Thursday, May 27, 2010

Glee for the Ten-Year-Old Set

Why have I never heard a elementary school chorus that was good? I mean seriously, kids! Why join chorus if you're just going to stand there awkwardly "singing" in a breathy little voice? I just don't get it.

Sing out, Louise! You're ten!

And seriously? What's up with these music teachers? Do they not have any ability to teach voice at all?

Okay, admittedly, this comes from a recover(ing) Catholic school girl who was forced to join Glee Club by the nuns at school. We were assigned to Glee. No choice about it. And we practiced daily. During math class. In fact our entire grade was forced to sing four part harmonies of How Great Thou Art and Amazing Grace at mass every week.

I may have hated Sr. Winifred's yelling and berating back then. But that women taught us to sing.

She would have been appalled at the concert I attended today.

It started with the Lower School string orchestra. My daughter finally, finally, finally sits and plays with "professional" posture. She finally looks like she knows what she's doing up there.

Their orchestra has such diverse levels of talent and skill, it must be tough for the director to pull it together. But it is still a little painful to watch half of those kids plod through these elementary arrangements when I hear them playing standard orchestral pieces every Monday night at our regional orchestra.

Then the fifth grade bell choir played. They were actually pretty good. I'm impressed that the music teacher could get every single kid in the grade to play in tempo.

Then the chorus sang.

Oh, dear lord.

I really do give those kids credit for getting up there and singing in front of their school mates. But it was hard to watch and listen to them. I felt bad for them.

After three songs of awkwardness, (including Beat It with choreography...seriously) the awkward got ramped up a thousand notches.

The music teacher announced that they would paying homage to their favorite show Glee with Journey's Don't Stop Believing.

Okay, wait. Stop. Seriously? You're telling me that this group of nine to eleven-year-olds are big fans of Glee.


With the teenage pregnancy and sex story lines?

With the word "faggy" being thrown around?

With the fake pregnancy and baby selling?

With Sue Sylvester?

And you think that is appropriate?

Well, we were all treated to a Glee-ish version of the worst song ever written complete with magically appearing instrument accompaniment. (One thing I have to give to our new school....they always use lives bands. No karaoke tapes for them.)

And okay, I clapped as loud as anyone when they finished with jazz hands. I mean it takes a lot of guts to get up on stage that.

But I can't help but wonder...(What? It's Sex and the City weekend, right?)

What has Glee done to our future generation of Glee clubbers? And how far is my ten-year-old from wearing a bubble-covered mini dress to school?

Monday, May 24, 2010

He's Not Normal, He's My Kid

Last night I did something I haven't done in years. I read back over my own blog.

Man, I was in a fucked up place last year. I mean, I knew it, but I didn't really know it. I knew I was unhappy, but I thought I was dealing.

Actually, now that I say that, I guess I did deal. By writing it out. Because I am in a great place now, so I got through it all okay, and that's all that matters. Right?

Last year I was drowning in the word gifted. Gifted. Gifted. Gifted.

Blech. Blech. Blech.

As I was told, my kids were both struggling, because they were so gifted. Now, I haven't even heard the word gifted all year, and my kids are freaking happier than ever.

Here's something I haven't shared at all.

My kids have both done very well at school, in general. But they both have one subject in which they struggle. The teachers agree that it seems each kid has a bit of a blank spot in their education, probably because they have attended three different schools in three years.

But my son struggles so much with his "word attack skills" (that would be daily spelling to you and me) that they were a bit worried. I was a bit worried.

When a child does exceptionally well in most things, but struggles a lot in one thing it can signal a learning disability. Throw in his struggles in speech and his family history and there was reason for concern.

So without my having to ask, his school put together a committee to figure out what was going on with him. (Love them!) They reviewed his history. They interviewed him. They tested him. As it turns out, he scored in the 94th percentile in phonics. He has no learning disabilities. He just never learned good work attack skills because he went through three different systems and philosophies on teaching those skills these past three years.

As his teacher put it, "I was a little surprised he tested so high, but then again, he's in a class where pretty much every kid is in the 99th percentile, so..."

And that is the beauty of it all.

Now he's going to start with a tutor and we're going to nip the problem in the bud.

So, he went from being gifted and bored in school to having to get a tutor to keep up?

This is why their tuition is worth it. Believe me. I'd rather have a completely normal, hardworking kid than a gifted kid. We're all happier.

And today he finally, finally, finally graduated from speech therapy. (With the caveat that he should come back for a refresher/reevaluation if I think he needs it.) They are throwing him a party for being "our hardest worker."

The director said she'd buy me a drink. I think I deserve it.

Sometimes normal is the nicest word of all.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

On Entering My 37th Year

How did I spend my 37th birthday? I can sum it up like this: violin, piano, chores, violin, chores,violin. Basically it was like any other day.

But that's okay.

This year my husband is away at training to prepare for his deployment. My son had a violin lesson and my daughter's orchestra had a concert. So I spent my day practicing violin with the kids, driving the kids to violin, taking notes at violin lessons, and sitting through a violin concert.

But that's okay.

My kids are old enough to feel bad that nobody did anything special for my birthday. But they're too young to really make anything happen either. I kind of felt bad for them. But we were so busy today. They swear they're going to make Daddy take them shopping for me when he gets home. And they want to take me out to dinner this weekend.

And that's okay.

I suggested that the best birthday gift they could ever give me was to clean up the house. This is especially true since the parts of the house that are messy are their responsibility. It would be heaven for them to clean without my nagging. They didn't think that idea was "good enough."

That's too bad.

But my daughter gave me the best birthday gift ever! She had perfect posture during her concert. You have no idea what a big deal this is. My daughter plays the violin beautifully but always looks like she wants to fade into the woodwork. We've been working on it. Hard. Tonight she looked like a professional.

It was awesome.

I can't tell you how great they sounded either. They played Palladio (you'd know it if you heard it) and selections from West Side Story. They sounded as good as any professional orchestra I've ever heard. It makes me so happy to know that my kids' lives are being enriched in this special way.

That's awesome too.

As for traditional birthday stuff...I bought a cake. I thought it was too sweet but the kids loved it. I got flowers from my husband. And I got a card from my son's godparents. They ALWAYS send a card. I also got a super awesome new camera. My little point and shoot is great because I always have it in my purse, but it wasn't cutting it at the kids concerts, plays and sporting events. My husband bought me a Canon Rebel T1i and a couple of lenses.

It totally rocks.

My birthday is always a little bittersweet. I am always happy to turn another year older. Actually, I would say that I am proud to turn another year older. I am thirty-seven and my life is just what I want. My life is full of choice and hope and love. But my birthday often underscores to me how geographically far I am from so many of my friends and family. But today my inbox was full of birthday wishes from afar.

It was sweet.

Mostly, I took today to look around at these three people I get to share my life with. These three beautiful, happy, wonderful, talented, flawed and perfect family members of mine. And I don't see how anyone could reflect on those three sets of eyes, those three hearts and not feel like the luckiest person on Earth.

And that is my life.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Like Nails on a Chalk Board

I have been having this recurring dream where I'm on stage and expected to play this really amazing violin solo.

Except, um, I don't play the violin.

But for some reason I'm pretty sure I can fake my way through it and no one will be the wiser.

Then I play the first note and I produce a sound somewhere between cats being murdered and a whale song. Except flat. Or maybe sharp. I don't know the difference.

And then I wake up. Or at least I force myself to stop dreaming that particular nightmare.

I believe this dream has some really important meaning. I'm just not sure what it is.

In other news, my piano teacher says I'm just about ready to start teaching children and beginners. Clearly, my piano teacher is insane. Or maybe delusional. I don't know the difference.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Best Behavior!

Today I dropped my daughter off at her headmaster's house on campus.

Yes, of course, my kid befriended the headmaster's kid and she's having a birthday slumber party.

I always remind her to behave and be polite when she visits other people's houses, but this time...

This time, I have never meant it quite so much.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Bad Boys, Bad Boys

Alternately titled: A Really Long Story about being a Private School Mom

For the last few weeks, I have been volunteering at the kids' school a lot. Frankly, it is part of my plan to get out and meet some new people and make some new friends before my husband deploys. But I also, ummm, do it for the kids. Yeah. That's it.

One of the things I've been doing is walking my son's class (that's 20 boys) from his classroom to the pool locker room, turning all of their clothes inside right (underwear and sweaty socks included) once they leave the locker room for the pool, and then offering to help tie shoes and the like when they get changed back into their school clothes.

My least favorite part of this process is walking the boys all the way across campus to the aquatic center.

Before we switched to this school, people kept warning us that we might not want to. "They march their kids in silent lines through the hallways like a military school," they said.

Little did they know that just made it sound even more appealing to us, the strictest, meanest parents in the whole wide world. This is how I look at it. Teaching the children to be respectful of the hard work going on all around them is a good thing. (Imagine that.)

But, then we actually went there and we learned that, yes, the kids are expected to walk quietly in line through the hallways, but they rarely do. Or certainly they don't always do that when accompanied by someone other than their classroom teachers.

So, as I lead the boys through the lower school, at least half the time, they are chastised by a staff member for being rowdy.

After enduring this torture--I MEAN--happily volunteering every day for two weeks, I was getting a little tired of this yesterday. And the boys were getting even more rambunctious. So as we passed a gymnasium, one of the P.E. teachers called out to them, "Gentlemen! Stop swinging your bags. Walk quietly!"

She used a no nonsense, but not yelling voice.

But as soon as we rounded the corner, the boys started hitting each other with their swim bags, yelling and rough housing again.

I picked the worst culprit, stopped, and focused my no nonsense voice on him, the voice that makes my own kids tear up and run to do what they are told. "Stop it. Now. You are making me look bad to your teachers. You are being very disrespectful. Stop it now."

He and the rest of the kids stared at me for half a second (except for my own son who probably thought oh, crap! they've done it now) and continued acting exactly the same way. As I turned back to deal with this, I found that they were laughing at me.

Oh, snap. Nope. Not cool. I didn't yell. I used my same no nonsense "coach's" voice. "And if you think it is funny, you can go sit with your teacher."

This was a pretty real threat because their teacher doesn't take any crap.

Unfortunately, their regular P.E. teacher just happened by as all this went down. He's my newest fan because of an unrelated incident at carpool, so he quickly stood up for me. He took over the boys, we all walked to the locker room and as the boys got changed, the P.E. teacher and the swim coach drilled me on what happened.

Ugh. I was a tattle tale. I wasn't sure what to say so I told them the truth. But I tried to downplay it. The last thing I wanted was for the boys to get in trouble and take it out on my son!

But the teachers were having none of that. The boys got a lecture. They lost pool time. They had to apologize to me.

It was all mortifying!

I was horribly embarrassed.

After, on my way past the refectory, I ran into their teacher.

"Did you have a tough time with them today?" she asked me. "We had a rough morning."

Now I really like this teacher. She loves my son. She is incredibly supportive. I wasn't sure what to say, but I know she was headed into the refectory to eat lunch with the swim coach, so I didn't want to say nothing!

So I told her. And she told me her story. They had lost their recess that morning for acting the exact same way. She was especially disappointed with them that morning because they were acting that way with parent volunteers in the classroom. So she was not happy.

You know, I went home and thought about it. Yes, I felt awkward and horrible, but there is a lesson here. Or a couple in fact.

People are always telling me how polite, well-behaved and wonderful my kids are. I mean, they really do. Like, people go on and on. And I've always taken it with a grain of salt. I'm thankful and flattered, but how much better behaved than your average kids could they really be?

One of them pouts. One of them is irresponsible. They both have crappy handwriting.

But they are polite. And, maybe 95% of kids are not. Politeness shocks people now-a-days. It is sad but true.

At my son's last parent teacher conference, his teacher actually said to me, "In the fifteen years I have been teaching, I have never met a more polite child." When I expressed doubt (although pleased and a little embarrassed) she went on to assure me that she meant it. That she doesn't make those kinds of comments ever. That he truly had one of the best characters she had ever encountered.

She said he is the kind of role model she wants for her own kids.

Well, hell.

What do you say to that? Thank you doesn't seem to suffice.

But enough bragging. (ahem!) What I learned is that my expectations for children's behavior are all out of whack. I am just not used to dealing with children who don't say, "Yes, ma'am" and "Thank you, ma'am."

But that doesn't keep me from being disappointed in these boys. I know their parents care about them. I know their parents want them to be respectful. I know their parents are paying a crap load of money to send their kids to a school where the Honor Code and Community Commitment really do come first.

I think parents just don't know how to teach their children anymore. (Not you parents, of course! I really do think my blog friends are all really great parents.) They have no guidelines. No parenting role models. Their expectations are all out of whack too. What is acceptable behavior today is different than what was acceptable behavior even thirty years ago.

Grandparents often live far away. Parenting books are a mess. We all have the kids and we love them so much and we want them to be happy, and very proper behavior usually takes a far back seat to all of our hopes and dreams for our kids.

So, I am an anomaly. Oh, don't get me wrong. I am a massive failure at a lot of parenting. Massive! You only have to look at my kids to know I failed in one of the most important parts of parenting. But I taught them to behave and to treat each other with love, by god. And in my value system, that is the most important thing.

But I am still embarrassed.

When I picked the kids up, I apologized to my son for possibly embarrassing him. He couldn't care a less. He doesn't get embarrassed. I also told them, "I know I don't tell you this enough, but I am very proud of you and your behavior. I know it isn't always easy and I really do appreciate how polite you are."

"Don't worry, Mom," my son said. "You have nineteen apologies."

I did. When my son opened up his homework folder there were nineteen neatly written letters of apology inside.

And I cried. And cried.

Now I'm too embarrassed to ever volunteer again.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

eMatch dot Harmony

My husband wants to know what would happen if he and I put up profiles on one of the many dating sites purporting to match people based on character. Would we be matched?

I kind of doubt it. On paper, we don't really match. But it works. Pretty damn well if I do say so myself. Although, I guess our values really do match pretty well.

Now, if they asked about sexual preferences, I think we'd match up pretty quickly. And if not, I'd want to meet the girl who does.

Monday, May 03, 2010

"Let's do it for Johnny, man. Do it for Johnny!"

Part of my daughter's homework this week was to ask us about our favorite book back when we were her age. She is then supposed to read the book and we can all share in the literary goodness.

This poses more of a problem than you might think.

When I was in fifth grade, I read The Outsiders 19 times in a row. Then I read S. E. Hinton's other books (does anyone remember Rumble Fish, Tex, or That Was Then, This is Now?) Then I read Forever by Judy Bloom and learned all about sex. Which transitioned into me reading every historical romance I could get my hands on. And probably how I developed into the highly sexual creature I am today.

I do remember reading all of the Misty of Chincoteague books when I was in fourth grade (back in my innocence)(and I think it is totally cool that I live near the island now), but she read those back in second grade.

This really illustrates the vast difference in our educations. My daughter seeks out Newbery Award winning books. I read about sex and cute men, over and over and over again.

And my husband? Frankly, I don't think he had read a whole book back then.

In fact, when I couldn't think of a single appropriate answer for her, I gave her the best answer of all. "Ask Daddy."

His first guess was Lord of the Rings which I vetoed. I then suggested that he meant Lord of the Flies which I actually have sitting around somewhere. He interjected that maybe we were thinking of A Clockwork Orange and I practically choked in my rush to make sure she didn't write that down.

We settled on Lord of the Flies. But that didn't fly because they read that in class in a couple of years.

So it was back to the drawing board tonight.

Apparently we weren't the only parents who struggled because her teacher sent an e-mail out to us suggesting that we just pick one of the Newbery Award winners from the year we were 12-years-old and play along.

She even sent a link.

Do you remember what you loved to read in fifth grade? Is it indicative of the adult you've become?

I wonder, because if it is, my daughter is likely to become that crazy cat lady at the end of the block. And me and my romance novels won't be any help to her.

UPDATE: We ended up choosing Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien. She read it in one night and loved it. Now all of her friends want to read it, but I have first dibs before it goes back to the school library.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

I Smell Tuna Up in Here

Last night I finally got around to watching Julie & Julia. That's right. I'm still living right on the edge, people!

I didn't really enjoy it. In fact, I found it quite boring. (Please, don't hate me.) But it did bring back both fond and pathetic memories of my early days of blogging.

I think that my writing here has become more sporadic, not because I don't have a lot to say, but because I don't feel the need to be at the center of something anymore. I don't feel the need to be witty or deep on a regular basis. I don't still enjoy shocking people by saying what no one expects me to say. These days I'm happy to just live, and if I'm still sometimes composing blog posts in my head, well, I really should be writing a damn book.

I did have fun in those early days of blogging though. And there's some pretty decent writing buried among the narcissism and angst.

And I still feel a deep need for connection with other people. But I'm trying to overcome my shyness in real life and make some real friends. I'm getting there. There are people I like.

But more than anything right now, I am dealing with my husband's upcoming deployment and all the uncertainty it brings. And I know for a fact that writing helps me deal with all of those way or another.

Besides, he loves to read my blog while he's deployed. (If it's not blocked, that is.) I'd do it for that reason alone.

So I'll be back with some more writing here soon. And I'll be sure to start lots of sentences with conjunctions. (Don't you hate that?) And I'll be sure to throw in unnecessary parenthetical phrases as much as possible. (Don't you hate that too?)

But I won't be committing to cooking from a cookbook for 365 days in a row. Because that shit is nuts. And it doesn't make for good movies. Even if they star Amy Adams with a bad haircut.