Category Archives: Parent

What Kids Learn At the Middle School Drop-Off

I don’t often drive my kids to school but this week their dad was away and it rained a lot, so I took over that task.

Since I don’t do this often, I’m not as inured to the horror of the experience as their dad is. (Apparently he rants a lot less than he used to.)

As my blood pressure inched up, I tried to figure out just what was so infuriating to me about the casual flouting of the school’s rules that I witnessed every day.

Surely I wasn’t so intolerant that I couldn’t understand why someone might want to hold up the flow of traffic so they could let their precious angel go in the front door instead of the side door like they’re supposed to. I mean, what’s the big deal, right? I still have to wait behind you either way…

Here’s The Big Deal

I finally figured it out this morning.

Here’s the real reason I get so steamed up about people who ignore the principal’s repeated requests (and big, new signs) to go down THIS lane not that one, and stop at THIS point, not some random point that makes sense to you:

  • Every time you drive down the middle lane instead of going around, where we’ve been asked to drive, you show your child that the school’s principal is someone whose instructions can be ignored…by your family.
  • Every time you drop your kid off at the front door instead of the side door, you demonstrate that inconveniencing other people is ok, as long as it makes life a little more convenient...for your family.
  • Every time you double park at the gym doors and then pull out in front of me, you model to your kids that it’s OK to disregard the safety of others as long as it makes life easier...for your family.

And Here’s Why I Care

I care, because if you show your kid, day after day after day, that disobeying the school authority figures is OK for your family, that being selfish is OK for your family, that disregarding other people’s needs is OK for your family, how do you think your kid acts inside the building…with my kid?

When the teacher asks the class to be quiet, but you’ve shown your kid that the rules don’t apply to them, what do you think they do? Do you think about how that affects the education of my kid, who has trouble concentrating when the room is noisy? Does it matter if the teacher gets so frustrated that they assign them busy-work instead of teaching them the good stuff? Or if the teacher sends home a ton of homework because they couldn’t get through everything in class?

When your kid mocks my kid down for not wearing the right shoes, and upsets him, does your kid come home and worry about that? Or do they never give it a second thought, because you’ve demonstrated, day after day, that other people really don’t matter?

When your kids disobeys school rules and shoves my kid on the stairs, do they understand that the safety of others is important?Or do they complain to you about stupid rules and mean teachers and tattle-tale kids? And do you back them up?

Obey

We live in a society. Societies only work if we have rules that we all agree on and we follow them.

I’m not talking about slavish, stupid following-of-rules. If your kid is on crutches and you let them out at the front door, I’m not going to honk at you.

  • But if you just can’t wait and follow the rules because your whims are more important than the principal’s instructions, what message are you sending to your kids?
  • If you’re in such a hurry that everyone else can go hang, what behaviour are you modeling to your kids over and over again?
  • If you put others in danger to make your morning more convenient, what is wrong with you?

And, thanks to you, I am now demonstrating to my kids that it’s fine to judge people and call them names, as long as you’re behind the wheel of a car.

Sigh.

I guess we all have some work to do…

For The Love Of Handwriting

Sometimes I see this kind of post on Facebook:

I love handwriting. I think everyone should have a good, fluid, readable handwriting style. But. I can’t subscribe to this knee-jerk ‘we must teach loopy handwriting to seven year olds so they can read the Constitution’ mindset.

I’m Pretty Smart But…

When I went to university as a joint English/History student, I couldn’t read this:

I certainly couldn’t read this:

(in cast you’re wondering, it’s the Magna Carta, one of the most important governmental documents in my country’s past, and still hugely important in the history of most modern democracies).

People Who Can’t Read Cursive

My husband, who can get by in French, can read scientific documents in German, has a PhD and did postdoctoral research at Harvard, has invented a couple of drugs, and makes the world a better place every day, didn’t understand why he could no longer read our son’s writing when the boy hit second grade.

The school had taught him cursive…which my drug-designing, guitar-playing, Latin-reading, grammar-correcting, polymath husband had never been taught.

It hasn’t exactly held him back.

And if he needed to know what the Constitution said, he would learn cursive. Or ask a trusted source.

Which brings me to Point A and Point B of this blog post.

Point A – The Love of Learning

Should we really be spending valuable time in elementary school, forcing children to learn an archaic type of handwriting that they may or may not ever need?

What better way to squash the love of learning in children who may not have the manual dexterity (from the Latin for “right-handed”, dating from a time when left-handedness was considered a sign of being in congress with the Devil) to master it? I know both my boys have HORRIBLE handwriting, in spite of their teachers’ efforts to make them write like 18th Century schoolgirls, because they lacked the interest or fine motor skills to master the form at such a young age.

I understand that it’s a good thing to be able to be able to read your country’s founding documents in the original.

But it’s not essential.

I learned to read Middle English in order to appreciate Chaucer…but I was 19 at the time, and had elected to study English Literature full-time at university.

I learned to read early moveable type fonts (think: Gutenberg. All those elongated “S”s!) so I could read explorer’s journals of their voyages to the New World…but, by that time I was 20 and thrilled to be given the opportunity to do so (white cotton gloves, no backpack, and frowning, supervisory Rare Book Librarians, and all!)

More importantly, I learned to rely on translations of things that are considered the founding documents of their disciplines. I read Beowulf (arguably the first great English language epic) in translation (fabulous translation by the poet Seamus Heaney) because I can’t make heads nor tails of the Old English. I trust the scholars to have done that for me. Scholars funded by public and private funding sources. Scholars who are (ideally) free to concentrate on the work, not the politics or economics of doing their job.

I was developmentally ready, and I was excited, to learn these things. I wasn’t 7 years old. I wasn’t trying to learn to decode and to compose at the same time as I was trying to read these new forms of writing. I was mature. I could handle it.

Point B – Trust, But Verify

If we are to have any hope of living in a society, we must learn to have trusted sources, to trust each other. We must learn to allow people to be experts, and trust that their motives are no less impure than our own.

I don’t read the Bible in the original languages; I trust 2,000 years of church scholars to come to some kind of understanding of the text that represents The Truth (even in 14 years of Catholic school, the only time I really learned any Latin was in the music room!). I trust Seamus Heaney to represent the spirit and the letter of the poetry of Beowulf. I read side-by-side versions of Chaucer and used scholarship and judgment to figure out if the ‘translation’ was trustworthy.

No, we shouldn’t rely on one or two people to tell us what’s in our historical documents.

Yes, we should fund robust and independent scholarship, so that we alway have experts who can give us diverse (and probably argumentative) arguments about what they mean.

We do not ALL need to by polymaths, Renaissance Men, or Jacks of All Trades.

It’s OK to be an expert and trust other experts. (For example, I don’t want my hypothetical heart surgery to be performed by my General Practitioner/Family Doctor, and I’m fairly certain she’d be much happier to recommend whichever “nice Jewish boy” — her usual, impish referral — she respects the most.)

I Love Handwriting

I’m not against teaching handwriting. Far from it. I think it’s important.

  • Handwriting lights up parts of the brain that typing doesn’t, boosting both creativity and memory.
  • Handwriting allows you to slow down and consider what you’re saying, compose sentences before you write them down.
  • Being able to write with a pen, means putting your hands all over the paper, which you can then send to someone miles away. They can hold it, knowing that you held it. They can touch it and feel a thrilling connection to the physical reality of you.
  • When I look back at my handwritten notes and journals, I can see what mood I was in simply from the size and shape of my handwriting.
  • It’s important to be able to write fluently, fluidly and in a way that can be read by yourself and the general population, because computers and keyboards are not always practical or optimal. (For the record, I recommend learning to write in a nice, clean italic, joined-up style. If you have already learned to write, you can still teach yourself this style as a useful alternative to printing or cursive.)

And I think it probably is fine to teach cursive handwriting in schools.

But I think it’s probably much more useful to teach them a less-convoluted, more practical form of joined-up writing that lets them take notes quickly and efficiently, and then teach them cursive in the middle school History class and the art room; Latin in the music studio (andante! Edit: Thanks to Craig for gently reminding me that I also learned Italian there too!); and most importantly, let them learn enthusiasm for scholarship and expertise in every room in the school.

To The Woman Who Felt The Need To Correct My Ten Year Old At A Concert

I know it’s a wonderful thing to listen to classical music live.

That’s why I brought my nearly–11 and just-turned–13 year old sons to the school auditorium for the 2pm Sunday performance.

And I know it’s annoying when people distract you.

This is why I’m sure you’ll have noticed (since you were obviously watching us) that I was silently correcting my 10 year old when he got fidgetty: stilling his hands with mine, making sure he wasn’t kicking the seat in front, quietly prompting him between pieces as to how many more movements were still to come.

What Went Down

Towards the 1 hour 10 minute mark, I admit he was moving around a lot. I’m sorry it distracted you. It distracted me too, especially as I felt a responsibility to correct him over and over again, so that he wasn’t disruptive.

Having got to the last piece in the concert, you felt you needed to lean forward and tell him that there was only one piece left, with the unspoken “so for goodness’ sake sit still” hanging in the air.

Thanks.

Thanks for making me really uncomfortable.

Thanks for making me miss most of the last piece as I tried to figure out how much we had annoyed you, or whether you were trying to be supportive. And wondering why you waited until the short, last piece to make your displeasure known.

I’ll bet you didn’t notice the way my boy was squeezing my hand in time with the music. Or the way he shared your chuckle of glee when the motif from the first piece came around again at the end, in a piece by a completely different composer.

I’ll bet you didn’t consider that I’m trying to bring my boys up to be well-mannered, cultured, and excited by the passions of others (wasn’t the violinist amazing, by the way?).

What The Future Holds

I know it’s annoying to be distracted during a concert.

I also know that I was one of the youngest people there, not counting my boys. And I’m 43.

If we want live orchestral music to survive as a form, we need to make concerts (afternoon concerts, at that!) a hospitable place for people with children and for first-time concert-goers. The soloist did. Remember? He told us to go out to the bathroom whenever we needed to; he wouldn’t mind. He said he’d cue us when to clap and, when we got it wrong, he laughed and said “We’ll take it!”. He was the perfect host.

Without people like me — paying full price and bringing along the next generation of fans — orchestras will not survive.

So. I will continue to take my kids to this regional orchestra’s Sunday afternoon concerts in the middle school auditorium. And yes, the 13 year old will read his book for a while. Yes, the 11 year old will fidget towards the end of a long concert without breaks. And then, one day, they’ll be ready for the big city orchestra’s Saturday night concerts, where they will pay big money to hear amazing music, I hope, for the rest of their lives.

If, that is, there are enough people willing to brave the tutters and the sighers to keep orchestras alive that long.

SuperHero

I’ve cooked three different breakfasts (none for me); got medicine into two boys; packed a lunch; dealt with The Mystery Of The Missing Sheet Music (outcome: it’s missing); prodded a boy to do last minute homework we didn’t get to last night because of Prep and dinner and other homework; and been one half of a team that got two boys up, showered, dressed, fed and out of the door with bags, lunches, percussion kit and smiles on their faces; filled in a form and an SAE for dental records for the school; finished a half cup of cold coffee…and it’s 7:35 AM!

And we live within a mile and a half of both schools.

Now I have to get the dishes done, shower, and start my day.

There’s an 8 AM mass I might go to. I know that sounds like I’m adding things to a crowded morning, but I suspect it might actually get me back on course.

P.S. How does a sheet of music evaporate overnight?!

My House Is Empty – Song Of Praise

I’m not saying I dislike my family, or resent them being here.

I’m just saying that there’s a moment, when I close the door behind them, that feels like this:

by Julie Duffy (c) 2015

creative commons noncommercial

Creative Commons License: Attribution, NonCommercial, ShareAlike

My House Is Empty
(to the trad. tune Bunessan, a.k.a. ‘Morning Has Broken’)

(with alternate lyrics for work-outside-the-home parents)

My house is empty!
My house is empty!
I’ll be the only one here all day.
No one to say “no!”;
Ask me a question…
I can do everything my own way.

Yes, there is cleaning.
Yes, there is laundry.
Yes, there are errands that I must run, (alt: Yes, there’s a day job and I must run,)
But there is no one
To interrupt me (alt. Here to detain me);
I am in charge of when they get done (alt. I am in charge of what I get done)

No one will bicker.
No one will rampage.
No one will knock on my bathroom door.
After my six hour (alt. eight hour)
Mental vacation
I can be pleased to see them once more.

You say I’ll miss this
When my nest’s empty,
“Never forget these days are a gift.”
I will endeavour
To count my blessings
As 3pm brings my second shift (alt. As 6 pm brings my second shift)

You may also like: The Parents’ School Morning Lament

Writer, Interrupted

I was having a great writing morning, after a day when I couldn’t get my head to either wake up or focus on one thing for more than four seconds (I think that was, actually, my personal best).

I had just written most of a short story (a new episode in the Forgetown series) and was firing up my laptop in order to transfer my handwritten version into Scrivener (the program I’m using for this and most of my writing now).

“Just about to” I say, because then my 11 year old (wow, that still shocks me. I did so much blogging when he was a baby and toddler, that typing about him as an 11 year old seems weirder than looking at the evidence in front of me) burst out through the door to the deck, clutching handfuls of fabulously creative figures made from bits and pieces of Lego Hero Factory in a cross-over (in our minds at least) with Doctor Who. He wanted to tell me all about what he had created.

And really, how could I say no?

I see it as a mark of my increasing maturity that I did not run flailing around the deck, stamping my feet, wringing my hands and crying ‘No! No! No! But it was all going so well!”. Instead I listened to my child tell me all about his daydreams, made manifest in shades of plastic.

Eventually, of course, I dismissed him with the excuse that I had to get some stuff done before we went out to pick up his brother, and that was perfectly true. But I did listen and nod and even offer a thought or two during the 25 minute oration, which shows I was paying attention and not merely thinking about my own story behind fake-interested eyes!

In the Good News department, I finished the story and typed it up (with roving edits) this afternoon while said brother rotted his brain on a new twitch-video game. Will make amends later.

I’m up to 9 episodes complete in the Forgetown saga. When I get to 10 it might be time to start putting them online.  What do you think?

 

The Parents’ School Morning Lament

Sometimes you just have to write a thing down, so here, in all it’s audio glory, is my Parents’ School Morning Lament, recorded and mixed for you, this morning.

Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 12.14.06 PM

Sound familiar? Leave me a comment!

 

If you’d like to know when I release new fiction (like this!), you can subscribe for free.

You may also like: My House Is Empty – A Song Of Praise

Life Skills List

Here are some things I will teach my kids before they leave home (preferably in the pre-teen years). What would you add?

How To:
Sew on a button
Sew a hem
Repair a tear in cloth
Use a sewing machine
Iron a shirt, t-shirt and trousers
Fold their laundry
Sort and wash their laundry
Bake bread
Bake a cake
Make a white sauce
Roast a joint of beef
Make fish & chips
Rehydrate and cook beans
Grow vegetables from seed
Transplant a store-bought plant
Knit
Weave
Three or four different knots
Paint a wall
Sharpen a knife
Basic car maintenance
Budgetting
Write a thank you note
Use a soldering iron

They’ve had a shot at some of this stuff so far, but maybe we need to design an actual course with a checklist on Pinterest and everything :)

What would you add?