"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Say "No" to Homework? Don't be a jerk.

There's a blog post swirling around (again) that has me shaking my head (again). It's a couple years old but was recently re-posted by a local preschool and, subsequently, a couple of moms in the neighborhood. It's called Why We Say "NO" To Homework and you can find it here.

It the article, the mom states that she cares about her kids' learning...and that's why she chooses tree forts over homework.

She goes on to say that, after a long day in school, the last thing her kids need is more sitting and worksheet-completing. She says they need to play. They need time with their family, a chance to goof off, and an early bed time to ensure adequate sleep.

And I agree with her. That's why, in our house, when Evan comes home from school, he does whatever he wants. Maybe it's some screen time, maybe it's Legos, maybe it's sitting at the counter eating a snack and telling me (one-word answer by one-word answer) about his day.

Then, after some veg time, we go outside...to a park or our own backyard...and we play. I'll get some weeding done while the kids play together in their playhouse. We'll walk to the creek or ride bikes around the block. My kids will play with the neighborhood kids while I catch up with the other moms. It's play time; it's family time; it's time to goof off.

But then, we come inside. While I make dinner, Evan sits at the counter and does his homework.

By this time, Sam is home and is occupying the little ones so, while I'm cooking and Evan's sorting his word study words or completing a math practice sheet, Evan is, technically, missing out on playtime. But I don't see that as a bad thing. He's giving up a few extra minutes of Legos but, in doing his school work with me right across the counter, he's giving me insight into his day. I get to see what he's learning about and how well he understands the content.

And more often than not, it's during this homework time that we actually talk about his day, in more than one-word answers. While he's sorting his words and I'm steaming the broccoli, he'll tell me about the literacy centers he went to that morning and what he wrote about in his writing journal. While he's completing his place value practice sheet and I'm turning the chicken, he'll tell me about the funny thing his partner said during their math game. He'll remember the cool book they read as part of their social studies unit and tell me all about it while I cut the carrots and pour the milks. It was during homework time that I learned that Evan loves chorus. I'm sorry, did you say, chorus? My kid; my introverted, non-performing, clam-up-on-stage-during-both-the-kindergarten-and-first-grade-musicals kid loves chorus?! Who knew?!

Well, I do. Thanks to the time of our day that is dedicated to talking about school.

Homework brings school home. I feel like I know where he is academically because I'm seeing him in learning mode. I know what subject areas he's comfortable with and what he needs to keep practicing. I know what he's learning about so I can share my own experiences with the subject matter.

So, homework? I ain't mad atcha.

I'm not mad at the mom who hates the homework, either. Maybe her kids aren't as lucky as mine...maybe they go to a school that assigns hours and hours of mindless, worksheet-completion-type homework, or homework that covers material not-yet-taught in class that drives parents and children both to frustrated aggravation.

Evan, in second grade, has weekly word study (spelling) for which he needs to do one activity a night, an occasional math practice sheet (about once a week), and nightly reading (which doesn't even count in my opinion, because that's a given). For second grade, I think that's perfectly reasonable.

But what does get me fired up about this article is this part:

"Time to write THAT letter again. The letter to my child's new teacher that explains why our family bans homework."

She includes a sample letter to be sent to the teacher that is both condescending ("Can we talk?") and self-righteous ("My view is homework interrupts home learning. Homework tends to give school/learning a bad name..."). She says that homework has "no place" in a young child's life. (She defines this stage of development as preschool through 11 years old.)

Okay, Homework Hating Mom, here we go.

You want to know what really interrupts "home" learning? School. In a school that is not your home. If you don't want to interrupt "home" learning, then "home" school. That's an actual thing that you can actually do if you don't like the policies in place in your local, FREE, public school.

I'm imagining this teacher, receiving this letter. This teacher, who is already probably the hardest-working, most undervalued person in Homework Hating Mom's life, is being told that her policies (that are probably not even hers, but her school's or even district's) just aren't going to work for this one student in her class, so if she could just please change her (the school's/district's) policies for this one student in her class that would be great, mmmmmkay?

This teacher, who is already working diligently to meet the academic and social needs of 20-25 different learners; who will now need to come up with a different grading system (because I can't imagine the parent will stand for her child receiving zeroes on work that he "shouldn't have to" complete); and who will have to deal with an entitled jerk of a student who will, undoubtedly, say things to his classmates like, "My mom says I don't have to do that." Which will be interpreted by his classmates, undoubtedly, as "I don't have to do what she (the teacher) says." Which is the most disrespectful, obnoxious lesson you could ever possibly teach your child.

What happens when this kid gets to middle and high school? Well, according to HHM, he'll do his homework...but she won't tell him to do it. "No parent signatures signing off on assignments, etc." Okay. So this kid you've been teaching for eleven years, that school-wide policies do not apply to him, will enter middle and high school super-eager to start completing homework ON HIS OWN?

Good luck with that one.

And in the real world? You think your kid will be able to pick and choose what work he completes and which ones he doesn't? Have you ever had a job, HHM? Because the world doesn't work like that.

So, fine. Don't do homework. But then don't send your child to public school.

Lesson Learned:
There are probably a lot of problems with homework across this country. We've been lucky that the homework Evan has been given so far has been reasonable in amount and purpose. But if it wasn't...if Evan was receiving so much homework that he had no free time to play or was needing to stay up past his bedtime to complete it...I'd go in and talk to the teacher. I'd ask about the homework policies and I'd ask about change. But to send a letter to the teacher at the beginning of the school year stating that your child will not be doing any homework, regardless of school policy? Don't be a jerk.

And more importantly: Don't raise a jerk.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

all I want for Christmas...

It's the most wonderful time of the year!
It's holiday catalog season!

My kids are catalog lovers, too. They've been poring over the American Girl, Magic Cabin, and Lego glossies as they've arrived in our mailbox; making and amending wish lists for the upcoming holiday season.

Well, I've been making my own wish list and I found all I want for Christmas in this one, glorious catalog of brilliance.

Hellooooooo, Hammacher Schlemmer! 
I've missed you and your ingenious products since I saw you last about a year ago. 

Thank you for helping me to realize, for instance, that when it comes to sucking up bugs, no ordinary vacuum will do! I need the BEST bug vacuum!

Forget the fact that this, BEST, bug vacuum puts me closer to the little beasties than my regular vacuum cleaner hose would...this BEST bug vacuum can suck up as many as 24 live crickets in just 15 seconds! Add it to the list!

Ever wonder if your party guests are honestly having a good a time as they assure you they are? Well wonder no more! With this Home Lie Detector Test, you can put your guests to the test

Or maybe you've got a teen at home. Were they actually where they said they were when they were out with their friends? Meet 'em at the door at curfew with this baby and watch your relationship, built on honesty and trust, blossom......or.....not.

Speaking of teens! What's with all the phone chargers all over the house, am I right? Now you can keep all of those cords in one convenient location....your paper towel holder, of course!

Wait, what?

Anyway. As much as I'm looking forward to the Presents portion of the holiday, the anticipation leading up to Christmas is almost just as great. And what better way is there to build Christmas Spirit momentum than by decking the halls? That's why this is going on my list: 
The Fashionista Christmas Tree!

$250?! What a steal!

And for our yard, I can't wait to see this hilarious 12-foot Inflatable Slumbering Santa blow up. 

Because there's no image my kids would rather see in the weeks leading up to Christmas than that of Santa in a deep, non-toy-producing sleep.

You know what's just the worst?
Paparazzi. That's what.

Well let's see them try to take a picture of me now, huh?

Put that in your precious Us Weekly, you jerk.

I can't tell you how many times I've seen a friend across the way on a cold, winter day, flashed her the universal signal for "Call Me!" and wished that I could, in that moment, actually call her. With my gloved hand.

Well now I can. (Or I will if my wish is fulfilled!)

What can't they put bluetooth technology in these days?

As a caffeine-fueled mama who still, after seven-and-a-half LOOONNNGGG years, is woken up in the middle of most nights by at least one of her children, the idea of a Power Nap makes me weak in the knees. No seriously. I'm pretty much always tired.

With this Power Nap Head Pillow, I'll be able to catch a few ZZZ's no matter where I am!

Sitting at the table "coloring" with the kids? Nap time!
Story time at the library? Nap time!
Waiting in the school drop-off lane? Nap time!
PTO meeting? Nap time! 
(Ha ha! Totally kidding about that last one, PTO friends!)

And finally.
I'm not sure if I've ever told you guys this, but I've always wished I could communicate with other cats, I mean people, with my ears. Like a cat. I've always wished that my brainwaves could animate large, cartoonish, cat-like ears on the top of my head in accordance to my mood and attentiveness.

But who hasn't wished that, right?

This is going to be the Best Christmas Ever!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Lalaloopsy Birthday Party!

Saturday morning started early, as birthdays often do. At 2am, Max tiptoed into my room. His face inches from mine, he whisper-yelled, "It's Saturday! I'm FIVE!" 

"Ignore the clock. It's not Saturday yet because it's still nighttime. Go back to sleep."

He came back at 5:15 and crawled into my bed. 

"I just can't sleep!" he whispered in my ear. "It's too exciting to sleep!"

He tossed and turned and hummed until 6, when I finally agreed to open my eyes for the day. And what a day it was.

Do you know how amazing this kid is? He's so amazing that he let his brother and sister each open one of his presents for him. That is amazing.

Notice that it is, arguably, STILL nighttime when these photos were taken.

He couldn't watch. The excitement was palpable.

And, after he helped Max open his presents, Evan went and amazed me, too, with something he pulled out of its hiding place behind the couch cushion.

"Hey, Max, close your eyes and open your hands. It's $2.75 from my wallet. Happy birthday!"

And I died. Because, as much as they can push each others' buttons like no one else, and as often as their wildness and roughness and self-centered behavior can drive me absolutely nuts, these three kids of mine love each other.

After a breakfast of very fancy store-bought frozen waffles, it was party time!

Max started planning this party a year ago. He bounced around from theme to theme for a few weeks last winter, but once he settled on Lalaloopsy, I was thrilled. I mean, come on, Lalaloopsies are just sew damn cute. 

We went button-crazy for the decor...

Button garlands and "sewn" burlap buntings were hung in doorways and windows around the party space. 

And for the table, I used my standard formula of cheap plastic table cloth covered with a "runner" of cheap wrapping paper.

We had centers set up around the party space for kids to go to during free play times or if they didn't want to participate in the party games.

Reading Tent with Bea Spells-a-Lot

Button Estimation with Dot Starlight
(This was adorable. As you can imagine, the four- and five-year olds estimates ranged from 11 to 150. Actual number in the jar: 736!! It blew their minds.)

Button Necklaces with Jewel Sparkles

Color Time with Spot Splatter Splash

"Lalaloopsy Land" was set up in the playroom...we got out aaaaalllll of Max and Molly's "Lala's" and every castle and house we have. We set them up around the playroom and ran a track of GeoTrax around the town. The kids loved this area. 

For the party games, we played Stick the Peppermint on Mint E. Stripes.

Button Freeze Dance with Harmony B. Sharp

This games is like musical chairs, but with construction paper "buttons" instead of chairs.

I played music (Max requested The Imperial March, otherwise known as Darth Vader's theme song, which was super festive to dance to. I definitely should have gone over that with him before the party and picked a more dance-able song.) while the kids danced. When the music stopped, they had to find a button. The person without a button was out for the round. 

This game failed for us because the kids who wanted to dance didn't care about ending up on a button when the music stopped--in fact, they didn't stop dancing when the music stopped. The kids who really wanted to end up on a button didn't get off their button to dance at all!

It ended up just being a dance party/watch your friends dance party. Which was actually pretty perfect for a party full of four- and five-year olds. 

Pop! with Bubble Smack and Pop

This is a game Max insisted upon, as it's his favorite game he plays in school. All the kids sit in a circle. The birthday boy starts counting, "1." The kid next to him says "2," and so on, going around the circle until they count up to "10," at which point the kid says, "10. POP!" and stands up (and remains standing for the rest of the game). The game continues, skipping the kids who are standing until there's just one child sitting. We played with the slight variation of saying "10. Bubble Smack and Pop!" who is one of Max's favorite Lalaloopsy characters. 

The Pinata!

Max has wanted to have a pinata at his birthday party forever. This year, I found one that had Lalaloopsy girls on it, I could stuff it myself, and it had pull strings to release the goodies without anyone needing to beat anything with a stick!! It was perfect. 

I only wish I'd gotten a picture of my birthday boy realizing his birthday pinata dream...  

Finally, it was time for cake. 
True to form, we went the cupcake and toppers route. I just don't do fancy cakes.

I don't think they cared...

It was a great, easy party. The kids, who have been together in school since last year, played so beautifully together. They get along so well and have such a special group relationship. I'm really going to be sad to see them split up when they head to kindergarten next year.

And my guys continued to do well together, too. At one point, one dad asked Sam, "Do they always play so well together?" My heart burst a bit at the compliment, though Sam admitted, "Oh, they have their moments...but they get along well for the most part."

And if there's anything as heart-bursting as seeing your kids love on each other at a birthday party, it's seeing them love on their cousins at the family party the next day.

Family parties are great around here because there's a LOT of family.
We had 19 here in addition to our five...so there was plenty of family love to go around. 
(We missed you Kelly, Steven, Duke, Matt, Megan + Leo, Jack, Christina, and Jordan!)

And, always, more cake...and more singing...

And one giant Mother Smother kiss at the end.

Happy Happy Birthday, Maxwell!!

Lesson Learned:
If you're a birthday party hater, go on and hate...I know it's very popular right now to make fun of the super-crafty, over-achieving, Pinterest mom. But I happen to love this stuff so I'll keep right on birthday party craft exploding over here. I can't help it. It just happens. I don't even Pinterest. It must be genetic...

Friday, October 10, 2014

Max is Five!

From the moment he was born, I had a feeling this boy was going to chart his own course through this world...just as he did his entry into it.

My favorite just-born baby picture of all time. He's all, What the hell was THAT about?"

In the five years since the whirlwind that was his birth, Max has begun to pave that way and, though this road may be one less-traveled, it is beautiful.

As is always the case, the view is better when you take the scenic route...

He is, more than anyone else I've ever known in this world, Himself.

(Which is kind of ironic because he's nearly always pretending to be someone else in the rich world of make-believe that is his imagination. The dress-up drawer is always open, and when there are no costumes to be worn, we improvise...)

He's not swayed by other peoples' opinions or ideas or judgments.... 

Though he is deeply interested in what's going on in the minds and hearts of others.
(...and, sometimes, in current events...)

He's just Max.


He wears what he wants to wear.
He dances how he wants to dance.

He plays what he wants to play.
He creates what he wants to create.

He says what he needs to say.

The other night, bedtime was spiraling downward into a complete disaster.

No one was getting jammied or brushed or combed as we were asking them to.
Instead, there was wrestling, running, squealing, and towel-throwing.
I was getting Molly dressed in her room and Max just Would. Not. Stop. Singing. 

Loudly. In her face. 

She was laughing for the moment, but getting irritated, and
OMG--no one is getting ready for bed and the clock is ticking!!

"Max! Just go. To your room. Get dressed. NOW." I said. Loudly.

He looked at me. His eyes betrayed his feelings. He was hurt and offended.
Shoulders slumped, he left the room to get dressed.

Later, once everyone was jammied and brushed and combed and ready for bed, I walked into his room to tuck him in. He was sitting on his floor, eyes downcast. 

"Mommy, I need you to come back in later so I can tell you something important," he said, refusing to meet my eye.
"You can tell me now, baby. What is it?"
"No. It has to be later. When I'm ready."
"Well, I'll be reading to Molly 'later,' and Daddy will be reading to you. Can you be ready now?"
[Deep sigh.] "Fine....It's just that...remember before when you told me to leave Molly's room?"
"Well, that pretty much hurt my feelings."
"It did? Well, do you know why I said that?"
"Because I wasn't following directions."
"Yup. And that pretty much hurt my feelings, too."
"I'm sorry I hurt your feelings, Max."
"I'm sorry I hurt your feelings, too, Mommy."
"I love you, Max."
"I know. We're best friends again, 'kay, Mommy?"


Let's always be best friends, 'kay, Max?

I'll share you with your other besties...Evan, Molly...


...and your ever-increasing number of Best School Friends.

I'll share you with anyone...just as long as they know how lucky they are to be in your life.

I love your heart and 
I love that you wear it on your sleeve for all to see...and to fall in love with. 

The world needs more love.

The world needs more silliness.

The world needs more sparkle.

At the risk of sounding melodramatic:
The world needs more Max.

I'm the luckiest Mama.

Happy, happy birthday, my five-year old Love.
May all of your big dreams come true....

....and may you continue to chart your own course.

We'll be right beside you along the way, 'kay?