Mom’s Club did little to change that – it seemed most of our children, content to play with other children, seldom fought with their siblings.  Not until we had more play dates did I realize that my two were no different than any other two.  After watching my girlfriend’s kids rolling around on the floor beating the tar out of each other, I began to relax my own standards on brother-sister behavior.

Fighting is not limited to home, weekdays or weekends.  When they’re not playing Tag-You’re-It in the grocery store and terrorizing the aisles, they’re fighting over who picks the bananas, who gets the Coco-Puffs and who gets what of whichever worthless toy is dangling amongst the actual provisions we DO need.  I do not, by the way, buy any of that $hit so it seems to me crazy fruitless arguing over getting nothing.

They fight in the car.  “He’s looking at me!”  “What?  I’m allowed to look at her.”  Owen please don’t look at her, I’m trying to drive.  “He’s looking out my window!” Yes, she really did say window.  He’s not even allowed to look out her window in the car.  Mostly, I try to say nothing because my interference only amplifies her indignance.  However, unfortunate or wrong as it may seem, sometimes I can’t help myself.  Particularly when she’s screeching like a prehistoric bird in the backseat.  Makes driving “just” a little more challenging.  And I turn to look at Owen and he’s grinning back at me like the Cheshire Cat.

There must be something about the car – enclosed in a tight space together?  One of my friends once enlightened me about the “Dad Arm” – you know, the one not attached to the steering wheel.  One of my old college roommates, the youngest of three, used to tell me tales of family road trips and being trapped between her brother and sister beating the baklava out of her.  I don’t really know, having been an only child until I was 22, I never got to experience the joy of sibling contact sports.  I could give it a go with my “little” brother, but as he now towers over me by nearly a foot, some bodily injury would be inevitable.

Nevertheless, after a recent outing where Ava screamed like a banshee no less than eight times because Owen either looked at her or dared to look out her window – and after I tried unsuccessfully to explain to her as gently as my intolerance would allow that she doesn’t own the window and he can look out of whatever window he likes – I lost it.  Tolerance meter on empty.  I told her if she wasn’t looking at him, she wouldn’t know he was looking at her.  Dead silence for fifteen seconds.  Followed by more screaming because he – like any big brother would do – smiled triumphantly in the direction of her window. 

They fight over the Wii.  Who gets to be player 1, who gets to be Mario, who gets to play first, which game they play, who gets to play at all.  Whose idea it was to play to begin with.  Inevitably, the fun and games soon turns to war and consequence – with Owen yelling at Ava for letting her character lag behind so he can’t move ahead, or Ava getting so pissed off at Owen she hurls the $35 Wii remote at him, bruising his leg or narrowly missing smashing his glasses.

I still don’t get why things always turn violent.  Screaming at each other, declaring hatred til death do they part, announcing “I don’t want a brother/sister” or my personal favorite – vicious name calling.  But, all too often, the verbal exchange becomes so insulting that Ava turns physical.  She’ll throw things at Owen, or hit or kick him.  One night she shoved him hard enough to fall backwards into the coffee table, causing a physical altercation whereby she was pinned to the floor by her neck, squealing like a pig stuck in a fence.  I have to admit some trepidation at stepping between them – after all, I’m not a very imposing figure and I always end up injured by default.  I’d sooner let them murder each other in the middle of the living room, than get my teeth knocked out by my 5-year-old’s feet. 

There is that old advice about letting them work out their differences.  Not bad advice, either.  However, given that she chipped one of Owen’s adult front teeth with an airborne object last year to the tune of $140 worth of composite, I often have to step in when I hear Owen yelling “Mom!!” in an urgent, somewhat panicked voice as the sound of hard plastic objects crashing echoes from two rooms away.

The joy of parenting one spirited and one compassionate child, however, is not totally lost.  In spite of all of this senseless fighting there is so much love between them.  Given their genders and age difference, they do mostly enjoy playing together – setting up epic battles between Strawberry Shortcake with her army of Littlest Pets and Owen’s army of Halo soldiers with Mario and Luigi as generals.  The sweetest moments are those finding the two of them in Owen’s bed, him playing his DS with her head on his shoulder,  quietly watching him play.