One Small Win After Another

P is drawing a picture of a thunderstorm in her composition notebook right now. The clouds in her picture are orange, and for the lightning, she is using a black dry erase marker. This is annoying since she has her Crayola markers to use, and dry erase markers are specialized and more expensive, etc. etc. She does not fight me on this, fortunately, and for today the dry erase markers will live another day for the whiteboard, and we can delay the slow, wholesale consumption of office supplies in this house.

I’m two weeks into remote learning with my kids, and I admit that the task has absorbed most of my bandwidth. I am lucky. My parents are a huge help in prepping breakfast and lunch every day. This frees me up to have the patience to corral and prod my kids to do their morning chores, have breakfast, use table manners, and log in to their computers, all without the aid of YouTube. When their lessons begin, I start my day of cycling back and forth to each one, paying attention to what the teacher wants and what they’re supposed to be doing, and if I see one of them lying on the floor or spinning around, I help them correct. I spend my day making corrections. Maybe this is too heavy-handed of me, but I don’t see any other way. It’s like driving a vehicle with bad alignment, where the only way to stay on course is to keep pulling on the wheel. When you let off, things drift off course.

This morning I spent ten minutes working on my manuscript. Dependapotamous sent me a fantastic short story by a guy named Dustin M. Hoffman (not to be confused with the actor), and I love the way he uses imagery (cigarettes!) to tell this story about construction workers just before the 2008 financial crisis. This morning, with this short story in mind and whatever I learned about figurative language the other day, I fleshed out some more of my chapter. I think writing is like this: every time you sit down to write, you push yourself to learn at least one new thing; it’s this constant act of untangling ideas and making sense of them and trying out new ways to say what you want to say. A lot of things are like this.

I’ll take my small win today, and the one from last week, and the one I’ll get tomorrow and next week and next year, until it adds up to something real, something that looks like I know what I’m doing!

With my pre, pre-teen

Coronavirus Part 2, Day 32- Fuller House

Penny and Poppy

Penny is outside crying on the front porch looking for her lost tooth. It had started to rain this afternoon so she and I grabbed the umbrella and went for a walk down the street. When we returned to the porch and resumed binge watching Fuller House, Penny’s tooth fell out. This was exciting and she was happy. Then for some reason she threw her tooth into the gravel and I was amazed when she walked right over, found it, and came back to her seat. Then she threw it again. Now it’s lost. I told her the tooth fairy is still good for it.

“But you’re the tooth fairy!” Penny said.

“I know. And I saw your tooth. So you’re good.”

She’s over it now, which is good because the tooth is gone forever.


Coronavirus Part 2, Day 27- The U.S. Public School Game

I woke up this morning on a mission to learn about the public schools in Orlando, Florida. The other day it dawned on me that it’s time for us to move to Florida to be closer to my parents and reap the benefits of togetherness and the whole ‘it takes a village to raise a family’ thing. Plus Coronavirus has let the cat out of the bag that many jobs can be done remotely. Steve has been working remotely this entire time, and while he hasn’t loved it, there’s still no date set for his building to reopen. I don’t think this work from home thing is going to go away anytime soon, so it’s time to take advantage.

Nicholas, my oldest, my Big Giant Boy, just finished 4th grade. He’s got another year of elementary school before moving on to middle school. Penelope will be in 2nd grade next year, so in my mind she’s still got time before things get real, as in she won’t take a state test until 3rd grade. The big hurdle was getting her to learn to read proficiently. Now that my mom got that going while I was deployed, if I can keep up she’ll be all set for another year.

I often feel that in the parenting season, the timeline is based on the oldest child. So, in thinking about this move to Florida, I’ve been taking a hard look at the middle and high school situation. Steve and I have had very civil and productive conversations about this!

The transition to middle school is important, not only because this coincides with the beginning of adolescence, but also because it’s the first time kids get funneled into tracks. In one school course book that I studied this morning, I learned that each subject for 6th and 7th grade has two tracks (regular and advanced), and three tracks for 8th grade (regular, advanced, and honors). The track that kids get placed in is based on the results of his or her state test from the previous year. This means that for Nick, his 5th grade test is going to matter.

I know, I know. These things are controversial. There’s the thinking that kids do what they do, and they will be fine when it all buffs out in the end, and that what track someone ends up in, especially as early as 6th grade, doesn’t matter. I don’t agree with this. Sure, it’s not the end of the world if Nick doesn’t get into some advanced track. And anyway he may not no matter what I do. But when I think about my tenure in public school, I consider how I went to a mediocre middle school and felt the gaps in my education all the way through my academic life, first when I went to apply to the Naval Academy, and later when I thought about applying to graduate school. In high school, I flat-out could not compete with the likes of other high school applicants with SAT scores north of 1300. Even when I did manage to get in to Navy, I struggled academically and ended my freshman year with a GPA below 2.0. For graduate school, the difference between my average GMAT score and one in the 80 percentile meant that I would have had to pay full tuition out of pocket.

I suppose it depends on what kids want to do in life. I didn’t think about the military until my sophomore year of high school, and of course there are several options that don’t require a stellar academic record for the military. But still, I think about all this school stuff and it gives me pause. Because it was a huge pain to re-teach myself fractions, decimals, and percentages and prime numbers when I was 27 with two babies. I was epically disappointed when I realized there was no way I was getting into Navy when I applied the second time because my academics just didn’t stack up. It’s funny how our own experience colors so much of how we approach things for our kids.

Coronavirus, Part 2 Day 16- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

I’m sitting out front right now, wishing I had brought my DSLR camera with me. The birds are more active than normal today and I just had a blue jay land 12 feet away from me. Darn it if I didn’t have the right camera with me! I have resigned myself to enjoy watching him (or her) sit there and look around, I have snapped a photo with my iPhone though. In photography world, there’s a lot of snobbery around the question, “what kind of camera do you use?”, to which a wise person once said, “the best camera is the one that’s with you.” Sure. The iPhone photo is at the bottom of this post. You decide.

Backyard. Blue Jay.

I sent an email to Nick’s teacher today that went something like this:

Thank you for your time last week in explaining everything Nick is missing. After a lot of frustration, I think we’re going to take the hit on the missing work and focus on what’s left until the year is over.

She was very kind in her response. She explained that she’s not grading anything else, and that if we can manage it, we should focus on completing assignments X, Y, and Z.

After last week’s struggles with virtual school I have been paying more attention to the things Nick says when the going gets tough for him. Because when he starts this negative talk, it’s like he hits a wall. He gets caught in a loop that he can’t get himself out of it and can’t do his work.

I was doing some Googling and very quickly came upon the topic of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). I don’t know much about CBT but I remember I first came across it during my deployment when I was trying to solve my stress induced insomnia problem. Apparently, CBT has many applications.

A couple of really good ideas for improving executive brain function involve learning time management skills and learning skills to re-route negative self talk. While I think everyone struggles to a certain extent with time management and engages in negative self-talk from time to time, when those things start to interfere with your ability to do work or sleep or whatever, it’s worth learning some new skills. And I think it’s really helpful to think of those things as skills rather personal discipline problems. So, as I wrap up these last two weeks of virtual school, I’ll think about how to teach Nick to break out of his loop and overcome his feelings of ‘I can’t do it.’ Perhaps solving this now will help avoid loads rough times at the kitchen table for years to come.

Front yard. Blue Jay. iPhone.

Coronavirus Part 2, Day 12- Daring to Discipline

Eggs and jalapeños for breakfast. Photo credit: Penelope

I don’t know if there would have been fewer deaths under Obama, but I know we’d all feel better.


It’s hot and humid today in Houston, the sky is threatening to open up and rain just to cool things off. In Coronavirus news, today I learned that in South Africa they mandated a ban on alcohol and tobacco as part of their lockdown. South Africans are expecting the government to lift the ban soon. I’m not saying our government is perfect, but a ban on alcohol and tobacco is rough.

Penny has refused to do her work, but unfortunately for her I woke up this morning of the mindset that I was going to get through to her today. I even took her to our credit union and withdrew $20, broken down into $1 bills, quarters, dimes, and pennies so I could teach her about tens and ones and why you line them up to add and subtract them. We did not make it through the word problem set. She’s upstairs playing the harmonica. No iPad.

Birdwatching. Brewers Black Bird or Common Grackle?

Speaking of waking up, I learned a new trick from this book Liturgy of the Ordinary which has this section at the back about establishing rituals. I really liked this ‘ritual’ idea, rather than the dreaded word, ‘habit’. So, rather than wake up and reach for my phone, I wake up, I get up, I pray and contemplate, and then I reach for my phone. Because the moment I reach for my phone, the noise of the day has started and I’m already behind.

So I braced myself and spiritually prepared for what’s about to happen this evening now that I’ve banned media because both my kids failed to do their work. I remember telling my dad one day that the kids behaved poorly at church. Steve and I were supposed to enact some consequence but had intentionally forgotten about it and my house just went about the business of having a peaceful Sunday.

“The trouble is, that if I ground the kids from going outside, it’s like I’m punishing myself too,” I told my dad.

“Yes, but this way you will punish yourself twice. The first time when you put up with the bad behavior again, and the second time when you enforce the original punishment.”

Touché dad. Touché.

Poppy. Photo credit: Penelope