Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Not Really That Much Fun in Dysfunction

Chickenhead's birthday party is coming up this weekend, and it's a bit bittersweet. My brother and his family will be here, which I'm really looking forward to. I've contacted my ex-sister-in-law, and she's going to bring our nephews to the party. Which is all good, but I still feel a bit sad.

The Husband's family is in tatters. He has a grandfather who is in the final stages of pancreatic cancer, and a grandmother who's in the early stages of Alzheimer's. My MIL, who's often been the centerpiece to many of my stories, is rapidly descending into a black hole of drug addiction and mental illness. My brother in law(the Husband's brother) won't speak to us at all, and my FIL doesn't have much to say, either.

I see how much all of this hurts the Husband and it saddens me. I see how much it upsets Chickenhead and that saddens me even more. It's hard to explain to my son why his uncle won't speak to us, or why his grandfather doesn't call or contact him. The Husband has been taking Chickenhead over to my FIL's house to go swimming, which I guess is some progress, but Chickenhead notices that his grandfather and dad hardly speak to each other. Chickenhead notices that we're not invited to family events. I find myself flip-flopping between thinking maybe it's better if Chickenhead isn't around such dysfunction so much, or thinking that good or bad, this is the only family he's got.

As our children grow, they become much more aware of their environment, and the interactions of their family members. Kids can sense tension, anger and resentment. I hate to just dismiss Chickenhead's questions with, 'you're too young to understand', but how much do I tell him? How do you deal with sticky family situations and your kids? Thoughts?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Summer Reading and TV Watching

Actually, I don't limit my reading to just summer time, I read year round. I do seem to do more in the summer, though for some reason.

Anyway, I recently read a great summery novel, 'July and August', by Nancy Clark. This is actually the third installment in a series of books following the Hill family of Towne, Massachusetts. Reading the first book, 'The Hills at Home', would probably be beneficial, but not necessary to enjoy this book. I haven't read the second book, 'Away From Home', because I always seem to miss it at the library.

On to 'July and August'. The setting is the home of Lily Hill, spinster aunt and somewhat reluctant matriarch to the Hill clan. Lily's home is once again the gathering place for family members young and old who have returned for the summer. There are more characters than you can shake a stick at, but the story is still easy to follow. The story revolves around Lily, who's running a successful fruit and vegetable stand at the end of her driveway. She's discovered a knack for farming, and enjoys the work. Family members prove to be a little too helpful, or more often than not, not helpful enough, to Aunt Lily.

Nancy Clark is a talented author, and I'm really hoping I can get my hands on that second book in the series. Her writing is humorous and touching at the same time, and I actually found myself a little sad that the book ended, because I enjoyed the characters and the story so much. She' supposedly working on a new book, hopefully another Hill family book.

A while back we decided to subscribe to Netflix, to try to save a bit on the entertainment budget (ha, like I have a budget!). I've quickly acquired the habit of waking up early on Saturday and Sunday mornings to watch all the BBC mini-series I haven't had the time to watch before. I just finished watching 'Downton Abbey' and can hardly wait for the second season. What a great show! I've been watching 'Daniel Deronda' too, but it's not as good as 'Downton'. The Husband has been watching EVERY season of 'Dog The Bounty Hunter', and damn if I don't sit down and get sucked in to that show when he's watching. My other TV indulgences this summer are 'Real Housewives of New Jersey', and 'My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding' for which really, there are no words. And this coming Monday, 'Hoarders' on A&E begins it's new season! If it's anything like last season, we may actually see a hoarder uncover a human corpse in their hoard. It wouldn't surprise me at all. What are you reading and watching this summer?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Testing, Testing

As part of Chickenhead's home-school curriculum this past school year, he was required to take state math and reading assessment tests. I though I had a pretty strong opinion when it came to these tests, but this year made me question that.

Last year in 'brick and mortar' school, Chickenhead's math and reading test scores were abysmal. It was disheartening for the Husband and me, because we knew Chickenhead was a smart kid, but we couldn't understand why he didn't do better. As we began thinking about home school, I started really resenting those tests. Why do school districts insist on determining a child's intelligence (and more and more, a teacher's competence) on the basis of a few 90 minute tests? Then once I realized that tests aren't used to determine intelligence so much as how much funding the district will receive, I felt like my son was little more than a pawn in the education game.

Fast forward to April of this year, and math and reading assessment tests. Because our virtual school is part of a brick and mortar district, the tests are required. I knew Chickenhead was progressing much better with home school, but I still worried about him taking the tests. Turns out, I worried for nothing! The math test, which he scored a 34 on last year, became a 62 this year. Last year's reading score of 35 was 85 this year. I was thrilled. Thrilled that he did so well, yet still pissed off at these tests.

I still firmly believe that the intelligence of a child or their capacity to learn can be determined by a single test. I find it sad that schools are spending so much time focusing only on reading and math that kids are missing out on history, science and social studies. Not to mention PE, art and music. All of these subjects are vital to a child's development. The one thing that I really have come to love about home schooling is that while we do a lot of math and reading work, we also have the time to tackle history, science, literature, social studies and art. Home school definitely isn't for every child or every family, but for us, it's worked out beautifully.

The one thing that we didn't work on much this year is handwriting. Chickenhead doesn't have the best handwriting; his spacing is off, he writes in a mix of upper and lower-case letters. If I had to give his handwriting a name, I'd call it 'Ransom note', because it sort of looks like a mash up of cut-out letters from a magazine. So we're working on that this summer, and it's got me wondering- how important is handwriting in this day and age? The great majority of his classwork is done online, and when he gets to junior high papers and reports will be done in Word. Is cursive useful in a world where we type and text our every thought?

When I was in high school ( I'm old!), some people labored over their handwriting, adding whirls, loops, hearts, etc. Mostly girls. I don't recall knowing a guy who cared about his handwriting. So maybe sloppy handwriting is just a guy thing and I should let it slide? We're working on him signing his name (because someday he might need to sign a check, a contract, post bond for me), but how much will he really be writing in longhand? Thoughts?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Trying To Focus

Sometimes, I think I have an undiagnosed case of ADD. I can't focus on jackshit. I am easily distracted by shiny things, random songs, stupid websites and Real Housewives of New Jersey (team Teresa!). As a result, my life often descends in to complete chaos, and it takes me a while to get back on track, because hey, a shiny thing!

A while back I read a quote attributed to Buddha-

"What you are is what you have been. What you'll be is what you do now."

It took me a while to understand this, but I think I finally get it. Sometimes, we get stuck. We get stuck in our own self-doubt, we get sidetracked by other people's opinions, we feel like our goals are too far out of our grasp. We allow our fear of failure or even of success to keep us from moving forward in our lives. When we get stuck in all of this, it becomes what we are.

As hard as it is, the key to getting un-stuck is to let go of all of the things that are weighing us down. By letting go of our fears, we can open ourselves up to change. This is what I'm working on right now. I'm working on letting go of the doubt, the fear, the worry about what others might think of me.

It seems like I've spent so much of my life worrying about pleasing others and never living up to their expectations, that I've never learned to live up to my own expectations. It's not easy, but I think in the end, it will be worth it.

In other news around the Casa, we have finished our first year of home-schooling. We loved it! Chickenhead did great, and wants to do it again next year. As long as he wants to do it, we will. Chickenhead's 11th birthday is coming up later this month, and I'm steeling myself for the prospect of 8 kids spending the night in my house. I will surely need some Xanax. Maybe some liquor, too.

The husband is doing well, other than his foot. It still hasn't healed completely from the break, and surgery may be a possibility. Let's hope not! He's a difficult patient.

That's about all that's going on around here. Some personal growth and gearing up for a birthday bash. Good times!