Monthly Archives: March 2012

one bad apple CAN spoil the whole bunch

Grade One. Every parent’s dream. BoyGenius’ only concerns about Grade One were 1) “there’s no Lego in the classroom” and B) “they’re going to make me do math.” He wasn’t completely chuffed about full days of school as opposed to half days but still seemed okay with it. Class lists go up, he’s in a split 1 / 2, with a teacher that I didn’t really know. When I asked those parents who did know of her, I didn’t get a very warm feeling. Still, we thought, he’ll be fine.  What could possibly go wrong in Grade One?

What was I thinking? What could possibly go wrong in Grade One? Let me see. Migraines. Inability to sleep through the night. Separation anxiety. Anxiety! Total loss of interest in school. Full on desire for homeschooling … in his words, “right through to university.” Poor academic performance. Personality change from Mr. Social to Wallflower. All in a matter of weeks. HardWorker and I were at our wits’ end. What the heck was going on? My gorgeous son was a wreck. BoyGenius’ Grade One teacher had been off the year before due to health issues. She started his Grade One year teaching part-time; she was back full-time at the end of October.  By the end of November BG’s life was a disaster zone. We asked him if anyone was bothering him at school. Nope. Did he like his teacher? Yup,  she’s “nice enough but she does yell a lot.” We got notes home saying BG was easily distracted and needed help finishing his work; couldn’t come up with story ideas. Every week, the same notes.

I approached our school’s head of Special Education. I didn’t know what else to do. She advised she would observe the class and “see where the difficulty is being generated.” After one visit she advised that she was no longer observing, she was stepping in. My education angel took BoyGenius out every day for weeks and spent time with him in the sensory and gross-motor rooms, settling him into his work upon returning him to class. It was grand. He was, if not exactly happy again, at least less resistant to the idea of school. Report cards came home in February (well, to be honest, BoyGenius’ report card went missing and didn’t come home when everyone else’s did) . BG was sick with worry (again) and didn’t want to go to school anymore. His report was pretty good, but he told me — through tears — that anything under an A was bad.

His report card said he would be “encouraged to write in complete sentences” and to work on his reading. Now I knew that these reports are just forms with drop-down boxes so I sent a note to his teacher asking just how he was going to be encouraged to do these things. After not getting a reply for almost two weeks I spoke with our SERT (special education resources teacher) again and remarkably got a call from the teacher the very next day, setting a meeting for the next day after that. BG’s teacher wanted to give me materials to allow me to work with him at home. I explained that he could read and write just fine at home and wondered what they would be doing for him in class. His teacher asked me how he liked the homework calendar/notebook that came home. I truthfully said “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Apparently this was something that she had instituted a couple of weeks before our meeting .. but also apparently it didn’t matter that my son had never once brought homework back to school during those two weeks. She gave me a notebook and a calendar to take home. She said she had done a running record with him that afternoon; she reluctantly raised his reading level two steps. She said he struggled with comprehension on the lower level but was okay with it on the higher level story. Our SERT asked what the two stories were about and pointed out that he didn’t care what happened in the first one because it was about getting to school on time and BG didn’t even want to be at school. His teacher said he had problems with his “middle sounds” in words and that might be contributing to his reading issues. Our SERT did a running record with him the day after this meeting and amazingly his reading level jumped 4 steps … she wanted to go further but his teacher disagreed. The SERT put him on a computer program that she usually only started in grade two and found he breezed through about twenty levels and said he had no issues whatsoever with reading, pronunciation or comprehension. So what was the problem?

I started making BoyGenius’ issues general knowledge to any parent who would listen. They didn’t believe what they heard — not BoyGenius, he was “the coolest kid in Kindergarten!” I found that there were indeed a number of other parents who were experiencing challenges with their children in this same class. They all bickered and complained in the yard but only one other mother followed through with the administration. Others said “it’s too late now, it’s already March,” or “I don’t want any backlash from the teacher towards my child” or my personal favourite, “we’re just treating this year as a write-off.” Grade One — a write-off.

I did go to the principal. I did write a letter and have a face to face meeting. I did demand that something be done. I did put in a formal request for BoyGenius’ Grade Two placement. I did point out to the principal that the primary grades are the foundation for students’ educational careers and if they couldn’t be sucked into the culture of learning in those first three years then heaven help their teachers for the next ten. I did put the school on notice for the emotional well-being of my child. I did let them know that while I am definitely my son’s strongest advocate, I was appalled that I had to bring these issues to their attention when they should have been in contact with me since they saw him in this environment every day.

I did bring about a change. While BoyGenius’ Grade One teacher is still there, still teaching a 1 / 2 split, still being unable to exercise much control over what goes on in her classroom, the students she has this year are having a better time of it than those who had her last year. She is being more closely monitored by the administration, has apparently taken some direction. I feel less afraid and more happy for the grade ones she has this year.

What about BoyGenius, you ask? How is Grade Two? Night and day, my friends. He skips or dances to school every morning. He entertains. He is a “joy to have in the classroom” and quite frankly, back to being his brilliant self. He is apparently a natural leader as well as being one of the class clowns. He loves school, brings home one perfect math quiz after another and has the most diverse collection of books in his book box. His February report brought tears to my eyes and warmth to my soul. And he’s still complaining that there’s no Lego in the classroom.

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in his blood?

So BoyGenius had his 8 year annual check-up at the pediatrician’s yesterday.  Both the nurse and our doctor seemed shocked that they hadn’t seen us in a year.  Then doc checked BG’s file and realised that it’s been that way since he was about 3 years old.  He had a three week cough once back then — and since then we only go once a year. Oh don’t get me wrong, we’ve been to the walk-in clinic a couple of times (seriously, a couple) and the ER four times since BoyGenius was a baby (two of those times for a broken left arm .. two separate playground incidents), but other than that, the kid’s fairly healthy. 🙂

Apparently, one of the things that happens at an annual check-up when you’re 8 years old is that the doctor asks you what you want to do when you grow up; you’re not allowed to say “I don’t know,” you have to be able to formulate some idea. HardWorker and I (and other people) have asked BG a few times over the years what he might like to be when he grows up and the most we ever got out of him is “a Rescue Hero!” … and that means Billy Blazes or Jack Hammer, not an actual firefighter or police officer. So Dr. Larry asks BG what he wants to do when he grows up and here’s what happens: BoyGenius thinks for a bit, not like he’s trying to come up with something, but like he’s actually given it some thought before and is just recalling it, and says very matter-of-factly, “a builder.”  “Hmm ..,” says Dr. Larry then asks “what kind of builder .. like homes or a ship or boat builder?”  “Airplanes,” says BoyGenius and smiles. He smiles.

Airplanes. I smile. See, I don’t think BG knows how amazing that answer is. He does know that he has a cousin who is a pilot for a major european airline. However …. I don’t believe he remembers being told that his Opa was a glider pilot. I don’t think he remembers that his uncle BlueEyes was a flight attendant for many, many years.  He has no concept of me actually working, so he doesn’t know that I spent 15 years in the travel industry, doing all manner of things related to air travel: booking, ticketing, contracting, sales & groups sales, planning and analysis. He has no idea that he has a cousin who is an aviation engineer and works for Airbus … building airplanes. ♥

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ordinary or extraordinary?

Today some cyber friends of mine have been brought together in Chicago for a St. Baldrick’s Foundation fundraiser being hosted/sponsored by Donna’s Good Things. These people, along with a host of others, are having their heads shaved to help conquer childhood cancer. These are ordinary people doing an extraordinary thing. (I would have loved to be there but couldn’t; I am participating both in my heart and on my Amex bill.) The hugeness of this event has made me reflect on many things, one of them being the ordinariness of my existence.

I am an ordinary person. I live an ordinary life. I had an ordinary childhood (from where I was sitting, anyway). I grew up in an ordinary small town. I don’t think I’ve ever done an extraordinary thing.

the wild bunch?

Our family moved to my hometown when I was 3 years old. My brothers went to school, I stayed home with mom. The next year I started school; went to the same school for 9 years until it was time to graduate to highschool, which I then attended for the next 5 years. Most of the kids in my public school class were right there with me for the entire time. My parents stayed married, as did the parents of most of my friends. My dad had the same job the whole time I was growing up. My mom started working once I was old enough to be home alone after school. I took piano lessons (not that successfully, but still), as did my brother BlueEyes (he was very successful). We sang in the local music festival as did all the kids from the public schools in our town. All three of us kids had paper routes at one time or another. We rode our bikes all over town and knew the best streets for trick-or-treating. We had trees in our backyard for climbing and empty fields all around town for exploring. We pretty well had the run of the whole town but mainly stayed in our “quarter” (judging solely by the number of public schools in town). In the summer holidays we went to the town park, which is on a lake, every day the weather permitted. I don’t remember it ever raining more than twice a summer. We picnicked, we built sand castles, we played tag. I did just fine in school; recesses were spent on the baseball diamond or on snowhills. I never ran away from home and neither did my brothers. I don’t remember any friends of mine ever doing that, either. My brothers and I always got along.

When I finished highschool I moved to the city to attend a post-secondary institute of higher learning. So did my brothers before me. They proved more successful than I, again. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life so I just kind of drifted through classes. For a couple of years. Then I realised I didn’t want to do that (my chosen program of study) and changed schools and majors. After another couple of years I opted out again. I worked some ordinary jobs until I found one that kept me for 13 years. I live in an ordinary small town (okay, maybe not so small, but it feels like it); I have an ordinary house; we are an ordinary family with two parents and a child; BoyGenius attends an ordinary public school much like my own; we have ordinary bills and eat ordinary food.

I don’t have much to write about — to me, it’s all just ordinary, every-day stuff. I don’t believe that it could be interesting to many. As an adult, I have come to realise that not many people have had an “ordinary” childhood (or what I understand as ordinary). Everyday I am made privy to friends’ (both cyber and physically present ones) histories and stories and read and listen in both awe and revulsion; with both pity and compassion, with both anger and incomprehension. How did I miss all this stuff? How lucky was I to have my ordinary family, not one of us with any special needs. How lucky am I to be having the same thing now with my own child?

I don’t have a story to tell. Nothing bad happened to me as a child. I am ordinary … or perhaps not. Maybe the fact that I don’t have a story to tell makes me extraordinary. Is that a good thing?

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harbingers of spring

Springtime is here. Officially, and anecdotally. Know what I mean?

Kids shedding their coats. Sunshine. Lilac budding out. Winter babies making appearances in outfits that allow you to actually see them. Sunshine. Motorbikes, scooters and bicycles. Dogs rolling in mud.

We didn’t have much of a winter here; not a single snow storm, driveways and sidewalks only had to be shoveled twice, I didn’t even get the snowtires put on my car.  It’s March and we’ve been sitting out on decks and enjoying hottubs, listening to the songs of spring peepers.  I only bought birdseed twice this winter, not that the birds wouldn’t have eaten more, but really, there was food readily available for them all over the place.

BoyGenius asked today if we could picnic at the park for lunch. That’s how quickly we’ve made the transition from winter to warm this year. I have croci and lenten rose blooming in the garden and hollyhocks pushing their way up through the inlaid brick walkway. I have the windows open and the furnace off.

A sure sign of spring!

One of the first things I notice about spring is the smell. It’s not always a good smell … there are those winters where the first thing you smell with the spring thaw is melting dog doo. Wonderful. (This winter that hasn’t been the case and I think it’s because we didn’t have the snow that some dog owners think hides the fact that their dog just cr@pped in the schoolyard.) No, I mean the smell of soil, the smell of slightly warmer air, the smell of morning dew. Today’s mud smells much different from the mud we had to deal with all winter. It smells like — marbles and skipping ropes; scooter and bikes; pussywillows and tulips; yardwork and car washes.

What are some of the things that put you in mind of spring? Is there one thing that takes you back to when you were a kid?

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have you found your thing?

I do a lot of things. I’m a dabbler. I love a lot of things but I don’t think I’ve found my thing yet.

How many of you are doing what you love? What do you do when even doing what you love wears you down or starts feeling like a chore? How do you find that thing you love so that you can do it?

There are wise people who say you should find your passion and make that your work. That way you will be doing what you love to do and making a living at it. How many people does that actually happen for? First off, what if you can’t find your passion? What if, even if you have one, you can’t find a way for it to help you survive: buy food, pay bills, contribute to the rent/mortgage?

Whenever I have to contribute to the “about” section on any thing I sign up for I never really know what to say.  I am a stay-at-home-mother to one son. That’s about as far as I get. I love to cook (sometimes). I love to bake (sometimes). I really do love doing laundry, as hard as it may be for people to believe that. I love taking pictures. I love reading. I love words. I love music. I love to travel. I love to garden (sometimes). I love children, animals, trees, hearts, flowers, seashells, the ocean, clouds, Lego and the harmonica — to name just a few things.

So, I love all those things. I’m at least a little bit good at a lot of things. I guess I could say I am a good cook. I’m good at baking. I am good at laundry. I catch the odd perfect shot on film or flashcard. I read well. I can do a lot of things. But so what? I have people tell me I should be a writer, I should be a photographer, I should be a teacher. Well, guess what? I am all those things, just not professionally. I don’t think I have any sellable stories inside of me. Every consumer with a camera phone now believes they are a photographer, and I know how hard it is to be a professional. I love children but I know I don’t have the patience to be a teacher.

I’m a parent. I love it (most times). I just don’t know if I’m any good at it. I’m not a very good housewife. I’m not even a very good spouse. Parent? Who knows. Is my son happy? He says yes. He says I’m a good mom and there isn’t anyone else he’d rather have as a mom. Is that good enough for me? I guess so.

Maybe I have found my thing.

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Response to a musical challenge: It is exactly what it was like.

My friend Chris over at from the bungalow posted a challenge the other day and there was no way I could pass it up.  The toughest thing about it was picking just one song.  So for what it’s worth, here it is:

I was sitting in the passenger seat of my friend’s vehicle while she ran into some store or other to pick something up or exchange something.  “I want you to listen to this song,” she had said just before she got out, setting up a particular track, leaving me with the stereo on and the CD liner notes in my hand.  It was December, cold and snowy outside and I was feeling warm and cozy in the truck.

When she returned I was in tears.  “I’m sorry,” she said, “I just wondered if that’s really what it was like, how true a portrayal this is.”  It is exactly what it was like.

My friend had given me a copy of Karine Polwart’s Under this Earthly Spell CD as a gift months before.  I had read the liner notes and lyrics (as I am wont to do).  I had listened to the CD any number of times already.  How had I missed this?  How did this not knock me flat the very first play-through?  I know for a fact that I had read the bit about this song being written for an AIDS project.  I know for a fact that I had read how it was dedicated to a real mother and a real son.  I know for a fact that I had listened to track 6 already.  More.Than.Once.  Apparently, however, while I had indeed listened, I hadn’t ever heard it.  I’m guessing I just hadn’t wanted to hear it.  It is exactly what it was like.

copyright Karine Polwart / hegri music

This time, this December day, in a month that was still such an enemy to me, while I was safely ensconced in what amounted to a den of love and compassion, this time when I listened to Karine Polwart’s  “Firethief,” I actually heard it.  And hearing it, really hearing it for the first time, I felt it.  I felt it from the tip of my intellectual brain down to the foundation of my very being.  I felt it in my head, in my eyes, in my throat, in my gut, in my heart, in my nerve endings, in my spirit and in my soul.  Had I not been sitting in a cushy heated seat, I would have been flat on the floor.  My brother died of AIDS in December 1993.  It is exactly what it was like.

There was a period of time after my brother’s death that I couldn’t listen to a certain song; it made me cry no matter where I was.  Other selections take me back to long nights of pogo-ing together at university pubs.  There are recordings that transport me to the quiet weeks before BlueEyes was hospitalized.  Music was like a life blood for him; it’s the same for SkinnyGuy (my other brother) and me. I am all about music and lyrics: pick up any scrap of paper in my house and it will have snippets of lyrics scribbled on it; I hear music in the wind rushing through trees and in the photocopier spitting out paper.  I have never before had a song paint a picture for me and take my breath away like “Firethief” does.  It is exactly what it was like.  And I love it.  It’s a glorious song and for all its inherent heartache, it lifts me up.  It courses through me and envelopes me in love.  Thank you, Karine.  Thank you so much for writing this song.

If you would like to hear Karine sing this amazing selection, please follow this link:  Firethief Live

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