Monday, March 31, 2014


Over the past month, our primary focus has been to get our home ready for sale. Scratch that: over the past year, our primary focus has been to get our home ready for sale; since the beginning of March, we have been in home-prep staging hyperdrive. Our goal was to make it to market by the end of the month, a.k.a. today.

We had our contract ready to hand over to our agent last night, and pictures were scheduled for today. We had made it. It would have been a very late night of final last minute sorting and cleaning, but it was all possible. I am very proud of our hard work, and feeling ready to sell.

Check out that 1915 woodwork and original glass cabinets with working skeleton key mechanisms.
How about those period-reproduction sconces we installed in place of the original gas lamps?
You know you want to buy this condo.

And yet, mid-afternoon yesterday, we put everything on hold, at least for day or two.

Our condo has never looked or felt better, and we are still very interested in hitting the market as soon as possible. The problem was that, despite my best efforts, I didn't feel great about all the details of the sale. We didn't have enough information, and the information we had wasn't what we needed. Our communication wasn't clear. Add to that, our old-lady dog was very sick all weekend—we were pretty sure Saturday was her last day, but of course, she rallied after a trip to the vet, at which she flirted with all the staff and made us look like heartless chumps for even suggesting a merciful end. Paying attention to her (and our emotions surrounding her) muddled our thinking about everything, understandably. There are priorities, and then there are PRIORITIES.

By Sunday, we realized that we couldn't do it. I can't point to specific facts or moments that made me sure we needed to temporarily put the brakes on, I just know it was the right thing to do. While the deadline had been incredibly useful for our productivity, we felt too rushed, and too rushed is not a good place to start such an important process, especially if 24 to 48 hours could completely change that.

For three days solid, I had felt my heart rising up into my chest, making it hard to breathe. My shoulders were a disaster. I saw my acupuncturist on Friday because I was waking with sharp pain between my shoulder blades. After we postponed on Sunday, my chest seized its grip on my heart, and I felt myself open up again. My shoulders fell, and my neck loosened. Why we continue to separate mental health/stress from physical health/injury in our treatment of our bodies always baffles me, but never more than in moments like on Sunday, when the difference in my physical being was almost instantly changed by a choice, the elimination of a stressor, and a decision that pulled me in the right direction.

Meditative or mindful practices will tell you that listening to your gut will bring you calm. I don't know about that, at least not in the long-term. Sometimes life is just challenging, and no amount of following your inner voice will make difficult things go away. We still have big decisions to make, and we have an aggressive deadline in mind. Even after today's picture deadline was eliminated, we were hard at work on the house. It's going to keep being stressful, there is no doubt about that.

What I do have, though, is the peace of mind that comes with listening to my gut instincts. The voice that says, "Wait, stop, breathe, think, pray, listen" is my wise mind, adding facts + impressions + emotions + "the stuff in the ether that I can't define or even observe but I am taking in nonetheless" = ALERT. That voice doesn't lie, but doesn't always present itself with a logical package of information that may be easier to justify following. When I'm stressed, or wanting to just push through to the other side of a situation (like trying to sell our home), I can tell it to just shut up a million times, and I can almost convince myself that it either a) isn't there or b) isn't correct. This just prolongs my angst, which I learned (AGAIN!) this weekend. Listen, dummy: when you can't turn your neck without wincing, LISTEN.

Peace of mind within the chaos is what I hope for in the most stressful situations. It doesn't fix everything, but it fixes me, and that is enough.

Breathe. Listen. Breathe. Think. Breathe. Pray. Breathe.

Here we go. Sale updates to follow shortly. Prayers and best wishes appreciated.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Testing Merry-Go-Round

So, this happened this week, on the front page of our daughter's homework packet:

Lest we think that the school year is not all about testing, we are informed that—hurray!—another test is on the horizon. Congratulations, kids! You have completed round seven, or eight, or twelve—I have no idea how to even count the tests at this point—and haven't been knocked out, yet. Look alive, get ready, there's more to come!

The NWEA is the test for which our kids have been asked to longitudinally graph their scores, and set goals for improving their tests by a few points in each category. This is also the test that, this year, led my child into shame self-talk, because she hadn't advanced two points in her reading category, despite already being many years ahead and not behind in any way whatsoever. It turns out that graphing out your test scores and focusing in on numbers, numbers, gains in numbers, really grips kids' attentions. It makes them feel personally responsible for getting a higher score, even if the goal that is set is a) negligible (because there isn't anywhere to grow) and b) within the margin of error (which is not explained, but I've ranted about that already.)

Note, I did not say that the graphing makes kids feel personally responsible for doing their best, or working hard to learn new things, or enjoying reading/math/discovery. I said it makes them feel responsible for getting a higher score. Big difference. I'm glad to know the date of the next test, as it will give me time to prep EJ not to worry about her score. I don't know that I will be totally successful, as it will likely be discussed ad nauseum at school, and of course, she'll go in knowing what personal goals she is being asked to meet. We'll do what we can, and make her pancakes for breakfast, and remember what it is was like back as kids in the seventies and eighties, when we took standardized tests every few years, and never knew our scores. How did my husband get a PhD? How did I get a master's degree? How did we become educated, hard-working contributors to society without graphing out our incremental test score gains at least twice a year? The mind boggles.

Meanwhile, while we are well-informed about tests, we have little idea what is going on with their social studies project, which has them in teams learning about Chicago landmarks/important places. In past years, the third graders have gone on tons of field trips, and because the school is centrally located, many of those excursions have been walking field trips to museums, parks, and other landmarks. Exercise, fresh air, hands-on cultural learning—who can beat that? I remember remarking on how often I saw the third graders being herded back to school around dismissal time when EJ was younger, and parents with older kids mentioned that third grade was "the field trip year, since they study Chicago." Since that time, I've loved the idea that "field trip year" was ahead for my kiddo, and I was so excited that her school embraced it; it was one of the many things I loved about the school, actually.

This year, EJ's class has had ZERO field trips. That's right, NONE. That means that we had more trips to Chicago when I was a school kid in Wisconsin than she has had this year.

Chicago, for all of its foibles—the terrible climate, the expense, the corruption, and the bureaucracy that makes even liberals like me question, "What is this government for, anyway?"—is a remarkable, world-class city. Come visit, you will be awed, truly. The amount of amazing things to do here just goes on and on, with museums, parks, the lake, excellent theater, incredible dining, festivals, cutting-edge architecture for over a hundred and fifty years, see what I'm saying. When we decided, after grad school, that our best next-move was to stay here, at least in the short-term, we committed to treating our time more like tourists, really getting out and seeing the things that people who visit do. Even living here, you can't catch it all.

All the standardized testing makes me sad. All the ways the testing is influencing my kid to change the way she feels about her learning makes me depressed. And now, all the missed opportunities for the kids to go out into the city and learn about it by actually visiting the places that make it what it is makes me frustrated.

This merry-go-round we are riding needs some serious maintenance work.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Winners, Losers, Erma, and Playing Chicken

Well, the news came out today, and I did not win or place in the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition. I did show, though, as is, "I showed up, did the work, turned it in, and feel good about it." 

If you have a moment, check out the winner's entry. Tracy Beckerman is funny, and she is also inspiring, as she makes her living writing and performing humorous stuff about real life in a family. Tracy, I'm going to keep at this, and hopefully someday, we can meet at a writer's workshop and share some true-life tales over cocktails.

In addition to being funny and inspiring (as mentioned), Tracy is also very lucky, not because she won the competition—her talent made that well-deserved—but because she writes that she started growing chin hairs at the same time as her teenage son. That late? Really? She is definitely not Italian, I say as I pluck-pluck-pluck between keystrokes.

Whenever I do creative work, I hope it is well-received, and with so many entries to the competition (853), it is impossible to know how my work stacked up. Did the readers laugh? Did I make it to a second round? Was there something significant that stopped folks from enjoying it as intended? That is the hardest part about the kind, but short, rejection: no feedback. Next year, I'm going to have to sign up lickety-split for the Erma Bombeck writing workshop (which sold out within hours), and soak in some insights.

Until then, I'll take comfort in knowing that I did what I could, and I am pleased with the work. I'll share it here, too, and hope that you enjoy it.

For those curious about the writing parameters, the stipulations for the entry were a) it was to be humorous, b) it had to be 450 words or less, and c) it could never have been published before, even on a personal blog.

Chicken Is Served

My husband spent the better part of two weeks away for business this past month. During that time, I realized: the natural give-and-take of a modern, married couple, tasked with keeping a house while raising a family, had become for us an elaborate game of household-chore chicken.

Not familiar with this game? You might be the type who thrives on straightening up. I've never had that blessed affliction, nor has my husband.

I am a self-confessed, horrible housekeeper. At forty years old, you'd think I'd have figured out a system by now. I'm better than I was at twenty, but not by much. I'm like a housekeeping toddler—just because I can stack blocks doesn't mean you should hand me the china.

Added to my ineptitude is my utter shock that taking care of a house is my job. I was born in 1973, and raised with the understanding that everything Marlo Thomas and her friends promised in, "Free to Be, You and Me" was a given. My interpretation of gender equality was that my job was to pursue whatever fascinating work I chose, and to never assume that there were limits on my potential based upon stereotypical assignments of "women's work."

I'm not exactly sure who I thought was going to vacuum in my grand liberation. My mom, a graduate-educated speech therapist with a great career herself, certainly did the brunt of cleaning in my childhood home in Wisconsin. I guess I assumed that poor mom was pre-Marlo, and despite being married to my feminist father, still needed to live out part of some patriarchal social contract she'd inherited.

I managed to scrape into adulthood with little sense of how to keep things neat and tidy, or in any way imbued with the "feminine touch" advertised in 1950s ladies' magazines. To quote my husband, "You were socialized to run the free world, not the house."

I'm lucky, as he believes in an equitable split of housework, too. Because neither of us has the organizing bug, however, we've never figured out the hows or the whens of our split, so frequently, dishes sit, clutter piles up, and laundry remains in various stages of completion in baskets scattered on the floor.

We never speak of these unfinished bits: we just circle them, wondering who will run out of socks first, and make a move. Chicken: when you flinch, you lose.

I missed him while he was out of town, but I noticed that the house got much neater in his absence. Because I couldn't play household-chore chicken, I spent my evening free time another way: actually picking up.

So, while togetherness is wonderful, in our house, "Cleanliness is next to loneliness."

Thursday, March 13, 2014

It's NOT All Good, You Don't Have to Say It Is

Yesterday, I fell on the ice. Hard. On a second story outdoor walkway. Flat, bam, on my back and head. It was really awful.

It's some kind of miracle that I'm not concussed. I can sit here for a few minutes typing, but my back is painful, and my internal organs feel all jumbled up. I feel lucky I wasn't more hurt, but this week is going to be a doozy.

Maybe feeling like my spleen and my pancreas have switched places is making me cranky, but today I'm going to tackle the holy grail of parenting topics: the blessed gratitude for all things children do, lest we forget that they will only be children for a short period of time.

I now have an eight-year old. She can do most things for herself, and she genuinely wants to help when I need help. Yesterday, for example, when I was hurt, she comforted me, brought me my kindle and my phone when I asked for them ("Don't get up, Mom! Rest!"), sat next to me and respected my physical boundaries when I said, "Ouch, could you scoot over a bit?" and even (gasp!) went to her room to read when I said I needed some time by myself.

Having an eight-year old compared to a three-year old is like owning a car versus a bike. All of the eight-year old's activities cost more money and are more complicated, but generally speaking, we don't have to put in nearly as much minute-to-minute effort as one does with a three-year old just to keep going. Actually, if I remember correctly, having a toddler/preschooler is like owning a bike, but a bike that you have to assemble every morning, all while having someone continuously beg you for milk, but not in the blue cup, only in the red cup, but not with the yellow lid facing right, but with the...well, you get the idea.

With an appreciation for my daughter's newfound ability to see me as an actual person, not just as her mother, I have recently read a lot of online pieces about how we must always be grateful for these tiny people we love who wear us down and keep us awake and never stop asking for help. In the roughest of moments, we should remember that, someday, our houses will be empty, and we will wish we had a sweet little person waking us up for cuddles, or a sticky little hand (that has left marks everywhere) to clean. We must appreciate the chaos. Profess that we remember no time without them in our homes, and wouldn't even want to remember those times if we could. We must embrace and love the whole package, unabashedly.

Okay, I get it. I'm not a total jerk. Of course we should appreciate the reality of our situations, even when they are tiring and messy, because fighting reality only makes things harder. And yes, we should accept the things that come with being the parent of a little kid when our kids are, in fact, little, and dependent on us in a primal way. Little kids, aside from being totally needy and often annoying, are also hilariously funny, hopeful, loving, interesting, etc. You can't have just one side of the coin, you get both, that's the deal. Being grateful for all of what you have is always a good tool for happiness.

THAT BEING SAID, I'm glad my kid isn't little anymore. I didn't embrace all of that chaos, sleeplessness, or (ACK) stickiness with perfect aplomb. (Our running joke in the house is this: "What does Mom like least about parenting? Answer from the kiddo, with a huge laugh: "BEING STICKY.")

I'm just going to come out and say that, if you are home with a little right now, and feel like your entire day is having orders barked at you by someone who is overtired (but refuses naps), demanding (but cannot articulate himself), and generally unpredictable (and with whom you cannot have a rational conversation), you don't have to say that you like this, just because someday that toddler might be an accountant who lives in Portland and only visits you once a year.

I wonder, sometimes, as I read the accounts of never-ending blessed gratitude, as I call this phenomenon, if they are helpful to parents in that they reaffirm that it is nice to be needed, to be relied upon, to be trusted. Little kids do give you those feelings, when you really have time to assess what you do for them, outside the haze of trying to keep shoes on them while being kicked in the face, as they scream, "No shoes! No! No!" even though the only places they want to spend time require shoes.

The thing is, our whole job as parents is to release our kids into the world, step-by-step. We bond with them in this incredible way, becoming the unique individuals placed on this earth to provide for their growth and development, but we're always mindful that the finish line is them leaving. This isn't a death sentence, something to be used as a hammer to make you appreciate every second that you are now spending with them. Yes, that precious time with little ones will go away, and you will have an empty house, but you might like a lot of things about that house, too, just as you might like every stage of their increasing independence.

With this in mind, I'd like to start a greeting card line called "Finish Line," with age appropriate cards like this:

For parents of a newborn:

Congratulations! You will smell like vomited milk most of the time, but you will be too tired to care. Your child is wonderful. Here's wishing you a healthy first year, and a shower at least twice a week.

For the parents of a toddler:

Congratulations! Your kid doesn't need to wake you up to feed all night long anymore. He may still wake you up, but there are some books about that. Here's wishing you find a babysitter for two dates this year, using the money saved by skipping a gym membership. Your workouts are now just chasing your child, and your portion control is eating the scraps off their plates.

For the parents of a preschooler:

Congratulations! While they are in school for a few hours each morning, you may finally be able to go to the bathroom without an audience. Enjoy all this decadence.

For the parents of a kindergartner:

Congratulations! Your kid can probably get their own breakfast if you set out cereal and milk in small containers. Maybe you can sleep a little later? Oh, wait, you had another baby last year. Forget about that. Be proud of yourself when the older kid's hair is brushed.

For the parents of an elementary kid:

Congratulations! Your child now understands that you have needs and wishes of your own. They will still put their own needs and wishes first 92% of the time, but that 8% can be savored. Sorry about all the homework now running your lives.

I have to stop there, as my kid is only in third grade, but I can imagine that at some point, I may be able to say, "Hurray! My kid no longer needs a babysitter, now my husband and I can go out and see movies again without paying $150 a pop!" Wow, that will be a really great day—the Oscars will make sense again! That's something to look forward to in that quiet, kid-free house, for sure.

Parents, I'd love to hear your ideas for these cards. Add them in the comments. I'll be checking them in between Advils, for which I am truly grateful.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Showing Up

The blog went dark for a few days, I know. A family friend is in the hospital in Wisconsin, the family needed some support, and I got in the car and showed up. I hope that what I did while I was with them was a help, but honestly, I think just showing up was really the key contribution.

The hospital was bustling, but intimate. It was public in the most human way, as nurses and doctors needed to know every banal detail about the patient's daily function, but it was so private, in that the moments shared seemed hard to describe adequately to those not present. Being there, I couldn't be in my own head, as there was both too much and too little going on, all at once, requiring all my attention.

During this time, I had so much to write about. The fragility of life. The strength of the spirit and of the body. The silly things that happen in the middle of the scary. The way a hospital is the busiest place in the world, with 20 people coming in and out within a matter of hours, all telling the patient, "You get some rest now." The difference getting a good meal or a good nap can make. The kindness of friends and family who jump in and do the things that need to be done, like pick your kid up from school or let you sleep on their spare bed, all so that you can help caregivers in the hospital have enough of a break to go brush their teeth, get dressed, or eat a meal. The way the first warmer day in four months makes everyone a little zippier, even when they are dealing with serious medical issues. How, for the staff of the hospital, everything is routine, but for the patients and their loved ones, everything in the world may be turned upside down; the juxtaposition of these two points of view, alone, could fill a book.

The thing is, when I pulled out my trusty wireless keyboard and tried to capture any of this, it was all cliché, all so trite, all jumbled into a muddled web of truisms that we say without really thinking. Just trying to capture any of my experience made me respect my favorite authors more, people who justly describe the holy and surreal moments of life, somehow pointing to resonant universal truth without a hint of common aphorism.

I'm home now, and I'm tired. Tired from driving, tired from daylight savings, but mostly, I'm tired from feeling. In true real-life fashion, while I was gone, our old dog got sick again, making my husband's job of holding down the fort more disgusting, and my job of reentry more complicated (as I sit on hold with the vet). A snowstorm is on deck for tonight, stopping the new springlike weather in its tracks, at least for a few days. Swimming lessons, disliked by the child but forced upon her by her parents who do now want to drown, resume tonight, with all of their tears of protest. A plumber is stopping by to fix the leak in our bathtub faucet, but I am still in my pajamas, as I don't have any clean clothes to put on until I get laundry done. Absolutely none of this is as important as what is happening in the hospital right now, so it all feels ridiculous.

I need to drink my coffee, rally, and just show up again, this time for the myself, my family, and for the mundane stuff that makes life chug along. If I could convince my brain to leave that sixth-floor hospital room, or my heart to leave my throat, where it has climbed up and lodged itself firmly, it would be easier. I'm just going to have to do my stuff, anyway, and hope the head and heart return soon.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Laundry Is My Weekly Planner

Do you see that black leotard and those pink tights, right on top of the laundry pile?

That's how we know it is Wednesday here chez Lusignan. Wednesdays are ballet class.

Fridays are gym day.

Tuesdays are swimming lessons.

Every other Monday is Brownie Scouts.

I've mentioned many times before how much I hate laundry, loathe it, despise it, dream of a day when the washing machine and dryer are robots that come to our rooms, pick up the clothes, wash and dry them, then fold them and put them back in drawers.

Laundry, aside from being NEVER DONE and CONSTANTLY NECESSARY, is also irritating because it is a scheduling task-master. The piles of laundry don't care if I have a particularly busy Tuesday, 'cause I still have to make sure there is a clean swimsuit ready for the kid at the end of the day.

If I have the swimsuit clean on gym day, it doesn't matter, because we need the gym uniform that day.

If I do a load of laundry on Sunday, but forget to look for the leotard and tights in the hamper (or ballet bag, or wherever my child decided was a good place to undress this week, e.g., on the floor, stuffed in between the mattress and pillow, under a pile of books, behind the radiator in the bathroom...I could go on and on), then I have to do more laundry before or on Wednesday, too, even if 90% of her stuff is clean.

Do you know how hard it is to see a tiny black leotard in a clump of navy school uniform pants and dresses? Do you know how much harder it is to see the navy gym sweatpants if they are separated from the gray gym uniform shirt before being put into the wash? When I see the shirt, I can be almost positive that the pants are there, too; without the shirt, the search usually gets ugly. Do you know how awful it is when the kid decides to be helpful by putting her swimsuit some creative place to dry?

At least 40% of my laundry responsibility is a) making sure the right clothes are washed for the right day, b) finding said clothes, or hounding the little person who wears them to keep looking, since it is her job to do so (and yes, it is just easier for me to look, if only we didn't constantly have to teach these people how to be contributing members of society, chores would be quicker), and of course, c) frantically looking for the clothes at the eleventh hour, hoping that the ballerina can attend class in something other than Brownie sash, pajama bottoms, and a gym shirt.

When I really examine the full breakdown of my laundry time, it is no wonder why it is my household chore nemesis. I'm clearly not doing this right.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Fat Testing

We aren't the courageous parents this week.

Our daughter started her ISAT testing this morning.

For those not following the school-testing drama throughout the country, it has reached a new level of craziness here in Chicago. The ISAT, a retired standardized test being replaced with an entirely new common-core assessment next year, is still being administered for the next two weeks to Chicago's 3rd-8th grade students, despite the fact that the results from it will not be used to assess anything in 2014.

Why? Parents are being told that it is legally required (not true). They are also being told a whole host of other things that span from "it is illegal for you (parents/guardians) to opt your children out" to "you can opt out with by sending a note as the a parent/guardian, but your kid will be given the test booklet and the directions, anyway, and they have to personally refuse, again."

Yeah, that's the dream, everyone, to send your kid to school with a note of test-exemption, then have to coach them on how to verbally refuse when given the test every morning for two weeks, confronted with the implication of law-breaking. Could you imagine doing that at eight years old?

Years ago, before kindergarten, when we were touring selective admission public schools in our area, we emphatically eliminated a really well-loved, well-respected school from our list after we heard the principal tell us that, she "[doesn't] contact parents for every infraction, because that would usurp [her] authority over them—in the line of authority, [she] needs to be at the top." NOPE, WRONG ANSWER. Of course, contacting parents for every single problem is ridiculous—we had no beef with her logic there—and of course, it is important for kids to respect the administration and staff's authority. Duh. The idea, though, that a principal's authority over my kid—anyone's kid—is not an extension of parental authority, is ridiculous. The principal has authority because it is ceded over to him or her when a child is enrolled in school; a great principal can help inspire and shape a child's behavior, administer effective consequences, and command respect, but is never expected to be the ultimate authority in a child's life.

We didn't pick that school, because that seemed nuts. We picked the school our kid is at now, because the whole staff is much more tuned in to kids' needs, as well as how parents/teachers/kids/staff can all work together. Unfortunately, though, even our well-liked school is part of a big system, and the big system's rhetoric about testing seems to support the ethos we rejected early on: the schools are in charge of this, you parents may be invited to help out (and definitely to donate financially!), but don't get your place in the hierarchy confused. CPS = the ultimate alpha dog.

So much good stuff is being written to debunk the need for ISAT testing, and to showcase the importance of fighting it. Chicago Public Fools provides must-read information that highlights the fallacies behind many of the schools' claims about the necessity of testing. More Than a Score has the data and the toolkit for opting out, to make it easier for parents and kids. Linda Lutton at WBEZ is doing some incredible reporting on education, as always, highlighting the opt-out protest from an unbiased perspective. And of course, if you want to hear the party line from CPS, you can always check out the Chicago Tribune.

While we are completely onboard with the ISAT testing protest: we believe in it, we understand its importance, we recognize that it sends a message to the Chicago Public Schools which is making them take notice (and go a little nuts, honestly), we had several long conversations with the kiddo about where we stand, and we decided that allowing her to test this week and next is the right decision for her.

The problem we encountered is this one: the opt out FOR HER is too late. I'm not speaking of any other child, nor am I saying that we couldn't have just said, "Sorry, kid, this is not a democracy, and we know this will be hard for you, but we are making an important stand." At her school, in her classroom, the test prep has gone on for three weeks. She wants to see it through. She was in tears talking about what it would feel like not to take the test. No amount of us assuring her that it DOES NOT MATTER AT ALL, that her teacher and school would not be hurt by it, that her own achievement does not hinge on this, made it feel okay to her. She understands, factually, that all these things are true; what is hard is that the campaign has already been waged, the teachers are saying things that are different than us, and the whole feel of the room is "let's all work together and do our best on these ISATs."

In a perfect world, we would have opted out of all the test prep, too, all the test-endoctrination, all the "rah-rah, we can do it." How does one do that, practically, when test-prep becomes main thrust of learning for three weeks? If the kids are not going to receive instruction while sitting out the actual test, what kind of teaching would they receive if they were not a part of the classroom prep?

Yesterday, EJ got up and made a "Quiet, ISAT" sign. For fun. To be helpful. This morning, as the test begins for her class, she loaded up number two pencils and peppermints (more on that below). She told us how they were instructed that, once they are done, they can't pull out a book to read, they just have to check their answers over and over for each 55-minute period, until the tests are collected. We told her that checking things over too many times can actually make you second-guess correct answers, so once she feels like she is sure she answered things as best she can, she can stop, even if there is time left. We then reminded her of the most important rule: no one can control her mind, and she can sit and daydream about anything she likes, whenever she likes. She then said, "Yes, and I can turn the pages of the test once and awhile, to look like I'm still checking things over, even if I'm done." YES YOU CAN.

This pains us. We feel like we have let our daughter down, and now we are letting the school reform movement down. This is not the Mardi Gras spirit for which we were hoping; of course, staying up late and partying is particularly verboten when there is testing at stake, testing that (again) will not count in any tangible way for the school, the teachers, the administrators, or the kids---are the kids ever a factor mix in this equation, though?

In some small way, the kid is winning for the next two weeks. Below you will find the list of suggestions from the school administration for better testing, along with the telltale, "ISAT results are a key factor in our school's performance level." Again, THEY ARE NOT. Notice below, though, how testing is actually now a way in which the kiddo is happier with school:

  • Proper rest. Students should get at least 8 hours of sleep. (THIS MEANS NO HOMEWORK, of which they sometimes have hours.)
  • Eat a healthy breakfast. Breakfast will be provided daily from 8-8:30 am. Consider adding bananas, which are a good and known source of energy. (THIS MEANS I AM MAKING BANANA MUFFINS, her favorite.)
  •  Have a peppermint or two. Peppermints, reportedly, stimulate the human brain. (THIS MEANS THE KIDS ARE ALLOWED TO BREAK THE CANDY-FREE SCHOOL RULE, and mint is also EJ's favorite.)
  • Exercise by doing jumping jacks or rubbing your belly and patting your head at the same time! This jumpstarts the brain prior to testing. (THIS MEANS THEY MIGHT GET TO MOVE AROUND MORE THAN USUAL IN CLASS, when not testing, of course.)
  • Breathe deeply and relax! Free your mind of any clutter and distractions. Don't stress out! (UMMM...REALLY? YEAH, I DIDN'T GET THE IMPRESSION THAT THIS WAS THEIR OVERALL MESSAGE, EITHER.)

I know, the only way to end testing is to protest testing.

I know.

I know.

I'm sorry, friends who care so much about our kids, and are working so hard to make this protest effective.

Sometimes, in a broken culture, in a difficult system, for your own kid's best interest, peppermints win the day, especially when she carefully labels the bag herself.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Smart Fast

With Ash Wednesday a few days away, this Sunday, our church posted guidelines for fasting in our weekly bulletin.

As we read through the bulletin, EJ made a fist pump of happiness when she saw that children are not asked to fast on Wednesday, so only Mike and I were on the hook. It occurred to me, given that I am a big believer in following the spirit of these guidelines, not necessarily the letter of the law, that she might have no idea what this whole "fast on Ash Wednesday" dictum was about.

I asked her, "Do you know what fasting is?"

Her reply:

"Yes! It's when you eat a big breakfast, no lunch, then a big dinner."

Rejoice, Catholics! Have a half-dozen egg omelet for breakfast, you are officially fasting. Hungry after noon? No worries, a giant dinner is coming your way in a few hours.

I hated to set her straight, but should she ever require a fasting blood test, I figured she needed the info.

"That's not fasting, sweetie. Fasting means that you don't eat anything, or in some cases, just tiny amounts of food/drink if you have a medical condition that requires it."

You should have seen her face. Sheer horror.

"Wait, you aren't supposed to eat anything on Wednesday? That's what happens when you grow up? YOU STOP EATING ON HOLIDAYS FOR GOD?"

At this point, we were heading out to CCD, so we had to table the discussion. I said something about how this is a suggestion, a way to draw closer to God, but one of many ways, and you can make those choices when you are an adult. I also assured her that she needn't worry that anyone was going to starve after one day. A more complicated conversation is on deck about religious fasting, medical fasting, spiritual fasting, etc.  Wait until she hears about fasting in other faiths—Ash Wednesday is a walk in the park, comparatively.

Despite her concern, I have a feeling she is going to be our fasting policewoman on Wednesday. Sure, she's worried about us, but is there anything a kid likes better than being the one enforcing rules? I have fingers crossed that she is easily dissuaded from this task. I imagine there's nothing that makes being hungry better—particularly when you are commanded in the mass reading not to make a big deal out of the fast, but to treat the day as normal—than having an eight-year old tell you over and over not to eat, 'cause Jesus is watching.