Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Son, There's a Place for Everything, and it's called College

I spent a lot of time emailing last Friday back and forth with an old law school friend, and one of the main topics of conversation was college and what we were planning on doing about it. He has some more time to plan, as his daughter is still in pre-school, so the discussion was more about the boys and what Husband and I had in mind. Not that we, too, don't have a lot of time to think about this stuff, but it does come up not all that infrequently; the boys are interested in what their lives as adults will look like, and I think that's healthy.

Anyway, in the series of emails, my friend questioned our resolve to put pretty strict guidelines on where the boys went to school and (to a lesser extent) what they studied when they got there. So, I'm on my soapbox: are you ready? Here's pretty much what I wrote on Friday:

I am perfectly willing to make distinctions in what we will pay for. Something like MIT + physics or Chicago + economics makes sense to me, but Harvard + English does not. Will I accept an English major out of UT? Maybe, although I'd rather it was a double major with math throw in there as well. Why all of this? Because in the end, an English degree from Harvard isn’t worth ½ of what we’d pay for it. The tuition inflation makes that so more than anything else. I used to think college was all about learning who you were and doing what you love. Now I know it’s about spending someone else’s money.

In a way this decision is the same as the one of public vs. private school right now. The boys have gone to good private schools, and we’ve discovered that they aren’t any better than our public school – so why on earth did we pay for it!? How much your kid learns has much more to do with parenting than it does with the school you choose. Within reason of course – I’m not comparing some inner-city high school to Choate – but really, it’s true. Good parents have kids who are curious about the world and who learn from everything they do; school is just part of that. As for college: a lot of college is what you make of it. I want to raise a child who is prepared to squeeze every last drop out of UT – who is curious and motivated and aware of what’s going on around him. And one who knows the value of a dollar, both his own and his parents’ money. That child is ready for college, and ready to be an adult.

My cousin’s child started college this month; he’s going to the local state university and living at home. It’s not the greatest school on earth, but he chose it over better private schools. He is wise enough to know that he can avoid putting himself and his family in debt, while still getting the best possible education he’s capable of getting. Not because the school is perfect, but because he’s going to look high and low for every bit of knowledge he can find. In other words, they raised their son to be an adult. That’s a he!! of a lot better attitude to have than the one of snobby entitlement with which I went off to college.

I have to tell you: I’m getting more like this as I get older, not less. 18 years in Texas has apparently knocked some sense into the idiot girl from upstate NY.

Make sense to anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Movies and Boys

The movies the boys watch at home (and don't watch) fall into several categories. Some I like, some they like, and some are, well, the opposite. Our tastes don't always line up, and I struggle sometimes to find things for them to watch that they will enjoy - I have a much harder time with this than with books. At least I have to worry about this less: they are allowed one movie on Saturday and one on Sunday, and they take turns with their choices. Otherwise, the TV is off-limits.

Here's some categories, and some reasons why I (and they) like what we like:

Movies I’m glad they love:

Second-hand Lions: this is an awesome movie, about a boy in Texas in the 1960's living with his two squirrely great-uncles. I've seen it panned by a number of reviewers, which just goes to show they don't know diddly about what boys like.

The two Narnia movies: I love how close these are to the books, and I'm hoping that trend will continue. They are a little violent for a child Two's age, but he has that second-child thing about being less bothered by things at an earlier age. It's just what comes from following along behind your older brother.

The Princess Bride: The boys adore this one, and they love to quote it along with their dad. "Why do you keep using that word? I do not think it means what you think it means." And so on and so forth, until I scream "STOP!".

The Court Jester: Yes, my children like Danny Kaye in tights. And if you have a problem with that, you can stuff it. Because there's nothing funnier than the "chalice with the palace", okay?

Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk, Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), and Ivanhoe: The boys have no idea who Leo DeCaprio is, or Keanu Reaves, but they love, love, love Errol Flynn. They want to be each of his characters in these movies, and frequently pretend to be as soon as the movie ends.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: One loved this book, and both boys love the movie.

Treasure Island (the Disney version): this has been a favorite for years. I worked a deal several years ago and got to know the people on the other side so well; they would ask if they could come over and watch this with the boys, since the boys put it on during every conference call we had. We're glad those people live far, far away.

To Kill a Mockingbird: One and his dad read the book this past Spring, and we decided he was old enough for the movie. Of course, that meant Two sat there and watched it too. What can I say about it? It's just spectacular.

The Great Escape: they love this one, and even talked a friend into watching it last Friday night when he slept over. All three boys voted 2 thumbs up.

If they have to watch animation, because they don’t like it much anymore:

Wallace and Grommit (Three Amazing Adventures and The Curse of the Were-Rabbit): these are just too funny - and the clay-mation is truly a work of art.

The Disney version of The Sword in the Stone: my favorite movie from childhood. Two does a mean imitation of Archimedes.

Movies I’m mad they don’t like:

Up: They pretty much hated it in the theater, although the dogs made them laugh. Now they refuse to watch it at home. Husband bought it for me for Christmas; the boys booed.

Darby O'Gill and the Little People: It scares One. Little People especially. I have no idea why.

Miracle: Having spent years skating in that famous, red-seated arena, it offends me that they don't want to watch this movie. I don't necessarily want them to like hockey; I just want them to watch this movie. Is that too much to ask?

The Secret of Roan Inish: Seals scare One, especially when they turn into women. Given that he's scared of this and Darby O'Gill, maybe he's just scared of the Irish. Since I'm half-Irish, I don't know how I feel about that. Wait - yes I do: I think it's hysterical.

Movies I wish I’d never let them watch in the first place:

Anything Star Wars: bad plots and bad acting. Face it: they're poorly constructed movies. Their only redeeming factor is they are about the bad guys vs. the good guys, and you can never get enough of that.

Anything Harry Potter, Indiana Jones or Lord of the Rings. Don't get me wrong, I like these movies myself. I just wish I'd never let the boys watch them, because then I wouldn't be in the unenviable position of telling them they can't watch them ever again for a long, long time. And why can't they? Because when they watch these movies they behave poorly and they have nightmares; that tells me they are way, way too young for this stuff. Of course, since they refuse to believe the movies have anything to do with their behavior or their dreams, I am Mean Mommy, forever and ever, amen. And you can tell by how little I let them watch TV: I like being Mean Mommy, a lot.

Monday, August 23, 2010

First Day

Back to school is here already! It's easy to get ready, having boys and living in a swamp; I mean, it's not like anyone has been begging me for new school clothes. They went off today in their favorite shorts and tees, eager to get on with 2nd and 5th grade. We've heard nothing but good things about their teachers this year, and they were really ready to go.

I've also resolved to go back to packing their lunch every day, even if it means sacrificing a little sleep each morning. They ate school lunch from January to May last year, but I really want to get them back on the brought-lunch wagon. Why? Well, One lost 6 lbs this summer: was it because he was so active, or did he just gain too much last Spring with all those tacos and burgers? I'm guessing half and half, but we're still not going back to school-bought food. Here's what they brought today; every day will look pretty much like this.

And if you're interested in what to feed your kiddos and all other things lunch, Bettina Siegel's blog The Lunch Tray is a great site to check out.

Monday, August 16, 2010

After the Funeral

Our neighbor passed away ten days ago while visiting friends and family in his native Iceland; the funeral was today here in town. We will miss his gentle presence.

The main tree on his lawn - just off from the front door - was shorter than the house when he and his family moved here in 1966. Now it covers the lawn and hosts a new family of herons. Isn't it beautiful, even in the rain?

It makes me wonder: what will this tree, planted this spring by the boys, be like if Husband and I stay here until the end?

Moments like this make me very glad to know that this life isn't even the beginning of it all ...

Random Mondays

I haven't posted in more than a week ... again ... so here's some randomness, just so I can pretend I still blog regularly. I know: I'm a generous girl.

The boys are having their first Mandarin lesson, right. this. minute. We found a tutor to come to the house once a week to torture them into the 21st century. China is the second largest economy in the world, after all, and two small boys will be large adults looking for jobs before we know it. Mandarin might be a little more useful to them than German or French has proven to be to Husband and me ... just maybe.

Instapundit has a link to a story about the risk of whooping cough, once wiped out by vaccinations but now back. You can thank everyone who doesn't vaccinate their children for that one, pretty much. One has to get a DTaP booster this fall, as our pedi had four cases of 11 year old boys with whooping cough last winter alone. When he goes in for his flu shot in October, he will be treated to an extra stick. And since I am in need of a tetanus shot, I think I'll be paying the extra for DTaP at Walgreens (around $70, as I recall) sometime very soon.

Missy linked to these fantastic color photos from the late 1930's and early 1940's. Wow, unbelievable!

We are officially beginning our entry into the Orthodox Church! We spoke to our arch-priest yesterday, and Husband is going to call him later on in the week to set up a meeting. I have been charged with hunting down baptismal certificates. Three are easy, but Husband's is a bear; thankfully we have a friend in the Presbytery office in the city where Husband grew up, who can track down which church merged into which church, and which closed and sent the Presbytery offices their records, etc. A bit of detective work, to be sure, but hopefully it will work out and we can all be chrismated together soon. Coming up next: the boys serving at the altar. Oh yes! Don't think for a second that, given such an opportunity, I would pass on that one! I need to see my wild urchins, robed and somber and carrying candles. It will make up for so much misbehavior in my mind, I can't even tell you.

Nina Camic's website, The Other Side of the Ocean, is always worth a visit, especially for her delicious photographs. But check on her even more frequently in the coming weeks; she's teaching in Kyoto and oh! the pictures are worth many, many thousands of words.

That's all for now, folks.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Why We Chose Public School

This could be a one-sentence post.

It's free.

Beginning, middle, and end. Complet, as the French say. But while it would be technically true, it wouldn't begin to cover the complexity of the choice, and it certainly wouldn't explain how we've been from private school to home school to private school to public school, all in eight years.

So here we go. I'll try to explain and you'll try to understand what passes for reasoning in my tortured brain. You will then (a) wonder how on earth I got through law school, and (b) have great pity on my husband, who lives with this kind of "logic" every day.

Ahem. Where was I? Oh, yes, now I remember. Public school: reasons for. I've found them; here they are:

After sampling the great offering of schooling out there - two very different private ones, a public one, and a year of home school - it has become painfully obvious that we are blessed with a ridiculously good public elementary school just a mile from our house. Teachers in one of the largest urban districts in the country wait years to get an interview at this school, never mind a job. Parents make home-buying choices based on our school zone. Other parents battle the magnet school lottery, hoping for the award of one of the few spots. Seriously, when I look at this public school in comparison to the private schools I've encountered, the only difference is the uniforms: they wear them and we don't. Oh, and in the price: did I mention that our school is free?

That's the basic reasoning, and it holds true most of all for our particular elementary school. A sheltered place, a good curriculum, a fine arts and music magnet, children from over 40 birth-countries, mothers with more post-graduate degrees than me - all in all, a rare and precious find.

But public school overall? Public school for middle and high school? That choice is another ball of wax altogether. We think we're committed to public school all the way through graduation. We've learned through experience that God isn't very interested in our "commitments", though, so we're open to being turned in a different direction, should He decide that's what's going on. But assuming we've got it right, and the boys are in public school for the long haul: why?

First of all, the options for middle and high school look good. There are two options for middle school other than the one to which we're zoned. We'll be checking both of them out this fall, although if I had to choose today I already have a heavy favorite. We'll also look at where we're zoned; it has a patchy reputation, but it's getting better every year. By the time Two is ready, it may be the easiest choice. For high school, the situation is similar. Our zoned high school has an IB program to apply to, and there is a magnet high school with very high marks that we're very interested in investigating. It may be a better choice than the IB program, especially if the boys aren't interested in playing high school team sports. Basically it guarantees they will be surrounded by more than the average number of what most people would call "dorks", but what I call "good friend material".

All of our public middle and high school options have a varied mix of kids from different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, and that is one of the points in their favor. The private schools here tend to be very, very uniform in their composition - and since that's not the environment in which the boys will live when they're grown, I see no reason for them to spend their "formative years" there. To me, one of the big reasons to stick with public school for middle and high school - especially in our large, city district - is that it looks like the city itself. To be perfectly blunt: if my upper-middle class Anglo kids stay in private school for the entire childhoods, they'll be surrounded by other children just. like. them. And they will therefore learn to work with and be friends only with children just. like. them. They will see people of other races and backgrounds - especially people with less than them economically - as different, puzzling, and (perhaps) uncomfortable to be around.

It's entirely my opinion, I know, but I don't think that is much of an education to give them. And as long as the pen-and-paper education at public school meets our expectations, it's not going to be the education they get.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Scaries

When Two gets scared or upset, most of the time it's the normal, kid kind of scared. I wake up in the morning to find him and three extra pillows in bed with me, and I know that he tiptoed in at some point in the night, thanks to a nightmare. He never wakes me up when he comes in - at least not deliberately - and once he's in bed with mommy the fear melts away and he sleeps, even though my snoring (what, I don't snore! who put that in there!? I demand a new editor!).

But occasionally, it's a lot more than that. Along with my chin, he inherited my panic disorder, and when combined with some of his (otherwise not so noticeable) sensory challenges, it can make a big. fat. mess of whatever he's trying hard to do. What happens is this: Two visualizes how something will go, he prepares himself for it, and then something changes. It can be as simple as going to swim practice and hearing thunder on the way: that will mean dry-land training instead of swimming in the pool. When it happens - and it doesn't always happen when he experiences a sudden shift like that, so it's always up in the air for us - but when it does, he melts. He is afraid of whatever new thing has come upon him, as afraid as you would be if you heard a burglar in the middle of the night. He stops hearing what we say, he stops everything but his pitiable crying that "he just can't do" whatever it is that he is being asked to do. As a parent, I want to howl in frustration and cry for him all at the same time. I know how he's feeling, and I can barely fix such things inside myself. How can I fix them for him?

This has been happening for years, but this summer he's a little more mature and therefore able to discuss these attacks, especially when they're over and we're safely home. During our conversations in the past months we've decided to call his overwhelming fears The Scaries. He says they descend upon him from the air like so many thin-limbed, sharp-faced little monsters; they climb on his back, and they fill him with fear - through his ears, his eyes, even through his skin. When they come, his ears stop up, he can't stand to be touched, and he wants nothing more than to get away from the situation as fast as he can. The best thing I can think of to tell him in our conversations is this: The Scaries have no right to attack you, they have no right to make you feel anything at all. When you feel them coming, you have to turn and fight with everything you have. You have to swing your sword, you have to call out to God, you have to be braver than St. George himself. And the worst thing I can think of to tell him is this: The Scaries will never stop trying. He will never be able to stop fighting. If he lets them, they will make his life so small it will exist in one room only. They are, in fact, a cross he will carry, likely to the end of his life.

But he can fight. And we can pray. And he can wear his St. George medal to remind him to be as brave as a man that legend says slayed a dragon, but who in reality was braver yet, and went to his death as a martyr for Christ under Diocletian. In fact, having The Scaries on your back is not a martyrdom at all, although it, too, requires bravery, Instead, it is a chance to focus on what matters most of all in this life: to never let The Scaries or anything else come between you and Christ. If The Scaries can keep Two and I constantly pressing towards that goal, then they are worth the fear, indeed.

And that way, they will not have won: not a single battle, and certainly not the war.