Thursday, November 15, 2012

From the Mouth of Andrew

The problem is that I heard everything that happened that day from one of my four kids.  Before I'd pulled out of the school parking lot.  I had the rundown of who was swearing at which teacher, where the kids were pulling down their pants, which fifth grader was making out with which sixth grader, who was smoking, who bullied who, why that kid got sent to reflection (at some point, reflect on THIS mates, call it detention and give them something they can REALLY reflect on!).

The last day of school Andrew sat next to me in the car looking slightly ill. 

"Are you sad to be leaving your old school?"  I asked him.

"It's time to go Mom," he replied.


"I  just don't understand why she had to pull us all in during break to talk to us.  It was my last break."

Uh huh.

Look, even I don't want to post EVERYTHING that was going on.  Suffice it to say it WAS time to go and that Andrew had a reason to be looking green.  I mean, who DOES that sort of thing?

I know.  Getting over it.  Just not quickly.

Social inequity sucks.

I was even angrier once I realised the inequity here was just as brazen as in the USA.  I mean, how can we have this huge disparity only a five minute drive across the friggin' bridge, for crying out loud? 

Om.  This is not a new social phenomenon.  Om.  This is nothing you will solve alone or anything you need to feel guilty over.  Om mane padme om. 

Breathing through it.  Still breathing through it.

It is so nice to hear what the kids are talking about at the end of the day at their new school.

The twins are reading at levels far higher than their previous school suspected.  Aidan is done with those damn numbers, which according to the numbers, means he is reading levels ahead of Ryan.  (This is why I don't like numbers!!!  She is reading fine now, books a day since we started homeschooling, she will just probably never get the leap to full inference.) 

They are talking Zac Powers and Kai Masters and chapter books without pictures.  Although I beg Matthew to bring me some nonfiction books about snakes or dinosaurs or bridge building or something every now and then.  Because I like the pictures.  And because I am tired of reading about 12 year old boy spy superheroes.  And because the Kai Masters series has got to be the worst written series for young readers ever.  With incomplete sentences.  Like this.  Of two or three words.  With capital letter and periods.  Which have.  My kids.  Reading. Like.  This.

Remember people, I have to have them read to me TWICE!

Aidan has told me he was asked to leave the playground for running last week.  Definite rules.  No exceptions or explanations or trying to figure out why or reflecting on this and that.  Reflect on that you can come back tomorrow and stay the entire break as long as you follow the rules.  Reflect on that you won't be allowed to stay if you don't follow the rules.

Reflect on the adult supervision during breaktime.

Om mane padme om.   Still breathing.

Andrew is talking about mercury and its liquid state at room temperature.  Andrew is asking me if I know why water condenses around the outside of a glass of ice that has been turned upside down so that the ice or anything  melting inside of the glass cannot escape.  And then explaining it to me.  BEFORE we reach the car.  Andrew knows the principles behind how a photocopier works.  (And cares!)

Today I heard about how you can get a dead frog to twitch by hooking him up to electricity.

Uh yeah, sometimes you do wonder what they are learning at school! 

Except he's also finally told me how relieved he is to be at a school where the kids his age aren't all pairing up and holding hands and kissing during break. 

He's coming home and scribbling maths equations on the board because he is so excited.  

"I just tell my teacher we hadn't learned that yet at my old school and she fills me in.  We are learning so much faster."

Because the teachers aren't having to spend their day teaching kids how to behave, they are able to teach the kids what they were meant to.

My kids are still telling me everything they can remember about their day at school.

But they are speaking a new language.

Although twitching dead frogs aren't half as gross - or upsetting to me - as what they were coming home with before.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Ryan's World!

Ryan this morning as I asked her how her dictionary and thesaurus skills were coming along.

"Horses...a four- legged mammal."

Look of utter disgust.

"They are so much more than that."

Yes, honey, we know, they are your world. 

Mind spending maybe just an eensy weensy moment here with us in ours?!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Horse, Of Course! (Ryan's Twitter Story)

Ryan's entry for a FastFic 140 Writing Competition through the Moreton Bay regional libraries.  ( For ages 12 - 25, entries close November 12, information at for any interested homeschooling mums in the area.)
Betcha wish I could write this succintly!!!
I'm going to fall! The clock slowly ticked away as we approached our final jump. A triple bar! I was nervous as we took off over the three bar jump. The blue ribbon was ours!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Cleaning Up For The Cleaning Lady!!! (On Rediscovering and Redefining My Tribe)

Knowing who you are, not one of my strong points.

Knowing where I come from, though, becomes clearer to me the more I travel away from it.  And perhaps, as I begin to travel back to it.

Back to the values I grew up with if not the physical locality.

How do you know where you come from if you don't know anything else?

On the other hand, maybe those are the people who already know who they are and don't need to travel around the world to find out.

I've been a chameleon my whole life.  A very bad chameleon.  I can get along with - and like almost - anybody.  I can become the group that I am with at the moment.  I can empathize with whoever I am with at the time.  (Within limits, I am seeing recently, within limits!)  I always saw this as a good thing.

In the Peace Corps they told us, though, that the people who do best in other cultures are the ones who know the differences between their culture and the one they are currently in.  The people who truly know who they are.

I have unintentionally morphed and changed with every culture - or socioeconomic group - I have joined.    This is probably a natural part of growing up and of finding yourself.  It's just amazing how long it is taking a woman who was supposedly gifted and talented as a student this long to find out about her role outside of academia.

Let me be clear.  This has nothing to do with money or with what your dad did for a living or how big your house was growing up.  It has to do with the expectations around you, who your parents and your neighbours and you, yourself, saw you as as you were growing up.  It has something to do with values - but that always comes across as so judgemental.   (let me just say this right now, and yes, I mean you N and C!, that if you are reading this, you ARE in my tribe, and I am NOT saying this to judge or offend you!)

It has more to do with expectations and who you really are as a result of what influences - yes, values, and morals and belief systems and expectations, and just not knowing that there was anything else out there but what was around you.

I am who I am today because of the values and expectations of the tribe of my childhood.

They say all of your values - the core of your belief system - are shaped before you are six years old.

That, for me, was a university setting in Germany with a young father who was studying to be a doctor and a stay-at-home American mother who had graduated Georgetown University with a degree in languages. 

My formative experiences were at uni.   The people my parents hung out with were uni students, crazy 70s psychology students, hippies, but still educated, thinking, adults. 

The move to well-off North Stamford (note the North, do they still do that there to distinguish ourselves from the REST of Stamford?!!!) came after a four year interlude living in the resident units at Stamford Hospital.  Sure, the neighbourhood was working class.  And the school was in a low-socioeconomic area where I got to meet - and get along with - people whose parents didn't go to uni and who had no expectations of going to uni themselves. 

But our immediate neighbours - international residents from India and South America as well as the USA - were all residents at the hospital.

These other people I went to school with were always other in my mind.  I only see that now.

My tribe.

I found - and still do - North Stamford  boring.  It is only now, from the scope of what I have experienced since, that I see it as a unique culture in the world, one that doesn't exist in the same exact form anywhere else.  22 million people in the NYC metropolitan region alone, a region that DOES strongly influence the rest of the world.  Forgive us our smugness, world trading goes heywire when we shut down due to the cyclone of a generation.

I remember going to a play put on by students at a prominent community center in North Stamford.  It was about the trials and tribulations of growing up and it was written by the kids.

The only song I remember was "Cleaning Up For the Cleaning Lady."  The kids were on their hands on knees (maybe not, but that's how I remember it NOW!), like the opening scene from Annie, where they sing "It's a Hard-Knock Life".  And they were whinging about how hard - and silly it was - to have to pick up your room, and your dirty clothes off the floor, because the cleaning lady was coming that day.  Very clever actually.

And, it seemed to me even at the time, that the adults in the audience all chuckled smugly at their precocious brilliant children and at their own ability to provide the financial means for this sort of lifestyle.
You can take the child out of CT, but you can't take CT out of the child!   Thanks Meka for the outfit.  Really, people don't wear plaid anywhere else in the world, except maybe for Scotland, Ireland....and CT!

In retrospect, good on ya mates!  You worked hard for it.  Especially since the audience consisted of refugees from Nazi Germany only a few decades before, people who had been robbed of everything, including the title of being human, and started over with nothing in a new country.

Maybe having a father with a German accent did make it harder for me to relax within the confines of my tribe in Stamford. 

So I grew up with trips to the Caribbean like everyone else I knew.  Although we didn't have a cleaning lady until later. 

We did have that room though, the white room in our house, where the kids weren't supposed to go.

And the expectations that not only would we go to uni, but we would obviously go to one of the best ones - really, people mocked my first choice, Cornell, as a safety school! - and become someone who would make a difference in the world. 

Getting ready for the Melbourne Cup next week!  (Election Day for you folks in the USA, good luck with that!)

Why do I feel as guilty about this as I do about that German accent?!

The truth is that my tribe hasn't judged me on my socio-economic status or my accent.  I do that to myself.

The truth is that my tribe accepts me because they understand me.  That they understand me because they share my same values and expectations.  And this goes beyond how much money we had growing up or what country we grew up in. 

On Friday,at our homeschooling playdate in the park,  I heard a woman saying that the goal of education should be to enable each child, irregardless of ability or circumstance, whether they are special needs or gifted and talented, or in the forgotten muddle in between the two, to reach their full potential.

It was like she was quoting me back to myself. 

And why should I still be feeling guilty about giving my children everything, about expecting the best, accepting absolutely nothing but the absolute best for them just because others are making other choices?

What is best for me and mine is not what is best for everyone.

But I am done feeling guilty for wanting more - and achieving more - for me and mine - just because others don't have that inclination or opportunity.

Sounds Matthew enjoys.  Freddie Mercury with Justin Bieber.  Sorry about that, mate!

It's not about the white room or the cleaning lady or the trips to the Caribbean.  Those are only signs of the opportunities our parents took advantage of to give us the best that they could. 

My dad was an immigrant too.  Within his own country.  His family left East Germany, as refugees, with nothing, when he was thirteen. 

Two years ago we were sleeping on mattresses on the floor and grateful for a roof over our heads during The Floods. 

Until less then a year ago Damon was a bartender.

What we DID bring with us was an educational background - and a lifetime of expectations - that allow us to make choices that better our lives daily.  We have more opportunities because we have been raised to have certain expectations for ourselves and for our children.

Thank you Tribe, for reminding me of who I am, of where I come from, and of what my values are. 

I will give my children everything, because I was given everything.

Even if we don't have a white room to keep them out of and even if I AM the cleaning lady.  Who by the way is very undependable, extremely erratic and always taking sick days when I am quite sure she is probably off somewhere typing away at her novel!


Friday, November 2, 2012

The Child The Fairies Sent Me

The homeschooling has been going so well that I was going to call and cancel Ryan's appointment with the pediatric specialist in December.

Fortunately, I never found the time.

I've spent the last six years wondering what was wrong with my daughter academically.  And then finally accepting her as she is, special and different from the others, not bowing to peer pressure, slightly odd but 100% confident in who she is.

Today I went to a homeschooling playdate, not expecting anything but a nice bunch of people with small children and too much time on their hands (sorry ladies, really!), and instead found a dynamic group of engaged, caring, educated parents who want the best for the children, even when (or especially when) those children don't fit into the pigeon-holes assigned them by the traditional education system.

I'm almost embarrassed to try to find a diagnosis for Ryan at this point.  She really is just fine the way she is.  But, in reading further about Asperger's Syndrome in girls, I feel it might help her understand herself better for the future.

Should the educators and psychologists in Germany have seen this?  I don't know.  One thought that the obsessive interest in horses was self-defence mechanism due to all of our traveling around the globe.  (Mind you, we had lived in the same home in Altdorf for six years at that point, but whatever!)  Most everyone else just thought she was dreamy and unfocused.  ADD I kept saying.  But no, she wasn't enough of a disruption in class for that.  But it's different in girls, I kept saying.  Dreamy and unfocused.  But the literature I found was all in English.  Noone ever mentioned Asperger's until today.

And honestly, what are the Germans going to do with a special needs kid anyway?

(She still has problems speaking to anyone, especially her peers, about anything but horses.  Adults love her.  Older girls adore her.  Her riding instructors were flummoxed when I told them she wasn't a straight 'A' student; she is that focused and that good with the horses.  Has she been modeling her behaviour on mine?  Getting by with a socially strong parent?  Girls tend to be able to mask their social awkwardness by staying quiet.  And she did have that one caring, socially competent friend - Celin - in Germany.  Everything fits.)

Ryan now has her horses and her art and her flute.  She IS just fine the way she is.  I don't know that I need or want a label for her.

I do see her in these articles I found online though.

And there is the documentation I didn't even know I was keeping all along in my blogs.  Skip straight to Third-Grade-Math Part Four for the shortened read...

My daughter is different.  She is special.  And it doesn't matter what - or if - there is a diagnosis in the end.

My daughter is the child the fairies sent me.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

(Un)lucky Day (By Andrew Connor)

Yeah, I made Andrew enter the contest too!!

“And the heir to crazy Mrs. Ptarmigan’s billion dollar fortune is....Andrew Connor!”

Suddenly I was being patted on the back by a bunch of people I didn't know. A foggy mist of happiness and embarrassment crept into me. I had inherited the billion dollars Mrs. Ptarmigan had left in her will to a worthy person of the town. Boy was I glad that I had helped her with her household chores!

The mayor gaily came down to shake my hand. He might have been drunk, but I wasn't sure. After him lots of other people came, only they weren't waddling, drunken, over to me. They were all very unusual. One person specifically caught my attention. Instead of a smile on his face his face was filled with hatred. He did come up to me, but didn't congratulate me. Instead, he whispered coldly, “Give me the money!” I looked him in the eye. It was a horrible and disturbing sight. He had tattoos all over his forehead, temple and cheek, scars on his jaw, other temple and scalp and, I noticed with horror, a knife clenched in his hand....

The next few weeks were okay, my family was happy that we had got the billion dollar fortune, but sad that Mrs. Ptarmigan died.

But then I got lost in town. I was walking along the street in town with my family when I stopped to tie my shoe. I don't think my family noticed, because when I got up, they were gone. I stood there for a moment, then walked along an alley, yelling. I never found them. Eventually, I got tired of yelling and screaming. So I found a man and asked him for help. He just stood there, transfixed, then slowly, he began to turn around. I gasped. It was the gangster from before!

I didn't breath. I just stood there, frozen in horror, when he pulled something from his pocket. It was the knife! Before I had time to react, he leapt at me, his blade aimed for my heart. I smiled as he flew past me, then winced at a terrible and sudden pain coming from my arm. He was smiling cheekily, then began to laugh a cold, evil laugh.

That's when I lost it. I was so full of anger, hatred and agony I began screaming at him, like a teacher disciplining a usually well behaved child at the end of the day (teachers can get quite cranky and tired at the end of the day).

First, I pulled the knife out of my arm, cut his arm, and threw it aside.


“The money.”

“Then take the stupid money! It's only giving me trouble!”

So I flung all of the money I had on me and walked off. That's when my mother called. She had a message for me.

“And the heir to crazy Mrs. Fredericton’s billion dollar fortune is....Andrew Connor!”

“Not again!!!”