Tag Archives: Parenting

The Precious Age

1000228_10151612210048860_473410485_nWe moved house 2.5 years ago. My daughter had just turned four the month before. My son was 20 months old.  He had been sick from months 6-14, and I called him my Velcro Baby. He couldn’t be out of my arms. Ever. When we moved house, it freaked him out and it was a solid 6 weeks before I could even walk out of a room without him freaking out. It’s all ages and stages, all phases that we pass through. I remember meeting my new neighbors. Kids hanging off me, explaining I’m a stay-at-home-mom. They always asked how old the kids were and always responded with “aww, such a precious age.” I’d look at them like they were insane. WTF was so precious, can you tell me? I still didn’t get to shower on any regular basis. Had 27lbs permanently attached me to me along with a four-year-old hurricane that went to battle with me at every turn.

Precious my ass.

I usually responded with my oblivious, socially unaware bluntness and got the shocked stares in response. Oh well.

But now, things are different. My velcro baby has essentially flown the nest and couldn’t care less where I am. My six-year-old has now realized that she’s her brother’s equal (in my  eyes) and I am able to devote time directly to her without a sick baby attached to me. I can kiss her goodnight and whisper in her ear that I’m so lucky I get to be her Mommy, that I’m so lucky I get to be with her every day and see that smile that lights up a room. I watched her purr in response, squeezing me tight and I know I’ve just given her the warmest, squishy feeling she adores.

Yesterday, my escaped mental patient (who just turned four, by the way) took a rare nap in the afternoon. As per my usual routine, I enter their bedroom before I go to bed to kiss each one on the cheek. Last night, the boy was still awake even though it was 9:30pm. “Mommy, is it morning?” he whispers. “No darling, Mommy is just going to bed.” But I first smother his face with kisses. I look at that perfect face and feel his little arms and hands wrap around my neck just so he can hold me.  I begin to tell him how lucky I am to be his Mommy and how much I love him. I hear back how much he loves me, and he means it. Because small kids don’t like or say things because they’re supposed to. They only say it when they mean it. And it hits me how precious this age is, including my 6-year-old hurricane’s age.

There’s a possibility that when she turns 7, I’ll have a slight mental breakdown. Seven just seems so old to me. Ridiculous, I know but seven is so much closer to a teenager than the small years that have just flown by. I get to sleep through the night now and can enjoy my kids more. I can appreciate them more. So yes, this is a precious age. Six and four are as precious as can be. Just don’t be alarmed if someone looks at you like you’re the devil when you say that to them because they have absolutely no idea what it’s like at that very moment for you, and don’t feel bad if you don’t immediately agree with them.  My first go-round with four was so rough. The second time, I’m able to stand back and realize how awesome this age is. I currently don’t have an emotionally clingy baby attached to me and he’s not sick anymore. I’m able to stand back and can now say that “yes, yes this is a precious age.”

Now. If only time would stand still.

Standardized Testing, EOC & My Child.

While the “Opt-Out” movement is growing and education reform is slowly taking place, it’s my turn to stand up (see here for why). The FSA’s are almost done. Now it’s time for the EOC (End Of Course) exams. This is the first year that they have been required and implemented for kids as young as 5. Little kindergartners having to sit through over 1.5hrs of testing on Math, then over another 1.5 hrs of testing on English.

I’m fully behind opting out of the FSA. Now the discussion starts on opting out of EOC and I must admit to getting nervous. I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize my kids’ spot in her school. We love her school. She loves her school. But this testing nonsense is ridiculous. Teachers are not allowed to have any visual aids available to the children, so many teachers have to cover the entire walls of their classrooms to prohibit any “cheating.” I believe that each subject has around 150-180 questions (again, for a FIVE YEAR OLD!!). Earlier this year, the kids were supposed to have EOC’s for 7 subjects but it was dropped down by the state to just two. Thank goodness. But even just the two is pressure.

“What’s wrong with a test?” you ask?

testing
Tiny sample of her weekly testing.

Don’t believe for a second that the kids aren’t getting tested every week throughout the year. My daughter has spelling tests every week, she has homework, she has online assignments that are automatically graded. So we can see exactly how she is performing throughout the whole year. In fact, the EOC has absolutely nothing to do with the child’s grade. It is administered solely to determine an evaluation of the teacher. I, for one, am not using my child as a guinea pig. In my eyes, the teacher’s value is already available in how my child does throughout the year. Not based on this one loooooong test per subject, in such a formal setting that children are often severely stressed out.

Just this week, John Oliver produced a segment on standardized testing which does a pretty good job of showing the ridiculousness of it all.

It’s worth looking at the whole thing.

However, the theory of all this rebellion is great. Now had come my time to stand up and I will admit to being nervous. I began emailing her wonderful teacher just yesterday. I didn’t want come off as all guns blazing, ready for battle. I simply asked her what does the EOC mean for my child’s grade and the response was that it doesn’t affect her grade whatsoever. I expressed my concern for the pressure and stress this puts on the little students, and her teacher, her wonderful, kick-ass teacher offered that my child not do the test, even though she believes my child would score very well on it. I confirmed that I would like my child to not take the test and she let me know that my daughter will be brought to an alternate location for the duration of the tests. Her school is not testing the kids in their normal classrooms. To save the teachers having to cover every bit of their walls, the kids are completing the tests in the cafeteria. I’m grateful that the administration is considerate enough to not put their teachers through the added crap of having to cover their walls. Man, I love our school.

I spoke to my daughter this morning. I told here there were some big tests coming up next week and without saying another word, she got teary-eyed. I immediately told her she wasn’t taking those tests, that her teacher and I had already talked to one another and her teacher cares for her, doesn’t want her to be put under any stress. Visibly, my child’s stature changed back to a relaxed little kid and she expressed how much she loves her teacher. Ditto from me, honey!

Thank you so much, Ms. Y. We love you.

Norwegian Nick Jr Cruise (A review)

IMG_0035I was lucky enough to do a 7-day cruise last week. It was the first real family vacation my husband and I have had with the kids and what better than to do it with a Nick Jr cruise. I admit our expectations were high going in. Hubby and I did a 4-day Carnival cruise on our own last summer. Carnival has the reputation for being the lowest of the budget cruises and not being good at all. We however had a fantastic time that weekend. No kids (this was a major factor) but we knew everything else was going to be average. Our first ever cruise was on Celebrity before we got married and boy, there’s where you are treated like a king and queen forever. So when it came to a Nick Jr cruise, I had high expectations. Not Celebrity high, but high enough that a major network would affiliate itself to it.  Unfortunately, we had one or two hiccups (meaning LOTS) on board. We embarked the Norwegian Epic Sunday afternoon and by Thursday, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut any longer and marched myself down to guest services. There weren’t huge things going wrong, just minor little things that kept adding up to a crappy cruise experience.

Without writing a 5,000 word essay on the experience, I’ll simply give you the pros and cons.

Pros:
IMG_0021– Splash Academy where you can drop off your kids to get some free time. These people rocked. The kids loved it there (I was shocked). Every night had a new theme and toward the end of the cruise, I’d try to pick up the kids and they’d ask to stay longer.
– There is a good variety of restaurants on board (see below though).
– You’re cruising through the Caribbean with that gorgeous view around you. What’s not to love.
– Norwegian try to be very eco-friendly, so your key-card turns on the lights. Therefore, when you leave your cabin, you can’t leave all the lights on.
– The engineer arrived very quickly (see note below)
– Thursday, there were four cruise ships docked in the Grand Caymen Islands. So we elected to stay on board. Then we had a great time. No problem getting seats, quiet pool area, so much more relaxing. So that’s your tip, when you are in port, that’s the best time to be on the ship.
– The Ultimate Beverage Package. It’s pricey but you’ll need the alcohol to get through the cruise!! And it is unlimited. You may order a tasty cocktail for yourself as many times as you want. The only restriction is that you order one at a time. Fair enough.
– They are obsessed with hygiene. Before entering the cafeteria or buffet line, you are mandated to sanitize your hands. This involves a woman with a squirt bottle, giving Disney a run for their money by over joyously saying “Washy-washy!!!!”

Cons:
– We boarded Sunday afternoon and weren’t even so much as handed a map of this enormous ship. So we had no idea where we were, what deck we’d even walked onto or where our cabin was.
– The light switches in the cabin were less than intuitive (and really, how hard can this be). In trying to turn off the vanity lights Sunday night, my husband wondered if it was a touch light since there wasn’t a switch in sight. The bulb was so scalding hot that he badly burned his finger and had a huge blister on it the next day. So much for eco-friendliness. To show me how hot it was, he wet a face cloth and placed it over the bulb. The singe was very audible.
– Monday at sea. By 9am, every single chair on deck was “taken.”
– The layout of the ship was the most confusing thing ever. And obviously no thought went into the pool or splash pad because there were very large structures in between the kids pool and the toddler splash pad. That meant we couldn’t see either area at the same time without sitting in one of two very specific spots on the deck. To that end, while watching my 6-year-old, the 3-yr old wandered off and got lost. Yeah, that felt great.
– We went back to our cabin Monday afternoon only to find our key card didn’t work. We called for someone to come help us and it took a full 30 minutes before someone arrived. The Engineer arrived very quickly, took apart the lock and discovered that someone had placed a dime into our key card slot. Well thanks very much.
– We wandered to Spice H20 (adult only area during the day) to check out how to get some quiet time. Insanely, we were greeted with an amphitheater that had a huuuuuuuge screen on the very back of the ship. So in the adult area, you couldn’t even see the ocean thanks to that monstrosity and then you were bombarded with noise. With two days left on the cruise, we discovered a “quiet area” on deck 16 which would be great except it had nothing on it. No shade, no comforts, nothing.
– The family pool area was fairly small and the cruise line insisted on blasting music from 10am-6:30pm. When I say ‘blasting’, I mean a 747 would’ve made less noise. By the time Tuesday morning came around, none of us (including the kids) could stand it anymore.
– Monday night in The Manhattan Restaurant, I had French onion soup which was the worst thing I’ve ever tasted. Followed by the most bland linguine with clams. If I say it’s bland, then imagine this – black pepper is too spicy for me. If I consider something bland, it has to be completely tasteless. Our waiter said we should talk to some dude who took notes of our issues and that was it.
– Tuesday night, we wanted to try something different for food. We discovered that most of the restaurants there actually had a cover charge (ranging from $15-$30 per person), except maybe 4 of them. Oh, two of those four without a cover charge serve exactly the same menu every night. So while there is a good variety of restaurants on board, to experience them you have to pay an additional cover charge and/or pay a la carte. WTF!  In our quest for a different experience, we went to Taste which is where we found out that it had exactly the same menu as Manhattan. Just a little more laid back atmosphere. Unfortunately, it was so laid back that the waiter took our kids’ orders and we never saw him again. The food for the children was delivered and our order had yet to be taken. Then it was like hunting for Big Foot to try to get out orders in and get the hell out of the restaurant.
– It was in Taste that night that my poor mother-in-law began questioning why there seemed to be a lack of vegetables in all the meals.  In a quest for healthier food, she ordered a “Garden Spring Lettuce Mix” and underneath it was written “Crunchy Garden Vegetables | Chives.” Her plate arrive and she searched in vain for some vegetables. She asked the waiter where were the vegetables and he looked at her as if she was nuts, because the three slices of onion on top of the lettuce was supposed to pass for “crunchy vegetables.” No chives by the way either.
– We had brought two glasses of water and a mimosa to our room Sunday night. Tuesday night, the empty, used glasses were still left there.
– When at any of the restaurants, the kids are handed a kids’ menu. Superb. On the back of the kids’ menu is a coloring page. Excellent. However, none of the restaurants carried crayons. Seriously. For real. They didn’t carry crayons or even a pencil (my husband had been searching for one since he’d set foot on the boat). Why the flying f*&k do they give kids a coloring page without anything to color with?????????
– There isn’t any hair conditioner in the cabin. This sounds silly, it’s only shampoo. When both females in the cabin have long hair, and one of them is a child, the results are painful. When I complained about this, the manager tried to tell me it was a shampoo/conditioner combo. But it’s not. It’s labelled “Shampoo” and even my husband with short hair could tell me there was zero conditioner in there.
– My three-year old’s aim for the toilet isn’t the best. By the end of the week, our cabin bathroom reeked which told me that the staff don’t clean that area at all.
– I’m not sure if I’ve just got high expectations or what, but when the cabin staff were making the beds, they would simply throw all the pajamas into a pile on the stool in front of the vanity desk.
– Thursday, when everyone else was off the ship, we got those “special” seats from where we could watch the pool and toddler splash pad. But the pool was close for “maintenance.” Despite being assured that it would be open at 10am, at 11.45am, I was ready to explode. That’s when I just couldn’t take it anymore and marched down to guest services.
– Thursday night, we were approached by the Maitre’D of the Manhattan who offered his apologies for the service and would like to invite us to La Cucina ($15 cover per person) the next night as his guests.  Fair enough. The food was marginally better but not crazily better. So if I had actually paid $15 per person to get in there, I would’ve been crazy pissed.
– We went to bed Friday night, got the kids to sleep only to hear a thump-thump-thump throughout our entire cabin. Some architectural genius put the family cabins directly below the pool which meant that the Friday night pool party shook our cabin for two hours.
– Saturday was a day at sea and again, there wasn’t a seat to be found by the pool. My husband stalked chairs for an hour and a half before two became available. Mind you, over half the chairs were unoccupied by people. They simply had towels laid over them, in reserve. The chairs that we wanted (so we could see both children at the same time) was unoccupied for four solid hours. There was a towel and a bag there. Eventually, a woman came over, grabbed some sun lotion from her bag and then went to another lounge chair in the sun. Are you kidding me?? I asked the waiter what the time limit is for this crap and he responded that people could only leave towels there for an hour. But no where is this posted on the ship. When I informed the waiter of what was going on next to me, he told me I needed to speak to someone else. WTF. Meanwhile, a little bit away from me, I saw a woman struggling to get her young daughter into the shade because the daughter needed a nap and I just couldn’t keep my mouth shut. I told them the chair next to me was not only vacant for the past four hours, but the intended occupant was over there sunning herself somewhere else. At least on Carnival, there was a 45-minute rule (at least in the adult area) and everyone was within their rights to remove a towel from an unused chair after that. On Norwegian? Pheft.

IMG_0017OK, so it wasn’t a terrible time. But there were just so many little things that added up to being major pains in the ass that I have to say I would definitely NOT recommend Norwegian again, and not a Nick Jr cruise at that. We heard while on board that our particular ship, Epic, was heading to Europe after our trip. We also still had that spectacular view to look at which is always amazing and wonderful.  I did just want those people considering a Norwegian cruise to be aware of what happened to us.  We met a couple on board who had nothing but glowing things to say so it felt like there was a little dark cloud hovering over us specifically. In the end, we were making jokes about searching for vegetables and maybe the Mayan’s in Mexico had a pencil we could borrow. It was still a week away, a week not at work, a week with a glorious ocean around us. Just next time, I think we’ll be a little more selective. I’m hoping we just had some bad luck. 😀

Education Reform – Why am I involved?

PARCC Test Prep
PARCC Test Prep given on the third week of Kindergarten.

After the debacle of my first child starting kindergarten last August, she was a shadow of her happy, bouncy self. She was exhausted and weary by mid-September. All this because she started kindergarten in the wrong school. What’s worse though is, while I know I won the lottery with her new school, her old school is only following orders from up high. The district school board and the state of Florida have their hands, pockets (and asses) deep in the system, a system that is crumbling while simultaneously shattering children’s self-esteem, burning out students of every grade, and materials being taught only to suit the answers on a specific test.  Just those 5 weeks in her old school made me so sick to my stomach with stress and anxiety that I was barely able to function. What she was exposed to in her old public school is what every student has to face across the state and it’s unacceptable. Her first week of kindergarten, she came home with an hour of homework every night, photo copies of the PARCC test  for her to fill out, and an ad nauseum regurgitation of letters that rendered homework a complete nightmare every single night. After three weeks of this, I timed her homework. It took one hour and fifteen minutes. I was done. DONE. The next morning, I told her teacher to expect her homework to routinely be returned incomplete. I was not going to subject my child to this at aged 5. The teacher, whose hands are tied thanks to the system, agreed wholeheartedly. Began talking about retiring after she warned me that the homework would only get worse after Christmas due to the EOC (End-of-Course) tests they’ll all face at the end of the year. What? The EOC for kindergarten is another set of tests – yes, I said ‘set’. The EOC for kindergarten comprises of 186 questions over the course of two weeks in May. So kindies all over the state in a public school are working solely towards this test. That’s just for math and english. Doesn’t include the tests for the other subjects!!!! Not only is this bad enough, but the tests counts for nothing for the students. It’s meant as a means of benchmarking the teachers. I happened to talk to my girl’s school principal early this week. He told me that he’s not even sure they’ll bother with the kindie EOC. He knows what his teachers are like. While the final decision hasn’t been made yet for her school (hers is a charter, so they are allowed more freedom than the standard public school), I’m going to have my ear to the ground just in case. Two weeks of testing is bad enough. Two weeks of testing that has zero merit for the child is downright ridiculous.

FSA
What time is this?

And this is just the beginning. Currently, all grades have EOC tests, and when you get to 3rd grade, you get to take the FSA (Florida Standards Assessment). Detailed info here. Initially, it doesn’t sound so bad. But then practice tests were sent home and the questions defy logic. For example, take a look at the clock. How are the hands positioned? Which is the hour and which is the minute hand?

FSA2
Answer this!

Maybe this question is better? What’s the answer??? Anyone? Anyone?  I’ll give you the answer below. When I say “answer,” I really mean I’m giving you the correct answer as designated by the test and by which the students are compared to. Expectations are that 70% of the students will fail this year. Who the hell approves and administers a testing system where 70% are expected to fail?? My hurricane is three years away from having to do the FSA but when the time comes, we know she’ll be opting out. We in no way wish to damage the school’s rating so we will follow very specific guidelines to achieve an NR2 score which will meet the minimum requirement of participation without any repercussions to the school from the district school board. There are so many examples of this test. It’s wrong. Just plainly wrong. So my obligation as a parent is to get involved. I am guilty of prior ignorance on this matter but now that I have a child in the education system, I’m listening. I really don’t like  what I am hearing. No more. I am writing this post because others may also not know about it and the more informed we are, the more we can become active, let voices be heard and stand up for our children. School isn’t school anymore, it’s a testing prep factory. And it’s time for that to end. Oh, and the answer to the question above is B. Did you get it right?

Red Alert! Red Alert!!

warning-parentMy 6-year old hurricane has mentioned a boy in her class a few times. It’s always been in the context of how he was messing around in class and causing trouble. Last night, we were talking about the after-school clubs that her school has. Students can sign up for free to these activities (yoga, fit for fun, art, horticulture, music, reading, drama, poetry, science, lego, etc.) but since we were late to the school year, all the clubs were full. For some odd reason, I pulled up the club list last night and was asking her what she wanted to do next year. She calls out a bunch and when I get to one particular club, she says she wants to do that one because X is in it. I’m a little confused. He does sit at her team table in school (the students are grouped into teams of 4-5 in the classroom) and I’ve previously commented to my husband that of course she’s sitting with the troublemaker. She would be drawn to that excitement like a bee to honey.

I take the conversation last night in my stride. Nothing stands out since I know the students will be all mixed up next year. Then my husband drops the bombshell. Apparently, she told my husband while I was away that she kissed this boy. Whhhhhhhaaaaaat? Now when the f**k did this happen? And why didn’t I know about it immediately? Then he tells me that another time, he kissed her. I have no doubt that the kiss is probably equal to how she kisses our dog but still. STOP THIS!!!! I can’t say a word to her about it, because she’s exactly like me. I know if I make a big deal out of it, she’ll zone in on it faster than an interstellar comet. I’m already having a very hard time knowing that her next birthday means she’ll be 7. That just seems so . . . so . . .  not a little girl. Six means she’s still little but for some reason, 7 isn’t that little at all. Now this!

I know I’m overreacting. This just threw me a curveball because she’s never,ever, ever been interested in boys before. I’m praying that’s still the case and that I’m just reading too much into it.

Yeah, that’s it. I’m just reading too much into it. Denial works well for me.

In Four Short Days….

unnamedI had another stretch of time without my kids (see here for why). The calmness and freedom that ensues that alone time is great. This time it was almost two full weeks which is a very long time for a kid. However, due to the circumstances of my departure, I wasn’t thinking too much about them. I was enveloped in the moment at hand. They did great when I was away after Christmas, but signs of trouble were showing. Two days before leaving to return back to the United States, I got an email from the 6-yr old hurricane’s teacher that my girl hit a teacher twice in school. Whhhhhaaaaaattttt? I about died on the spot and was really confused. This was way out of character for her.  Aside from the immediate scare that she would get kicked out of the one darn school I was happy with, I was stunned to hear my girl had lashed out. And then, reality hit me and I knew I needed to be home ASAP. It actually made leaving the motherland a little easier. The oldest of my two was resorting to violence to work out her feelings and lashing out at those around her. She’s never done that before, but we’ve also never been in this situation before where I’ve had to disappear for a long time (to a child) with 10hrs notice.

Two days later, I walked through my airport and was literally tackled to the ground by the force of the hugs and love showered on me. I stayed on that floor for a few minutes, just hugging and kissing my two little terrors that encompass my heart, silently acknowledging to myself how lucky I am. But so began damage control.

I had a talk with her teacher the next morning and I am truly grateful that they were completely understanding of what happened, how hard my absence had been on her. When I first left to rush back to Ireland, I emailed her teacher to let her know what was going on. She was appreciative for the heads up and she told me that the tornado had been out of character all of the past week. Very little was made of her incident. It was recorded and she was given two conducts points, but nothing else was to happen. Phew. OK.

Not unexpectedly, the 3-year old mental patient is a mess. He’s been sick with a cough and snotty nose for a couple weeks now. We can’t seem to get rid of it, despite all attempts. Mind you, I’ve had the same thing for a month so I guess we have to let it run its course. But add to that my absence and I’ve had a little boy who has been a bit of a nightmare since my return. Basically, he’s now releasing all that pent up anguish and confusion that surrounded him for two weeks. We didn’t have this when I got back from South Africa, but that was for 10 days, hubby only had to work for three of those and Grandad was here most of that time, keeping them company. So a very different kettle of fish than the past two weeks. Either way, it’s all manageable and I’ll let that run its course too. Once he is confident that the old routine is back and isn’t stressed that I might disappear again, he’ll be back to his old cuddly self.

I’ve laughed over the things that can come out of their mouths though. For example, while in carpool lane on Monday afternoon to pick up the 6-year old, my son exclaims “Mom, my penis needs to come out.” Uh… what? He was strapped into a 5-point harness child seat. There is no way that he can maneuver what he wants to achieve.

By Tuesday, I was trying to normalize the routine by taking the boy to the park to meet his best friend. As I unstrapped him outside the park, my phone rang and I heard the dreaded words that it was the school secretary calling about Lilly. My heart sank and I wondered what she had done now. Instead, she told me that Lilly was at the front desk, they suspected she had ringworm, and I needed to collect her. Again, whhhhhaaaattt? Since it’s highly contagious, she wasn’t allowed back into the school until I could provide a doctor’s note confirming with treatment or denying the condition. In the end, the doctor’s office couldn’t work us in, but the nurse was kind enough to let me email her some pics of her arm, and then confirm it was ringworm, assign treatment and email me back a doctor’s note for the school. She definitely was going to miss the next day of school though. So much for the routine. I decided to turn it into a day of fun. We chilled around the house first. No rushing. Then to the park for a few hours, then onto their favorite – the numbers restaurant. Then off to Target to get some frames for the pictures of my aunt. A pretty simple and fun day for the kids and they needed it. The boy is still a little mess, ready to break down at the drop of a hat. That just means he needs lots of extra loving to make him feel good.

Today is Thursday. I’m still delirious from exhaustion and a little vertigo. Despite the eventful four days since I’ve been back, it has highlighted to me how much Mommy is needed. I’m their Mommy. Their well being, emotional and physical, is mostly on me since Daddy works god awful long hours. It’ll be good for me to get back into a routine too. The world turned upside down at the end of January for me and my stress level went through the roof.

So it’s time for us all to get back to normal and while our ‘normal’ can sometimes resemble the Addams Family, it’s still good to us.