Tuesday, February 18, 2014

My brief visit to the world of cleats and turf

At first blush my soccer career appeared to start with an article on recreational sports leagues in the Sunday fitness column of our local paper.

But when I examined my true motivations for joining co-rec soccer, I settled on two potential experiences about sports and belonging:

1) the day I sat on the edge of a cement kick-ball field in elementary school watching some boys eat ants and realized that I had officially become the Kid Who Gets Picked Last;

2) an impromptu inter-generational softball game played in a warm country field, the first and only time that I felt the joy of being part of a sports team.

Either way, in the name of personal growth, I recently signed up for a six-week soccer class through the experimental college, which was meant to lead to the creation of a team that would play year-round in the co-rec soccer league.

Upon arrival to the class, I found myself on a turf field with a bunch of college kids playing my first ever soccer game.  My vision of an unskilled middle-aged-lady team was dashed but I was still thrilled to be out there, on my way to becoming someone sporty who knew and was admired by other sporty people and possibly drank beers with them.

My teammates put me on defense to start, a position that worked well for me, as my only athletic skill is running.  I ran up and down the turf trying to take in all of the friendly pointers that were coming my way from the other students who had clearly been playing for years.  Having decided to leave my childhood insecurities on the bench in search of that country field, I played with abandon.  I was going to be a real grown up, unselfconscious, giving it my all and laughing off the mistakes.  Then someone yelled rotate and I was playing forward.

My new position was seriously out of my comfort zone but I was still trying to run just a few steps ahead of my athletic demons.  Only it turns out that, rather than being at my heels, they were right there in front of me in the form of a six and a half foot, three hundred pound guy named Andrew (or was it Andre . . .) who also happened to be running at full force toward the ball.  I know about as much about physics as I do about soccer but I can say for certain that Andrew's full force was a whole lot forcier than mine.  We collided and, while he stopped, I went flying into the air and came down hard on my back like something out of a Road Runner cartoon.

A week later, when the full-body aches wore off, I realized that I had actually sustained a serious muscle injury to my back.  It's been over a month now and I'm starting to think this will be one of those afflictions that ages with me.  Me and my soccer injuring, reminding me of that time I was on a team and I ran head on into a gigantic guy and, just as the lights went out, I heard one of my teammates yell, "Yeah! That's how we play!"

Friday, March 22, 2013

What's for lunch

It came to my attention recently that other parents in Little G's class were actually cooking meals for their children to take for lunch.  Amazing gourmet meals from around the globe that I hope my daughter never finds out about.  My feelings of inadequacy inspired the piece below.

Dear Fellow Parents,

Some of you have asked for suggestions about what to send with our kindergarteners for lunch.  Of course every child has different tastes but I thought I would share one of the recipes that is always a hit with our kids. It's really a simple play on the old surf and turf standby and doesn't take more than a day or two to prepare if you don't count the animal husbandry aspects and travel time involved.

We like to start with a suckling rabbit, not the traditional “turf” meat, I know, but it’s a playful twist on the dish and one that we feel is more responsible given that it has a smaller environmental footprint.  Plus, unlike a cow, we’re able to raise the rabbits right in our living room, which is fun for the kids (until they eat it, ha!), teaches responsibility, and is a great way to reduce kitchen waste, as the rabbits love to eat veggie scraps that would otherwise end up in the compost.  This process also allows us to supervise the birth and care of multiple generations of rabbits – so important when you are feeding them to the little ones!

You want to make sure you get that rabbit roasting when it is less than a week old (pull up your calendars!) because it will still contain all those beneficial nutrients from suckling but not have been exposed to too many icky environmental toxins.  I personally never start penning my monthly lunch menu until I know I have a rabbit in labor.  Rabbit birth can be a surprisingly long process, so go ahead and get your roasting spit set up while you wait (in a pinch this can be done in a toaster oven).  After cleaning and butchering, we like to rub the meat with a little EVOO, sea salt and whatever fresh herb is growing on the windowsill at the time.

Once you have the rabbit on the spit it’s time to devote some energy to the surf part of the meal.  This can get a little tricky because obviously the environmental implications of farming seafood at home are serious.  So where to procure the surf?  There are a couple of options.  First, if you’re just too busy, and I understand that some of you are, you can contract with someone who will travel to a pristine wilderness, capture fresh seafood in a sustainable and humane way and then deliver it to you that same day.  Experience has taught us however that given the tax and health-care implications involved in such a relationship, it just makes more sense to procure the seafood ourselves.  There is a delicate balance between the impact that travel has on the earth and the freshness and pureness of the seafood but I feel that this is one of those moral/ethical questions with as many answers as there are families.  The important thing here is that you get the seafood back to your kitchen before the rabbit is done roasting.  Trust me, this is when the time really starts to fly!
Something fun that I like to do is steam the seafood right over the heat that I’m using for the rabbit.  It’s a nice way to marry the two animals in the cooking process and conserve energy at the same time.  You can rub the seafood with the same simple ingredients as the rabbit or switch it up a little by adding a different herb or oil (just don’t forget to balance your omega-3s with your omega-6s!).

While the proteins are cooking, head to your raised beds and see what produce is fresh (nothing ready to harvest? Hop on your bike! There’s always a farmer’s market open somewhere!).  Raw is best with veggies so give those greens a rough chop and dress with something simple, like kombucha vinegar and chia seeds.

This may seem indulgent, but sometimes I like to include a little dessert.  I just whiz together one handful each of dates and walnuts with a touch of carob powder to make a sweet treat that the kids love.  I used to press the mixture into cookie cutter molds but then I thought, whoa, missed creative/educational opportunity, so now I like to roll it into balls, chill for an hour and then carve it into a three dimensional shape like a protozoa or maybe a bust of Rachel Carson.  Whatever the kids happen to be into at the time.  It sounds like a lot of extra work but I find that if I just don’t go to bed at all there is plenty of time to add that special touch.

Toss it all into your kiddo’s favorite stainless bento box and you’re ready to go!

I love hearing everybody’s lunch ideas; let’s keep them coming!

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Mary Poppins Comes Back

February was too short to get a blog post in but plenty happened.

Last week, on a Friday afternoon just following the kindergarten's hundred days celebration, we were notified that Little G's original (and ineffective) teacher was coming back to the classroom from long-term health leave.  But that wasn't all, the letter also said that she would only be teaching three days a week (not even consecutive days) and we would have any number of random subs filling in the other two days for the rest of the year.

I was the last one to make it down to the classroom after the celebration and I was met by a stream of mothers in various states of tears and fury waving their letters in my face and storming back up the stairs to the office.  The principal, bless his heart, opened the conference room and let us rage at him until the bell rang and we had to go gather up our children.  I managed to remain dry-eyed until I was faced with our amazing substitute, a woman with all the magic and firmness of Mary Poppins, and then I burst into tears.  I felt so helpless (and embarrassed).

After that we all went home and called every school district official we could think of but of course it was late on a Friday afternoon and all we could do was leave messages and send unanswered emails.  I could hardly sleep that night, thinking about what Monday would bring and how I could possibly send my precious kid back into the classroom under these circumstances. 

We spent the weekend strategizing and calling everyone we knew who might have information about how to solve the problem.  People mostly told us that it was a hopeless situation.  Little G burst into tears over dinner on Saturday, she didn't want to go back to her old teacher any more than I wanted to send her.

Monday came and we stormed the principal's office after drop-off.  Again, he unlocked the conference room door and stoically ushered us inside.  He clearly wanted to make everything work out for the kids and the teachers but couldn't tell us what was going on because of confidentiality issues.  I could sympathize with his predicament but, given that we are all brand new, it was hard to trust that he was doing what we needed him to do.

But he was and by the end of the week it was all sorted out.  We get to keep Mary Poppins!  Until the end of the year! 

My next project is to get on the hiring committee.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Kindergarten Utopia

Due to having spent last night sleeping on the bathroom floor with mystery stomach pain, I did not get to go into Little G's classroom today.  However, my mother went and she confirmed what I already suspected, which is that the sub is basically Glenda the Good Witch in the form of a kindergarten teacher.  The munchkins are listening, sitting still and even learning things.

I already knew she was an upgrade when I picked Little G up from school on Monday.  I peeked into the room and saw twenty-six kids sitting quietly on the carpet with their coats and backpacks on in the midst of a spotlessly clean room.  It was breathtaking.  And then when I went to the door of the classroom this lovely woman cheerfully introduced herself to me (!) (how professional, how kind) (this never happened with the other teacher).  Not only is the room tidy, but she has turned it into a real kindergarten with all sorts of cool stuff on the walls like safety signs, number charts and months of the year.  She entertains them with stories of her five children who range in age from two to twenty.  She is happy to be in the classroom teaching my kid.  I am in love.  I am scheming ways to keep her until June.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Viola or Miss Nelson?

We've had an interesting turn of events in kindergarten world - Little G's teacher is taking four weeks (minimum) of leave for health reasons starting tomorrow.

I can't wait to find out more about the sub and get into the classroom on Thursday to see her in action.  I feel bad for these kids, who have had a rough start to kindergarten to begin with and now will have to adjust to a brand new teacher.  However, none of them seemed particularly attached to the first teacher (who will presumably be coming back) so it's quite possible that this could be good for everyone.

Assuming they don't get the dreaded Viola Swamp.

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Sometimes I find it difficult to appreciate the quirky in between-ness of six.  Clearly not babies but not quite full fledged big-kids either.  They teeter on the edge while the rest of the family teeters with them.  Hysteria is the name of the game and it can go from the good kind to the bad kind in a matter of seconds.

But I've been appreciating six oh so very much this past week.  I'm giving six a little lee way because it's hard to feel in between.  I'm reaching out to feel that sweet warm skin and watching her chest rise and fall in sleep.  I'm packing treats in her lunchbox and shopping for a flouncy dress.  I'm making hot chocolate from scratch and carrying all forty-nine pounds of her down the hill from school.  I'm just so grateful that she's here.

I was inspired to reflect on six after reading What Six Looks Like, by Jennifer Rowe Walters.  It's a really beautiful piece and captures the age perfectly.

Friday, November 16, 2012

and two steps back

I was back in the classroom yesterday and I'm disappointed to report that things have gotten pretty bad in there.  I'm not even talking about academics because learning became a secondary issue for me when I saw the physical violence that was going on.  I spoke with the teacher afterward and she said she was concerned that the classroom was not a safe place for the students.  Like before, I am at a total loss for what to do about the situation.  There just don't seem to be any options for moving Little G.  Perhaps we go back to the principal?  Above the principal?

A note on class size:
When we brought up the issue of class size to the principal (who, if you'll recall, moved across the country to take this job last summer ), he said that perhaps he should have been more thorough about researching our district before he took the job.  Funny stuff if only I didn't have a kid enrolled in a kindergarten where people get punched in the face on a regular basis.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

School progress, baby steps

Since I last wrote, we've met with the principal to voice our concerns about the kindergarten, made peace with the teacher and seen a little bit of improvement in Little G's classroom.  I no longer believe that she loses IQ points upon walking through the door, plus we realized that we truly have no other options.

That teacher is trying so hard but there are too many students at way too many academic and social levels.  Some children are reading and some don't speak English, some can sit still and listen to a story while others would rather get under the table and kick it up and down with their feet.

But it's our school and we're going to make it work.  Sigh.

Here is the big news of the week: Little G has her first loose tooth!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

and a little bit more about kindergarten

You all have been sending me the best advice and support since I wrote about the trouble we are having with Little G's school.  Nothing has improved since that last post, in fact I spent nearly two hours in the classroom last week and things were even worse than I imagined.

The teacher is a nice person and I don't want to demonize her but, as my sister-in-law pointed out, there is a difference between liking your teacher and getting a good education.

What I observed when I volunteered made me think that beyond not learning anything (which I had sort of resigned myself to), just spending time in the classroom might be detrimental to Little G's development.  Without getting into details (I have become exhausted by the details) I will say that there is no structure and there are no expectations or consequences.  It is a waiting room for twenty-eight five and six year olds.  At one point I went to complete a project in the copy room and I just wanted to stay in there and rock back and forth in the fetal position.  No wonder my artistic, detail-oriented daughter is coming home from school with pages of scribbles.

Mr. G emailed the principal again after my experience on Thursday and he still has not gotten back to us.  I'm not quite sure what to do.

However, I have been working through this very helpful checklist of questions sent to me by a trusted parent friend:

  • Do you have other public or charter schools that you can transfer to now?  No, the transfer deadline was September 30, so we are stuck . . . barring an epic tantrum and charging through lots of red tape (something that we are of course very capable of doing).
  • Do you want to (or can you) consider private school options?  Not in our current financial situation, though we could investigate tuition and scholarships.
  • How do you feel about the other teachers at the school?  Meaning, can you get through this year, albeit miserably, and find better teachers in following years?  I don’t know.  I need to observe some other classes, especially first grade. (ACTION ITEM!)  I'm also starting to think keeping her in the class might cause her harm in the long run.
  • Do you feel good about the principal and the school administration and do you feel like they'll help you achieve your goals?   Right now, I don’t.  They are not responsive to our calls or emails.
  • How do you feel about the community?  I love that she is in our neighborhood and has a group of friends who live nearby.  The kids in the upper classes seem like reasonable people and good role models.  I like that the other families are diverse in many ways (the school draws from all over the city) but that they all chose this school for its commitment to social justice.
  • Do you imagine finding good, supportive, maybe even like-minded friends there who have similar ideas about how to raise a successful child?  Yes, we already have a really nice group of friends who's company we enjoy and who are excited about building a supportive community and raising kids together.  This is a point that I think will become more clear to me as I tackle the problems in the classroom.  I'm already seeing that some people have a different take on what the children's experience should be. 
And lastly, she said this, "You need to do what's best for your family, and don't feel bad about demanding it."  Others of you have told me the same thing and honestly I can't hear it enough.  I feel like I'm getting the run around from the school administration and the general attitude is that parents should stop trying to look behind the curtain because the educators know best.  Which bring us back to I'm not sure what to do.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A little bit about kindergarten

Little G ran off to kindergarten that first day and never looked back.  No tears, no clinging.  It was sort of anti-climactic. 

She loves her friends and lunch and recess and especially gym class.  The actual learning part is a different story.  Mostly because so far it has been all behavior management (there is punching and biting in this kindergarten!) and no learning.  So she comes home crying about how bored and frustrated she is all day.  When they do get a little quiet and focus the lessons are things like tracing letters and making paper chains (this is considered math in the public schools here).

I'm not one of those people who doesn't think play is valuable and I'm not some crazy flash-card mom but when my child has repeated meltdowns about how her desire to learn is being thwarted I get upset.  And then I go see the teacher and she tells me that my kind of kid is not a priority and I start to feel ill and anxious.  I want Little G to love school, not think of it as a holding tank where all she learns is how to tolerate difficult people at the expense of her own needs (not that this is not a valuable skill but it shouldn't be the only thing they teach her).

Now we're looking at a meeting with the principal, which terrifies me.  In fact, this entire process scares me to death, a reaction I found strange because I'm usually good at navigating bureaucracy and advocating for a cause.  Mr. G solved the mystery by pointing out that my powers tend to fail me when there is no decipherable structure and he is exactly right.

And so begins my education on how to use the public school system.  Rule number one: be squeaky.  Rule number two: tbd.