Sunday, 28 April 2013

made for walkin'

Ezra has finally, finally started walking for real. Athena went from zero to walking in like three days, but Ezra took his own sweet time, and wanted a lot of practice before making the switch from primarily crawling to primarily walking. He's been using rolling toys, dining room chairs, and big people fingers for like, two months. For about three weeks he's been (adorably) walking a few steps unassisted between one encouraging person and another, then collapsing joyfully into their outstretched arms. Just this week he finally decided he could take more than three steps at a time by himself, without coaxing, and go just about anywhere he pleases. He is thrilled with himself.

On one of our sunny days this week, I stripped Ezra down to just a t-shirt, initially thinking he might like a chance to air out somewhere it didn't matter if he took a wee on his own feet. It turned out he hated the feeling of the grass on his bare bum, so anytime he fell down he immediately popped back up, usually with an offended shriek. I left him pantsless for two hours, and he spent the entire time wobbling around the backyard, and occasionally trying to climb things.

My grad school program is based out of the Reggio Emilia approach to preschool education. One of the major tenants of Reggio is trusting children to take risks and allowing them to feel the power of their own bodies. Before thinking about it this way, I think I would have been much more likely to just block kids' access to potentially risky objects, or physically move the kid to the end point instead of letting them go through the process of trying their own bodies at something they're not quite yet capable of reliably doing without assistance. For example, Ezra wanted to look out his bedroom window but it's above his eye level. Rather than just ignore his pointing or hold him up to see out, I moved a step stool against the wall under his window and gave him the space to try it on his own. And then rather than just setting him on the top step, I guided him verbally and physically to climb the stairs himself. Soon I shifted to just verbal encouragement, and hovered my hands near him to catch him if he slipped, and let him do the whole thing on his own. He is so proud of himself going up and down those steps!

yes, he does have his hair in a gaudy flowered ponytail, the day before his mom took him in for a "boy" haircut

Similarly, Sasha's play structure in the backyard has a wide ladder on one side leading up to a platform five feet above the ground. I used to just lift Ezra to the top platform and sit up there with him, but now I help him move his hands and feet to pull himself up the ladder, which is a little too large for him to do on his own, but possible for him to do with assistance. This reminds me of scaffolding, which is a theory of learning that comes out of social constructivism -- that kids "scaffold" their knowledge when they push themselves to do things at the edge of their ability level that others around them can already do. Grad school has practical life applications!


Friday, 26 April 2013

Sasha Says, ep. 18

Several minutes after finishing opening her four or five birthday presents: "Okay Mom, I'm feeling very excited now. Could you go wrap another present and bring it to me now?"

On what would happen if a person was struck by lightning: "They wouldn't die, they'd be okay. They'd just like have electricity in their lungs, and go to the hospital."

On the walk home from school we see a broken plastic cup, I suggest Sasha pick it up so we can recycle it when we get home. She picks it up with a flourish and says, "I'm Super Muscle Trash Girl!"

Less than a minute later we pass a tissue on the sidewalk, and I say "Go Super Muscle Trash Girl!"
Wearily, she says, "Sometimes I wish I wasn't Super Muscle Trash Girl," as she retrieves the tissue and puts it in the stroller.

As we approach her house and Sasha catches sight of the landscaping guy's truck: "It's my love! He has a gold tooth and a great mustache. Don't tell him anything!" He's a mid-40s Latino man with silver fillings on his front teeth.

High fives,

Thursday, 25 April 2013

what it means to be a girl

Yesterday, when I picked Sasha up from her after school Spanish class, we were barely out the doors of the building when she confessed that Isaac had chased her down and kissed her ("twice!") on the cheek during recess. She shuddered, and explained that she did not like it because "he's gross; he wipes his boogers on the carpet!" She said she waited to tell me until we were out of the building because she didn't want lots of people to hear.

In that moment I heard so much of what it often means to be a girl in our culture. It means people you don't want touching you do touch you in ways you don't want, and then you feel like it's something you have to keep quiet. Because if you don't keep it quiet, if people know about it -- people will remember, it will keep touching you, it will mar you. It will shadow you and taint you in a way it never will for boys.

I know so many adults who would wave this off with a laugh. "It was just a kiss on the cheek," "oh, boys will be boys," "aw, he probably likes you," -- and that is all complete and utter bullshit. I don't care about the details of the kiss, I don't care if Isaac likes Sasha, and I certainly don't think boys should get a free pass for their actions on account of their sex. I don't even care that Isaac has behavioral challenges and some particular special needs -- he still needs to learn to respect other people's boundaries, it may just take more time and support for him to learn it than it would take other kids.

I want Sasha to know that her body is hers, and that she has an absolute right to determine, on her own terms, who has access to it, how, and when. That nobody has the right to touch her without her explicit consent. I want her to know that when these bodily rights are violated, she can and should speak up. I want her to know that there are people in her life that will have her back, that will believe her and support her, that will not belittle her experience or make excuses for the other person's behavior. I wish I could promise her that everyone in our culture would have her back, but she already knows through the subtle power of misogyny and rape culture that she is expected to just stay silent and take it, that making it public can make it worse.

So I told her, as briefly and firmly as I could, that what Isaac did was not okay, that if she doesn't want somebody to kiss her they need to respect that, and if they don't respect that then what they did is wrong.

She said she told her teacher right away, and it sounds like he gave her a similar soundbite and promised to talk to Isaac. I hope he does, and that he conveys to Isaac how inappropriate his actions were.

I wish every boy grew up being taught to respect girls' boundaries, to wait for permission instead of waiting to be stopped.


Thursday, 18 April 2013


After some conversations with Sasha's family, it's looking like probably what we'll do is have me finish out my three-days-a-week nannying as the school year ends, and they'll hire a new nanny to replace me. They would like to keep me as long as possible because, they say, the kids just adore me. (Apparently Sasha asks every morning if it's a "MP day," and Monday as I was leaving for class she told me, "I like the days you stay longer a lot better." UGH BREAK MY HEART.) But they understand that I want to intensify my class load and move on to preschool teaching, so they're willing to let me go sooner than initially planned.

We are talking about the possibility of Sasha's family keeping me on as a reading tutor for Sasha through the summer and maybe the fall. One of the things I've most enjoyed working for Sasha's family is designing Harry Potter themed activities for Sasha. Lately those activities have veered away from "potions" (chemistry) or "Quidditch practice" (large motor skills) and more toward clever disguises for literacy therapy. Sasha responds so much better to reading she's interested in than anything coerced through external motivation (class assignment, sticker chart, prizes). Sasha's parents have noted that ever since I started prioritizing reading practice after school with Sasha, her reading has markedly improved. She's still reading at a kindergarten reading level, but she's certainly made progress since September. Sasha's dad never did get around to hiring an actual reading tutor for Sasha, and I would be a good fit once I'm not the regular nanny; I already have good rapport with Sasha and I know in which literacy areas she needs extra support. Plus, I can make everything Harry Potter themed! Being a total nerd is serving me well.

A tutoring option would allow me to still be part of Sasha and Ezra's lives for a little while longer, help Sasha continue to develop literacy skills through summer break, and make a few extra bucks on the side. A possible win all around.

Starting sometime in June, I will most likely be teaching preschool part-time at the center where I take my classes in addition to taking extra classes through summer and fall terms. I'll probably continue nannying for Athena's family for awhile longer. HB and I are making plans to travel abroad for three months at the beginning of 2014; I envision that trip serving as a clean break from nannying altogether. When we return, I'll likely be looking for teaching jobs at local preschools that feel like good, long-term fits.

High fives,

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

first birthday board books

When each of my babies turned one, I made them a personalized board book. I have been taking pictures with my cell phone almost every day I'm with them for the past eight months with this project in mind. Out of the hundreds of shitty cell phone pictures I've taken, there were about 15-20 decent quality ones of each kid.

I used to upload photos and design each book. I filled each with very simple sentences like "Ezra plays outside" and "Athena likes to learn " to match each picture.

The babies think their birthday board books are good teething toys and occasionally fun for throwing. The parents are somewhat more sentimental. There were misty mom eyes for sure.


Monday, 15 April 2013

Sasha Says, ep. 17

"Maybe you should go back to first grade. Because then you would be the biggest kid there!"

"I'm gonna have a LIMBO party for my birthday!"

In the middle of painting the play structure, she hops down and skips off, saying, "Dumbledore needs me!"

Sasha directs me to bury her feet in the gravel pile in the yard, encouraging me to pour more and more gravel on by saying, "Harder! Harder! Oh my god, harder!"

Whenever I ask any question that might be answered with "no" or "of course not," Sasha now prefers to say, in her best teenager voice, "Oh. Em. Gee. -- En. Oh." (translation: OMG NO)

Sasha: "My mom doesn't want me to go to college."
me: "Really?"
Sasha: "She wants me to stay home and be her little girl forever."

"Do you like pho? I do. I also really like... I don't remember what it's called. It's next to pho and you can put chicken and other things in it, but it's not liquid like a soup." Five minutes later: "Broth! I like broth!"

When I asked about a pile of computer chips and sticky notes that's been on the kitchen counter for a week: "Oh, that's my invention. I don't know what it does. I want it to serve drinks."

"What would happen if a kid ate alcohol?"

As we were writing a story about the Avengers:
me: "What power should the supervillain have?"
Sasha: "Oh! Squirting lemonade into people's eyes!"
me: "That would hurt! What would the villain's name be?"
Sasha: "Lemon Squirt!"

"What if your gums were attached and you couldn't open your mouth?"

High fives,

Sunday, 14 April 2013


For a few months I've been mulling over a conversation I need to have with Sasha and Ezra's parents. I've been waiting to compose and send that email until I have felt like we're balanced -- that I don't owe them any favors and they don't owe me. Or maybe that they owe me a little.

So finally, today, a few days before Sasha's birthday, I did it. I spent two hours writing and rewriting a two-page email that boils down to a request to quit a few months ahead of schedule. I made a verbal contract to stick it out for a whole year with their family, but there are actually a lot (two pages worth) of reasons for me to withdraw before the summer starts. The weighted dread coiled in my gut of spending three full days a week with Sasha notwithstanding. The reasons are more to do with my grad school and classroom teaching trajectories and the impracticality (financially and topographically) of a bicycle-based transportation system that would allow me to get the kids out of the house during the three long months of summer break.

I tried to ease the blow by wrapping the whole thing in the word "transition" rather than the harsher "quitting" or "leaving," even though essentially that's what I'm after. I also offered reduced-time compromises that I hope they don't want. I hope they will see the sense of hiring a new nanny in June rather than waiting until September.

I feel lighter, but not by as much as I had thought I would. I guess their answer will determine what happens with the remaining weight I'm lugging around inside my belly.


Friday, 12 April 2013

school blues

Due to a combination sick day and teacher in service day, Sasha only had two nights to complete a week's worth of homework this week. Getting this kid to slog through her 15 minutes of reading and a couple of counting-related math problems after school each day is usually challenge enough. Compressing it all into two days was hell. For me, and for her.

The most frustrating part about it -- even more frustrating than the fact that if she would actually focus on the task at hand for five minutes we'd be done with the worksheet in that five minutes -- was that the "goofing off" she was doing was actually something I wanted to be able to encourage. Usually her goofing off is just a lot of begging to watch movies and/or a disjointed soliloquy, but this day it was totally self-led literacy. While I tried to steer her toward writing her spelling words on her whiteboard, she preferred to explore words with "th" and "sh" sounds, Sasha as teacher and me as her student. It would have been awesome to be able to capitalize on this moment -- Sasha so rarely initiates literacy related activities, and she actually mixes up "th" and "sh" a lot when she reads and writes, so she could benefit from the practice. But I felt like my job was to make sure she completed her worksheet, learned her spelling words, and earned a signature on her reading log.

I ended up mostly feeling angry at our education system. At her teacher for giving her a standard set of spelling words unrelated to her particular interests, and a worksheet with math problems she doesn't understand or care about. At her school district, for adopting standardized testing benchmarks, and requiring teachers to teach to that at the exclusion of other enriching things. At a lack of funding for public education across the board, so kids like Sasha get lost in large classes and don't get the one-on-one attention needed to be able to understand lessons and concepts and advance academically.

I do get excited about all the possibilities of alternative schooling and homeschooling. We have some really kickass homeschool and alternative school programs and resources in our area. Some day, when HB and I have our own kids, I think that will be our route, if we can make it work. I don't want my kids to have the desire to learn beaten out of them by an education system that is not responsive to their particular needs and interests. I want them to experience learning as empowering, relevant, and just plain awesome.

High fives,

Thursday, 11 April 2013

The Poop Situation

This is, cliche of parenting cliches, a poop story. Skip it if the very title fills you with dread or an uncontrollable impulse to roll your eyes.

Athena's usual cheerful babble was punctuated throughout the day on Tuesday by several bouts of sudden screaming and crying, accompanied by squatting and straining. Kid was obviously in pain from something going on in her body. I was somewhat perplexed that she seemed to feel immediately better if I would change her (barely streaked) diaper and wipe her down, but the respite would only last an hour or so. When babies can't tell you what's going on, you make your best guess.

My guess was that she was constipated, and it so transpired that I was right.

Less than an hour before her daddy was due to get home, she started pushing out a veritable poop boulder. It was so amazingly huge and solid and dry that I could tell, the moment I got her diaper off of her and got a visual, that she was going to need hands-on assistance.

I stripped her down and plunked her in the bathtub in three inches of warm water, rolled up my sleeves, and helped her pop that boulder out. Scooped up the offending waste, flushed it down the toilet, rinsed the tub, and then bathed Athena from the shoulders down. By the time her daddy got home, she was clean, dressed, and happy once again. Athena's daddy got regaled with the whole story, which I'd also documented blow-by-blow on the notes I always leave for her mom.

How did I know she was backed up? How did I know to put her in warm water? How did I know where to push on her body to get that monstrosity out of her? I don't know if I had heard of the warm water trick somewhere, or if I did it by instinct. Athena's mom later said she would've had absolutely no idea what to do if she had been the one home.

Regardless of how I seem to know what's going on and what to do, I am thankful for it. I am thankful I handled the situations so relatively effortlessly. It made me feel like what I'm doing -- working with kids -- is what I am good at, and what I should be doing. It made me feel like a superhero.


Monday, 8 April 2013

trashin' the camp

She's walking and everything that comes with it.

High fives,

Thursday, 4 April 2013

stale metaphors are forbidden

Winter semester wrapped up a couple weeks ago, spring break last week was unseasonably spring-like (flowers! sunshine! bike rides!), and now spring semester at grad school has started.

The class is allegedly about designing your preschool classroom to optimize children's learning, but to hear the professor talk about it, it's actually about metaphors. I approach classroom design practically. I mean, I just want to know which plants are poisonous so I don't put those ones in reach of the toddlers, I'm not really interested in developing a literary analysis about the symbolism of the toy bin placement. That's the direction the professor leans. Did I mention he's the director of the program?

During the two and a half hour first class period, the professor didn't bother to ask our names (or introduce himself), but he did lead a guided meditation which involved evoking pleasurable sensations and then listing adjectives for all five senses and combining them to make... yep, metaphors. Metaphors for learning.

Even though the professor doesn't know my name, he was all impressed that my default words were ones like "dappled" and "susurrus," which is only remarkable because my classmates tended toward "hot" and "salty." So I guess I made an impression anyway?

It might be a bizarre semester.