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blindingly fast, it happens

maura @ 9:23 pm

I’ve been trying to convince myself not to write about Gus on here anymore. He’s getting older and it just feels less like something I should do. After all, this is my blag, I should be blagging about me, right?

But then we have a day like today and how can I not blag about it? Thanks to falling back he was up at 6:15am even though there was no school today. (I was up before 6am because that’s how my insomnia rolls lately.) I started in getting ready for work and a bit later he ran into the bedroom to excitedly tell me: “Mom! I just added a wiki page!”

He’s fairly obsessed with a new Kirby videogame that’s just come out for the Wii, and has watched countless YouTube videos and played it at a pal’s house last weekend. Apparently there’s a Kirby wiki out there — who knew? Which Gus found, discovered he could edit, and then wrote an entry about a boss called Water Galbaros. All before 7am. I couldn’t be more proud! He’s been working on that page and others on and off all day, and the page now has images too that other folks have added throughout the day.

Then I went to work, only to come home to the news that Jonathan and Gus had bought a small frying pan (with an egg on the handle, like this!), and that Gus could fry his very own egg. Which he proceeded to do, right before my very eyes. He even sprinkled salt on it from the salt cellar like a proper chef. (And then he ate the egg, also right before my eyes.)

I’m trying not to get all mushy and sentimental but lately I’ve been, well, all mushy and sentimental. He’s just such a great kid, and it’s all going so fast I can’t stand it.

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on teaching and learning and worthwhile work

maura @ 10:49 pm

It’s been quiet around here, I know. But it seems like the semester’s finally settling in so I hope to be more present here, to write more in general, really.

Anyway, back in late August (which it feels like right now because it’s about 75 humid degrees), I wrote something about school and homework and struggling. But things got busy and I never finished or posted it. It’s weird to reread it now — seems practically like another lifetime ago. But it also seems a shame to waste the words, since writing, even the most self-indulgent bloggy kinds of writing, is hard work. So let’s see what I can make of it. And the bonus, since it’s a month later, is that I can share the end of the story (so far), too!

As summer draws to a close I’m thinking about working and teaching and starting the new school year. Gus’s new year is starting soon, too, which means that I’m racking my brain to think of strategies we can use to get through this year’s homework.

Last year featured some epic homework battles, occasional storms that besmirched an otherwise pretty excellent 4th grade experience. Sometimes the battles were over work that he finds difficult. Other times there were no battles – the homework was just challenging enough, interesting, and, dare I say, even enjoyable.

The biggest battles (and most frustrating, at least for me) were over homework that was a straightforward review of stuff he’d already mastered, esp. if that review came in the form of a worksheet. It wasn’t engaging for him, and that stuck in his craw, hard. We had the same conversation repeatedly, trying to convince him to just sit down and do the homework and get it over with quickly so he could move on to something more fun, rather than raging against it and drawing out the entire process. Some nights we were all miserable.

As much as I find all of the homework theatrics annoying (and angering), I feel for the kid, too. No disrespect at all to the teachers, who perform heroic feats in crowded classrooms (30 kids last year, 1 teacher) over long hours every day. But some of the homework *is* boring. It’s unengaging. It’s busy-work. And I can sympathize with Gus’s inability to see that as worthwhile work (while occasionally feeling like maybe there’s value in learning to just do it and move on).

This knowledge doesn’t bring us any closer to a solution for the upcoming year, though we still have a few weeks to discuss strategies as a family. However, it does make me think about the students I work with in the library. Too many of them seem to treat their research assignments the same way, as boring busy work. Even worse, some seem to have given up on wanting to take advantage of creativity and choice in their assignments. I am admittedly a spazzy nerd, and I hope that my (genuine!) enjoyment of the research process helps make the inevitable boring one-shot library instruction sessions a little bit less dull.

And now I’m not sure how to end this, at least not the library part. I’m not teaching our 3-credit course this semester, in which we have the whole semester to work with students to draw them out and engage them over lots of interesting topics in information and research and libraries. I’m too busy to miss it, but I do.

On the bright side, so far things are okay with homework and Gus. Some is situational — a bus switch has him home a bit earlier each day. But we are also trying to convince him to set an amount of time in which he’ll do his homework, then not hover too much over it. Middle school is coming, so in some ways this is probably our homework for the year. (Poor kid, don’t tell him that homework never ends.)

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give a little whistle

maura @ 11:44 am

I don’t know how we made it this far without Gus seeing Pinocchio, but last night when the video went on he was rapt. It’s been ages since I’ve seen that movie and I’d forgotten how weird it is. IMDB tells me that the movie came out in 1940 which seems about right. The blue fairy has that old-fashioned animated look the way the earlier Disney movies all do.

The plot is just, well, bizarre to today’s kids. I’ve not read the fairy tale in ages so not sure how much of the movie is artistic license. But Pleasure Island? So random! All were aghast at the kids smoking cigars. But Gus wondered what was bad, exactly, about playing pool? He’s been to a few birthday parties at a videogames + billiards place in our neighborhood. And the peals, absolute peals of laughter when the boys get turned into jackasses, and on hearing the word jackass repeated several times. Hilarity for the 9 year old set, for sure (though the 3 1/2 yr old was a bit confused).

Gus was adamant that he would never go to Pleasure Island, no matter how much free root beer was promised. But I wonder whether the moral of the story is even understandable to kids today under all of last century’s trappings. If you skip school you’ll have to sing and dance at the theater and then sleep in a cage? If you get on the boat with the creepy old men and go to the island where you can act naughty all day you’ll turn into a donkey and go work in the salt mines? “Don’t they get salt from the ocean?” asks Gus.

But I guess it *is* handy to know that you can light a fire to escape from a whale’s belly.


kelly watch the stars by air

maura @ 11:29 pm

A long time ago in a borough far away (well, maybe just across the bridge), before we were parents, we used to have gaming nights with friends. There was a period of time when we played Magic the Gathering with a couple of pals who would come to our house one night a week. We’d all order food + have a few beers + play a little Magic. We’d listen to music, too, and it was right after the Air album “Moon Safari” came out, the first record I bought of theirs. Good times.

This morning we drove to sleepaway camp to pick up Gus. He spent the first few hours at home obsessively dividing up Jonathan’s old Magic cards into their respective colors, reading each one individually and telling us about all that he learned playing Magic at camp. We didn’t know we were sending him to geek camp! It took 2 hrs to get lunch into him, one bite at a time between the organizing.

He was away at camp for a week, first time ever. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster for us all, I think. We were away the week before last with only 2 days at home before camp. And one of the cats, who’s been sick off and on for a while, kicked it up a notch last weekend. It seemed touch and go for a while–can’t really think of a worse pet scenario than the cat dying the first time the kid goes to camp–but luckily the kitty has perked up since he’s been on the meds we got at the vet.

Since Gus has been home it’s been an alternating love + loss fest. He loves us so much! and missed us so much! he’s told us over and over again, but he loved camp so much! too, and misses it terribly! So difficult, this growing up business.

Today I spent most of my time doing ALL the laundry, because kids bring lots of real dirt (TM) back with them to the city from sleepaway camp. When we got there this morning they made a big announcement that they’d found lice on some campers + counselors (which I’d totally planned to check him for anyway), which was just another reason for me to enact LaundryFest2011. Actually it was really sweet: the camp seemed so apologetic about the lice, as if we don’t get a note from school about lice in Gus’s class pretty much every year. And we have that crazy German lice comb so we’re ready to pick the nits.

So far so good: no one seems to have lice, everything’s clean, and the cats and child are sleeping happily. I’m looking forward to a good night’s sleep, too.

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i kissed a girl by katy perry

maura @ 11:49 pm

Jonathan said he’d never ever heard this song and if you’d asked me before I’d have said the same thing, though once I heard it I remembered it. We were at a county fair while visiting family up in Vermont, and for some reason only the Himalayas ride was playing any music. First it was a bunch of Gaga remixes from the first record, then the Katy Perry song came on. J and I were both holding paper plates with the kids’ half-eaten pizza slices on them, waiting as they rode. The kids whizzed around, first forward and then backward. Gus’s hat flew off but we were able to get it back when the ride ended.

The rides were all a little sketchy, just a little bit too Springfield Tire Fire than I’m entirely comfortable with. The kids only wanted to go on spinny rides, which I loved as a child, too. But now that I’m old and crotchety the spinning makes me feel ill, sad to say. So I held the pizza and listened to Katy Perry and thought about all of her many wigs and costumes. Kids today.

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this moment in time

maura @ 10:54 pm

Not too long ago we started to wonder whether Gus is old enough to see Raiders of the Lost Ark. I have to say that even though I loved it, the ending of the movie scared the crap out of me when I saw it in the theater lo those many summers ago. I was 12 and Gus is 9 1/2, but everything’s scarier in movie theaters at night, right? And it’s only rated PG, for goodness sake! (Though I bet it would be PG-13 now, easy.)

The other thing is that he’s apparently already seen at least part of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Which I think is perfectly appropriate even with its PG-13 rating, though I was somewhat dismayed to hear that he’d seen it at school. Sometimes they show movies during recess when it’s raining too hard to go outside, and I’m not sure that’s such a great flick for littler kids. I didn’t believe Gus at first when he told us he’d seen it, but then he said: “Yes I have! There was a huge explosion and a man inside a refrigerator.” So there you have it.

In the midst of thinking about all of this we thought, say, what about Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? Neither of us remembered much about the movie other than it was vastly inferior to #1 and #3 (and #4, too, frankly). But there’s no melty face ending, and since we have the DVDs of 1-3 we decided to fire it up one night and take a look.

O. M. G. You know, I think this is actually the worst movie ever made. For complete serious! It’s both racist (the Chinese! the Indians!) AND sexist (you just want to smack the whiny Kate Capshaw pretty much constantly). The plot jumps around and is ridiculously stupid. And, here’s the kicker: it’s not actually about archaeology at all. There’s no archaeology in it! At the beginning Indy’s in China delivering some relic to a gangster, and then he ends up in India saving people from some sort of ritual death. No. Archaeology. Anywhere.

We still haven’t decided whether to show Gus Raiders, but suffice it to say we will be skipping right over Temple of Doom. The worst case scenario, of course, is that he would actually *like* it. Just ask any 40-ish yr old Star Wars fan with young kids about Jar-Jar and watch for the sad face.

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future past

maura @ 6:47 pm

Lately the hot media pick in this house has been all manner of National Geographic/Discovery Channel shows available on Netflix watch instantly.* The flavor du jour is paleontological: the life + times of ancient land, sea, and air animals. These shows are almost all the same, only the species differs. Each show focuses on one or several prehistoric animals. Actual paleontologists show us fossils and bones as they discuss the animal. But the real appeal of the show (I think) for Gus is that these fossily bits are interspersed with computer-generated footage of the animals running around and (usually) hunting for prey.

* BTW have I told you yet how weird I still find it that we are watching teevee shows streamed over the internet and brought to us via our videogame system (the Wii) hooked up to the actual telemavision? Mmm, futurey!

The whole package is really sensationalistic. The narrator and music are tense and dramatic, Many of the scientists (almost always male, sigh, and often Australian, which is kind of funny) are stoked to tell us how badass all of these creatures were. It’s all about the biggest, fastest, meanest, etc. In one show the scientists even crafted a dinosaur head out of metal to test the jaw-crushing powers of the megabeast. (Okay, it was kind of cool when they put a huge thick block of jello-like stuff in the mouth to simulate flesh.)

I’m not sure how to feel about all of these shows. Better than Pokemon cartoons, hells yeah. But I kind of hate that “we need to make science into a crazy dramatic movie in order to get people interested!” tendency. I’m sure it’s partly due to technology — when I was little they just couldn’t do those kinds of computer graphics on nature shows, so it was all about fossils and still art, which can’t be nearly as sensationalistic as “recreating the entire life and death struggle from beginning to end” — an actual quote from an actual show we are watching right now.

Plus I just find it jarring and discordant to have the computer-generated dinosaurs (or whatever) layered onto a real landscape background. You got your future in my past! The whole thing makes me wrinkle my nose like an old lady.

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language is a virus

maura @ 4:50 pm

We are having a bit of an issue with swearing here lately. It’s not surprising, really: Gus rides the schoolbus along with lots of other kids ages 5-11 from his school (and, this year, other schools! thank you, budget cuts, for doubling the length of my kid’s morning bus ride). The older kids mess around with curse words, as kids hanging out (mostly) by themselves are wont to do. The younger kids hear them. Gus has known *all* the words (yes, we tested him) for many years now.

Up until this year whatever swearing happened seemed to happen only on the bus or at recess, basically places where adults couldn’t/didn’t hear it. But lately the blue language has been creeping into everyday life.

At first we decided to decriminalize “crap.” We figured that it’s only just barely a swear word, anyway, and it sounds so funny when you say it with a Scottish accent (which I can’t do — can’t roll my Rs to save my life — but G + J can). And we thought that the family legality of one acceptable swear would keep the unacceptable alternatives at bay. That worked fine for a while, but then we realized that crap is sort of a gateway drug, as lots of other sweary language started happening.

It’s the fake swearing that drives me the most batty. Sometimes he’ll say “bleep” as in “that Pokemon bleeping killed me!” Other times he just uses the first letter — “oh D!” — as if we don’t know what that means! Argh, it makes me crazy.

So now we are trying to cut the crap, as it were, in hopes of squashing the swearing altogether. Of course us grownups swear too, though we’ve tried to keep it squeaky clean around the sprog since toddlerhood, when he got old enough to start repeating them back to us. But we do curse when he’s not around, at varying levels of curseyness.

I sometimes try to convince Gus to make up his own swear words, a la Little Pete (e.g. “gutbuckets!”), because it’s so uncreative to rely on the standard curses. I’ve also been known to tell him that it’s embarrassing for parents when their kids swear, which has had mixed results, predictably.

It’s got me thinking about swearing in general. Why is it bad for kids to swear, exactly? (Most) adults know when to swear and when not, but if it’s bad for kids maybe it’s bad for us, too. Is it lazy? Probably, but sometimes that swear word just fits the situation so, so well.

(I want to end this with “damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” but that’s too easy, right?)

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fills my ears

maura @ 10:06 pm

I’ve been listening to a lot of Lush recently, blissing out all early 90s style. I miss Lush: their best songs are layers of guitars that made your clothes move during live shows, with dreamy effects that makes it seem like you’re being wrapped up in a warm snuggly blanket. I think I need an effects pedal for my days sometimes, to kick in a shoegazy headbangy outro (like at the end of “Superblast”) as I’m walking out the door to go home, for example.

It all came from the car. A couple of weekends ago I had to drive a couple of hours to visit family for the day. Jonathan and Gus had to stay here so I drove down alone. The car only has a tape deck (I know!) and since we don’t even have a tape creating thingamabob anymore most of the cassettes are really old (except for the few kids’ music tapes we made when Gus was a baby). I hate the car and driving but I do like listening to music in the car (and singing).

Weirdly for people who have as many records/CDs/tapes as we do, we don’t really listen to music around the house anymore. When Gus was a baby we seemed to have Raffi/Dan Zanes/They Might Be Giants on an endless loop (which is not as awful as it sounds!). But as he’s gotten older that’s faded away. I’m not really sure why — partly it’s probably videogames, which have their own music. He also sometimes complains when we put our own music on.

I feel guilty that we’re not giving him a chunk of music to remember from his childhood. It’s true that I kind of hate many of the bands my parents listened to when I was little — James Taylor, Carly Simon and Carole King, for example — there are other 70s icons for which I retain a certain embarrassing fondness — Fleetwood Mac, Abba, Steely Dan.

Gus doesn’t have much music of his own these days either. After Michael Jackson died Gus decided he wanted some MJ music so we got a couple of CDs, and we all love the Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack (duh!). I’m trying to ease back into some music some times, we’ll see how it goes. I left the Lush tape on in the car last week and there wasn’t any complaining, so that’s a first step.

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you own the sun

maura @ 10:05 pm

It’s early January, so it’s time for my annual summer camp freakout. I meant to write a big long post about our trip to Disneyworld over the holidays, but I’m sick again (thanks a lot, adorable but lethal nephew!) and have been periodically deep-ending on camp research for the past few days so this is easier. Sorry — I promise at least one meaty Disney post is coming soon.

Once again Gus has declared all camps *except* science camp to be boring and (loudly) proclaims that he will not attend any of them, thank you very much. We are so nice that we will stand in line for science camp again this summer (fingers crossed it’s above freezing that day!), but science camp doesn’t offer as much camp as we need for the summer. So I’ve spent the past week surfing around for other options.

I have to admit that the day camp scene is pretty uninspiring to me these days, too. Maybe it’s just that this will be Gus’s 5th summer of day camps, but the options seem pretty lame: straight-up camps (he’s done so many of these), sports camps (no), drama camps (double no). Cooler camps exist at places like the Bronx Zoo, Aquarium, and Museum of Natural History, but they are too far away to be practical.

He loves nature, animals, swimming…all of these things point to sleepaway camp. There’s just no other way to get a hefty daily dose of nature when you live in the city, as far as I can tell. There are a couple of day camps in the northern suburbs that are naturey, but they’re a bus trip from Manhattan much less Brooklyn, and I can’t see asking my kid to commute like a Wall Streeter just to go to camp.

Gus’s reaction to the idea of sleepaway camp has been mixed. We have friends that go (an older + younger brother), and after talking with them last fall Gus was into it, esp. after hearing about archery. Then he changed his mind, because he would miss us so terribly. We would miss him too, and I’m not sure that we’re ready for it either. I went to a 1-week session of sleepaway soccer camp as a kid for 2 summers, but I can’t remember if that started as early as the summer between 4th and 5th grade. I don’t remember being particularly homesick, but a week is not really that long. And we have friends who have been sending their kids to sleepaway camp since they were 7.

But some of these camps look fabulous. Nature, swimming, animals, woodworking, archery, zip lines, climbing walls: what’s not to like? Maybe we just need to talk it up while waving around the brochures. One of the camps has a Family Camp over Memorial Day weekend that we are seriously considering — could be a good way to ease into it.

On second thought, maybe we should go to camp and Gus can get a job for the summer!

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