Saturday, February 10, 2007

Some kind of infectious bug has singled me out for abuse. I am sick. I've been sick for several days. My throat hurts and I am suppressing a crud cough. My shoulders and neck hurt and I feel fleh. An indignant voice in my head is still declaring: "I am too important, vital, and necessary to be sick!"

Do you know what hurts more than my throat? I will tell you: I did clean the house last week and it looked and felt so much better than it had in months that I vowed to maintain things and even to make progress with the unpacking, but I am derailed. Sunday night I cleared everything up from the Super Bowl extravaganza. Monday I was fabulous and I not only cleaned but I also unpacked three boxes. Monday night I had an oppressive shadow of impending doom looming over my head. Tuesday morning I was sick. Now it is Saturday and the house is a train-wreck. I am undone. Foiled.

Our vacuum is still dead. It sucks. Not.

We live in this house that I can't change to suit my needs and taste. A toilet clogs every day, and I cannot let anything get in the garbage disposal.

Maria, precious child, is a human tornado. She sorts things according to her personal aesthetic, she pulls things out, she reconfigures, unshelves and reshelves and dishevels everything in her path.

One last point for my own satisfaction and redemption: This is all the fault of moving. Moving is an abomination, a curse, an evil conspiracy. I hate, fear, loath and dread moving. Oh, and another thing, I get terribly cranky when I am sick and haven't slept well.


Monday, February 05, 2007

My reasoning was flawed... I thought Chicago was the team to back, because of their proximity to Wisconsin, and then Holly reminded me about the Green Bay/Chicago rivalry. The Colts were the team to cheer for, if I wanted to show respect to my adopted state. Alex was firm in favoring Chicago, because he reasoned that the Colts were taking the rightful place of our home team, The Chargers. We got some things right, like inviting Holly, Nick and Izzy and Anne, Adam and Jacob, and the chili was good, so were the Super Bowls of Sundaes. Anne's cornbread muffins were scrumptious. The commercials? Mixed. Loved the one with Letterman and Oprah, the *cheesy/crunchy* Doritos ad, and did you catch Janet Reno and Martha? The best part? We learned how to squib.

Not liking school is normal, right? It's like a rite of passage? This morning was rough. Neither Alex nor Max wanted to go to school. Max is suffering from "I hate my new haircut" anxiety. Alex is just suffering. They are both doing extremely well academically, and they are equally successful in getting along, following rules, meeting social expectations. I don't know if I've covered their successes thoroughly enough. They've both earned a lot of praise. Alex's troubles are with making friends and coping with what he feels are the substandard expectations of the students by the teachers and staff... well, maybe the expectations aren't low, but the tolerance for rudeness, bullying, and slacking off is high. He doesn't like the way the other kids behave. Neither do I, but at least I can leave.

If I were writing about this a few months ago I would make a stronger effort to be moderate and diplomatic. It's February and I've seen enough to declare that there are a lot of spoiled, rude, mean, offensive children with incredible attitudes of entitlement in the middle school. My hope in sending them to a private school was that Alex and Max would find themselves in an environment with many children that care about learning and who want to focus their hearts and thoughts on building their minds and character. Lofty thoughts, I know, but it's more about the attitude, the intentions, than actually finding a school of perfect angels. Max is in that environment, the caring, thoughtful, gracious environment. Maybe it's about the age, second grade versus junior high school. Max's peers are polite, mostly, and enthused, mostly, and they seem to enjoy participating and sharing, which has made for a mostly great experience for Max. Alex has been bullied, physically and emotionally, and 6 months into the year he has only one friend. He likes the classes and the challenges; he likes the new opportunities and the teachers. He does not like constant display of material wealth... the iPod, cell phone, laptop, new horse, new cars, and new clothes, parade.

I've been learning some lessons too. My kids can speak for themselves, so I've been trying to step back, so they can step up. So, never mind what Alex likes and does not like. I will speak for myself. I do not like a lot of what I see at school. We are confronted with too much conspicuous consumption. This isn't just about feeling envy; our country is in a very unbalanced economic state. I am either seeing the wealthiest fraction, or way too many people are dangerously over-extending themselves. I do not like the attitudes the students flaunt. They talk back to teachers, they dictate to teachers; they leer at, glare at and defy the teachers. The things they say and believe are not the typical material of adolescents. They are firm in their convictions and expectations that they *make the rules, can break the rules and rest assured that mommy and daddy pay the rulers, so there! * And mommy and daddy do pay the rulers, which may explain why the teachers sound practically apologetic about assigning homework, or explaining why they can't have half days and more vacation days. The teachers can't anger the students, because the students report to the parents and the parents cannot be disappointed or offended... the juggling and accommodating is ridiculous and sad. The students are not accountable, respectful, or grateful. They act put out, bored, indifferent, mean, petty, and selfish.

There are exceptions, and I know it's not an easy age. The real test comes when I am in the classroom, volunteering. There are fewer than ten children, so it's easy to get to know them. They seem so burned out. They don't want to read, they don't want to do art, the girls refuse to do any sport other than dance, and the boys revel in being obnoxious as often as possible. The bad behavior can be so constant that I am relieved to leave, and I want to bring Alex home with me.

They are supposed to be learning about U.S. government in preparation for a trip to Washington D.C., so the director insisted they start a student council. Campaigning lasted a little more than two days. Initially Alex considered the possibility of running for office, so I was curious when the election was over and he had decided to refrain from running. He explained: The girls out number the boys, every student is running for an office, and every student has declared that she/he will only vote for her/himself. There was no point in running, and further, Alex reasoned he could at least cast his vote for a boy to be vice president, since the girls were certain to gain the presidency. And what happened to the school government modeling the U.S. government? I watched stunned when the results of the election caused uproar among the losing students. They complained that the results weren't fair, they all wanted to hold office and they insisted on creating more offices.

The school director obliged! *Okay, darlings. We can't let anyone be unhappy, so we'll have a second election. This time around 6th graders will vote too, but they cannot run, and we will create two new offices. So, besides a president and vice president we will elect a co-president and co-vice president. *

Ridiculous. The newly elected bureaucratic, 4 headed hydra has so far voted to rid itself of a P.E. class the girls abhorred, and they promise to get half days in the schedule.

I thought school was going to challenge Alex from between the covers of his textbooks and I was wrong. His academic lessons keep him busy, he is learning new concepts and skills, but the bigger lessons are in how to cope with rough kids from pampered circles, what American government is not, resisting the pressures to disdain effort and curiosity, and thwarting the manipulations of an overzealous director (later I will explain why Alex is not going to D.C.) School... it's not what we expected; there is good stuff and obviously stuff I don't like. I believe, even in crummy circumstances, there is something to be gained, so we are going to see this through. Above all, I hope that Alex can retain his interest in learning, his incredible curiosity and creative drive, his kindness and sweet nature. And the bullies? They had better watch out, because I was not brought up in their polite society...

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Suddenly I'm a golf fan too!

Nice pants Dominic... hey, when you're this cute you can pull off any look, right? I guess Bill and Alison are lookng forward to early retirement. If Dominic gets skills from either parent, or both, he has a very bright future in any sport he chooses.
Good morning, and happy Super Bowl Sunday. I guess this truly is some sort of holiday... the slickest, most commercial kind, but I like it for its shallow yet forthright appeal.

In middle school we played touch football, and though I never made any attempt to understand *first down and second,* I can still distinguish defense from offense. I loved receiving and running. I loved the thrill of an interception, the glory of catching the ball in the end zone. My brothers and I played with the neighborhood boys when we lived in the condos by the university. We played in the common driveway until nightfall, then we when we couldn't see the ball we knew it was time for quitting. In the eighties, living in UC family housing, we watched the Chargers, and even saw them at practice during training on the school campus. And recently I've taken to sitting down with my children and watching the big game. I always say it's for the commercials, because I do like talent and expression in the media and I especially love to laugh. But I can get caught up in the game too. Are they going to make the kick? Will he catch the pass? Was that a fair call? And for a few moments I can recall the fun we had when we played on concrete, around the parking lot, in a park, with friends and neighbors. It felt good to run hard, to make a connection with the ball, to dispute a play, to shrug off the cold.

Alex has started playing football at school. He's learning the rules, and building up his resilience to the rough sport, the snubs and shoves. He says he's looking forward, more so than in past years, to seeing the game. For the record, I am cheering for the Bears, because I have been to Chicago and that's close to Wisconsin and I love Wisconsin. I don't need to know team details, like the methods or means by which they play. I'm in it for the guacamole, the funny commercials, the great passes and terrible tackles, and for the feeling of holiday connectedness to family and friends, to neighbors and the fans. Here's something I found, a "Non-sports fan's guide to Super Bowl XLI," but I thought it went too far describing team histories and styles. And now it is time to heat the chili and tackle a little more cleaning.