If Superintendent Dance’s Goal is Communication, why won’t He Meet with RFCA?

katyjane:

Kullervo’s thoughts on the superintendent’s (lack of) communication with regards to the renovations at the middle school.

Originally posted on Sailing to Byzantium:

The Baltimore County Public Schools’ vision statement, Blueprint 2.0: Our Way Forward, lists “Building Community Through Communication” as one of the top priorities.

communication

Right now, there’s a plan moving forward to bulldoze precious community greenspace in the heart of Rodgers Forge, including the destruction of trees that may be as old as 270 years, in order to move and expand parking lots and create a new bus staging area for Dumbarton Middle School. And here’s the thing: this is all completely unnecessary. There’s just no need for any of it. There’s no parking problem, there’s no traffic problem, there’s no existing safety problem. This is paving for the sake of paving.

This whole plan is a Thneed.

And this isn’t just my opinion; a panel of architects, urban planners, landscape architects, and transportation planners from the community came together to independently evaluate the planned “renovations”…

View original 102 more words

Open Letter to Baltimore County Board of Education

Hi,

Have you driven through Rodgers Forge lately?  My family moved here a year ago because we saw that it is a unique neighborhood.  The rowhomes were built in the 40s, but the trees have been here for longer.  On any given day during the school year, the roads are littered with children and their parents. The green space is filled with shrieks of laughter, kids playing tag, and people walking their dogs.

We know our neighbors’ names.

In a country full of people staying indoors, hidden behind their screens, in the world where I grew up where I had never met my next door neighbors, this is where I want to raise my family.  I have four kids, aged 8, 6, 2, and five months.  I want to send my kids outside to play and know that they are being watched by me, but also by the people who live near me.  I want to watch my daughter, wearing her frilly tutus and fancy shoes, climb trees that have a history.  I want my kids to spend lazy days lying on the grass, watching these trees that have witnessed more American history than many of our states.

We can’t cut these trees down.

I understand that renovating Dumbarton Middle School is important.  The updates look like they will be fantastic.

But the internal renovations can be done without affecting the exterior.  We do not need more concrete, we do not need more pavement.  The kids are just as capable of walking to school under and around the tree canopy as on sidewalk.  Tuning out of a history lesson in middle school while looking out at the history of our neighborhood is so much more inspiring than looking out at yet another parking lot.

It is 2014, for crying out loud.  We are supposed to be beyond this, we are supposed to know better than to destroy property.  We are supposed to care more about our ever-shrinking green space.  We owe our land more than this.

Please don’t cut down the trees.  I beg you.  My children beg you.  They want to grow up surrounded by the majesty and beauty of these trees.  I want them to grow up imagining the stories that the trees would tell if they could talk.  How many kids had their first kiss under one of those trees?  How many skinned knees?  How many dares have those trees seen fulfilled?  How can we destroy those memories and that history?

The opaqueness of BCPS’s plans for what will happen is alarming.  The lack of response from school officials is frustrating.  And the idea that these ancient trees will be cut down to make way for more parking is heartbreaking.

Come up with a better plan.  Baltimore County is filled with great minds who can come up with a plan to work around the trees, who can preserve our tree canopy, who can keep our neighborhood the hidden gem in the suburbs.

Save our trees.  Please, save our trees.

10444330_10152262049231911_1400905315177443411_n

Sincerely,

katyjane

Rodgers Forge resident since 2013

The Itsy Bitsy Duck Farm

Whenever I talk to my sister, she tells me all the sweet songs that my amazing, adorable nephew can sing—you know, typical kid songs (Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, etc).  I realized that the fact that Henry’s repertoire is limited to Britney Spears, many of Kesha’s songs, “Thrift Shop”, and some Brad Paisley isn’t quite as endearing.  So I have determined to sing more playground appropriate songs to Henry.

I started today with Old MacDonald.  I sang a round, and Old MacDonald had some chickens.  For the next verse, I asked Henry to name an animal.  He chose a duck, and with a quack, quack here and there and a rousing E-I-E-I-O, we were ready for the next animal.  Again, I asked Henry to choose the animal.

He chose a duck.  I said, we just did a duck.  Does Old MacDonald have any other animals?

Henry said, “No!  He ONLY HAS DUCKS.”  So we kept singing about the duck farm.  Over and over and over again.

He's going down... he's yelling TIMBER!

He’s going down… he’s yelling TIMBER!… 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Henry was eating his lunch and I sang the Itsy Bitsy Spider to him.  Fitz started fussing, so I picked him up and was dancing him around the kitchen while we sang.  When we went through the song again and I was still holding the baby, I obviously had to change the lyrics.

“The itsy, bitsy Fitzy climbed up the water spout….”

Fitz took a ride up the water spout, fell down (gently) with the rain, and lived to climb another day.

I got baby giggles, toddler cackles, and an arm workout to boot!

The Itsy Bitsy Fitzy...

The Itsy Bitsy Fitzy…

You Don’t Deserve Your Children’s Love

You don’t deserve your children’s love.

Got your attention?

Well, it’s true.  You didn’t do anything super special to get your kids.  You either had sex—which might have even been great sex, but that was its own reward, eh—or you adopted or fostered or something.  And while the paperwork and all of the hoops you have to go through to adopt are incredibly challenging and time consuming, you still didn’t earn your kids.

But you love them.  You love them unconditionally.  (And if you don’t, well, you can just stop reading because this blog post isn’t for you, and also, what’s wrong with you??)  Even when they’re horrible.  Even when they make terrible decisions.  Even when they hurt you.  Even when you don’t like them, and you’re angry and frustrated and tired and they’re annoying, you love them.

So what do I mean that you don’t deserve them?  Well, I think that we take it for granted that when our kids grow up, they will love us and respect us and our relationships with them will evolve into a mature friendship with mutual respect and affection.  I think we take it for granted that our kids’ love for us is unconditional.

It isn’t.

Now, I’m not saying that your kids don’t love you.  They probably do.  If they’re young, they definitely do.  Even abused kids love their parents and it messes those kids up because the relationship is so wonky.

But your unconditional love for your children is not reciprocal.  They love you, but you can mess it up.  The relationship you have with your adult children is wholly dependent on how you show them love and respect while they are young and when they grow up.  You will have a much more challenging time with an adult connection with your kids if they don’t grow up feeling like you are interested in them and respect them.

Think about it–how is your relationship with your parents?  And what do you remember about growing up, and how do those things correlate?

Parents and their children do not have equal footing or a two way relationship.  Kids don’t love their parents unconditionally… but they do love their own kids unconditionally.  And your parents probably loved you unconditionally.

We are all broken people and we all mess up.  Just like I have to regularly ask forgiveness from Kullervo for the days that I’m irritable and cranky, I also have to ask forgiveness from my kids for the same.  Just as it would be totally rude for me to ignore a friend when they’re talking because I’m reading a book or checking my email, it is also rude to do that to my kids.

I’m guilty.  The other day I was reading with Oliver.  Taking time with each kid every day, individually, to read together is something that I think is really important, and I try to hold as sacred time.  But, and I’ll admit that this is absolutely shameful behavior, while I was reading, I got a text.  I checked my phone quickly, and saw that it was important that I answer soon, so I sent back a quick response.

Then I looked for my place in reading to Oliver and realized something horrible.

I had been midsentence when my phone beeped.  And I stopped reading aloud midsentence.  To check my phone.  Seriously.  I’m so embarrassed, but it’s true.  My phone beeped, and I stopped reading in the middle of a sentence to see what someone else was saying to me.  During my time with my son.

In that horrifying moment, so I thought of so many things.  Immediately, there was rationalization—it was an important text!  It only took a second.  There was also the realization that if Oliver had had a phone and checked a text while we were reading, I would have been So. Incredibly. Annoyed.  I would have gotten angry and probably stopped reading to him.  I would have had my feelings hurt that this device was more important than our time together.  I realized that I was subtly telling my kid that external people were more important to me than our time together.  And, perhaps most humiliating of all, I noticed that he didn’t even bat an eye.  Is this normal behavior for me?

I stopped reading.  I turned to Oliver and told him what I had just noticed.  I told him that if he had done that, I’d be furious.  I told him that that wasn’t how I wanted our relationship to be—where I can be disrespectful of his time and of our relationship, where I can abuse my power and he is stuck accepting what I dole out to him.  I apologized.  I silenced my phone and turned it over so I couldn’t see any lights blinking.  And we continued reading.

One day this kid is going to be a teenager, and then a full-fledged adult.  And how he feels about me, and whether he trusts me is going to be based on all of our history together.  I need to preserve that.  I want to have a good relationship with my teenagers.  I want, when I set boundaries for them, for them to understand that the boundaries aren’t arbitrary, but based on our values.  I want them to trust that I can set good boundaries for them because they trust that I see them as whole human beings with feelings and thoughts and value.

I did not show Oliver that he had value that evening.

I love my kids.  I love them so much.  I think they’re cool, they’re funny, and they’re interesting.  I like hanging out with them.  They are these tiny humans who add so much to my life.

And I need to show them that.

Just like I need to constantly work on my relationship with Kullervo, tweaking behavior patterns to soften our edges, regularly checking in to make sure we’re on the same page, and generally being interested in him, I have to do that with my kids.  And I, the parent, need to be initiating that relationship maintenance.  It’s not their job.

My kids do not love me unconditionally.  They don’t know it yet, but they don’t.  If I play my cards right, if I work really hard, maybe they’ll never realize it, or at least not until they have their own kids and realize that the way that I loved them was so much more than they could have conceived of when they were little.  They’ll be able to tell me about it—want to tell me about it, even–because they will still love me and still trust me and know that I not only love them, but I also respect them as the individual people that they are.

I am not entitled to my children’s love, but hopefully I can earn it.

To Homeschool or Not To Homeschool

If you know us, you probably know that we have been considering homeschooling for our kids, on and off, for about as long as our kids have been in school.  It’s an incredibly complex decision, and not for the reasons that I would have guessed.

Here’s the thing.  We have special needs kids.  They aren’t delayed and they don’t have any of the other issues or problems that people assume when they hear the words ‘special needs’.  But, all the same, they have special needs that a school is going to be hard pressed to meet.  Oliver and Hazel are off-the-charts smart.  Both were reading at age 3; Hazel is in kindergarten and reads on at least a second grade level.  Oliver is in second grade and reads on at least a sixth or seventh grade level.  Oliver intuitively understands mathematical concepts and remembers everything he reads.  Hazel’s writing skills and attention to detail are incredible, considering her age, and her spatial skills are probably better than mine. Continue reading

Helicopters, Freedom, Broken Bones, and Risks

So, I read this article (op ed?) in The Atlantic.  You should read it too, especially if you have kids, even more so if you tend towards being hypervigilant about what they do, when, and with whom.

Oh the guilt!  The guilt!  There’s the actual guilt, the guilt you assume you should feel, the observational guilt, and all sorts of other guilty feelings.  There’s so much guilt that guilt starts to sound like a dumb word.

These are a few of the things that I regularly feel some measure of guilt about:

  •          Not spending enough time with my kids
  •          Spending so much time with my kids that they don’t know how to play on their own
  •          Being nervous when they want to do risky things at the playground
  •          Going camping with them, telling them to go explore and get dirty and do whatever, and have them look blankly at me              like I’ve told them to go walk on the moon
  •          Not enough activities
  •          Too many structured activities
  •          Letting them out of my sight
  •          Not letting them out of my sight

Seriously.  I can drive myself batty going around and around and around with these issues.

I remember being an elementary schooler, walking to the school bus stop alone (a little more than a quarter mile away, if I remember right), and waiting for the bus with a handful of boys (they were all boys!).  I remember snowball fights.  I remember them teaching me to play hockey (sort of).  I remember one boy getting seriously injured because of a snowball (ice) fight.

I remember learning to roller blade with those boys, and going too fast down a really steep hill, and having to hobble home, legs scraped clean of skin.

I remember taking my dog for walks, all alone, to meet the boy I had a crush on so he and I could walk around the neighborhood together.

I remember being in middle school and biking for miles and miles with my best friend.  Her brother’s bike had a radio, and we would listen to music while we biked everywhere.  The library, the school, around her neighborhood.

I remember walking through the woods and getting lost.  I also remember finding shortcuts to the nearby shopping center, and walking to the stores all alone.

I felt so grown up.  I felt like I was taking risks, but I also felt confident about my ability to take on those risks.

I participated in organized sports.  I remember family game nights.  But I spent a lot of time alone as a kid.  And it was okay.

In fact, the times that I actually had the worst, most traumatic experiences of my childhood were actually when I was being supervised by “trusted” adults.

But yet, all of that said, I can’t fathom the idea of letting my kids walk to school alone.  Or go outside and explore the neighborhood unsupervised.  Or walk to a store alone.  Or even run far enough ahead on the walk home that I can’t see them.

Part of that is their ages, I’m sure.  Oliver just turned eight.  Hazel is six.  I think (hope) it’s natural to be more hesitant with your oldest child.  Part of it is that I really like walking to school to pick them up, and I really like hanging out with my kids.  I’m trying to give them more freedom to experience “danger”—Oliver gets to use sharp knives at dinner, not just butter knives.  And I let him help me cut vegetables.  I let Hazel cross the street unsupervised (I was feeding the baby—I didn’t even watch her out the window!).  I sometimes let Oliver stay in the car when I’m running errands (I hope that’s legal).

So, why is our entire society so bent on keeping kids carefully under wraps?  I mean, obviously part of it is fear driven—in our age of the 24 hour news cycle, one Horrible Thing happening to one child affects all of us for days or weeks at a time.  It feels more prevalent than it is.  It’s still a Horrible Thing, but one Horrible Thing happening to someone else, somewhere else makes us hug our children so tightly that they can’t breathe, and we don’t realize that our children are more likely to suffocate than suffer from said Horrible Thing.

I wonder if part of it is also control.  We can’t control if our kid gets cancer, or is the loser at school who gets picked on.  We can’t control if they will be autistic, or bad at sports, or if they will experience Horrible Thing.  But we take on the illusion of control by not letting them out of sight.  By keeping them close.  By making sure their activities are monitored at all times.  By not letting them lose.  We can keep them from having their feelings hurt, their bones and hearts broken, and ever having to deal with whatever it was that made our own childhood insufferable.

Except, of course, we can’t control all those things.  And at what cost do we keep the others under control?

Kullervo and I were heartbroken (me) and furious (Kullervo) when we took the kids camping and while we (Kullervo) set up camp, we told the kids to go explore the campsite.  Find bugs.  Dig a hole.  Have an adventure.

They didn’t know how.

WHAT HAVE WE DONE????

I don’t worry too much about my kids getting hurt, honestly.  The thing that makes me cringe is fingers getting squashed in doors, but that’s small and just as likely to happen regardless of supervision.  I have a fear of falling, so when Henry climbs really high on a playground, it makes my stomach lurch.  My stomach reacts that way to circus performers on the high wire, too, I might add.  I try not to let it affect my kids—I try really hard to look away and let them take those risks.  (Although thinking about that makes me also fear the judgmental looks from other people should my kids fall off the playground equipment.)

So, aside from fear and control, there is the other issue—why do we think we should spend all of our time with our kids?  There’s the guilt factor.  Obviously, we should want to spend all our spare time with our kids, right?  But why do we think that?  I don’t want to spend all of my time with anybody—I’m an introvert and really want to put my head in the sand and avoid all y’all folks and hope you go away and leave me alone.

My kids are fantastic.  I love spending time with them.  I love hearing their ideas—they’re smart and funny and creative and silly, and they help me be smart and funny and creative and silly too.  I love playing games and reading with them.  I love going on hikes and yelling at them to ENJOY NATURE DAMMIT.  And their school day is SO LONG, and their bedtime is SO EARLY, so I actually don’t get a lot of time to just BE with my kids.  We certainly can’t do all the things together that I want to do.  But I also can’t be on all day long.

And they’re still kids—which means that a lot of the things they want to do aren’t interesting and a lot of their jokes aren’t funny (to grown ups).  Cases in point—Hazel just told me two new jokes today:

Knock Knock!

Who’s there?

Daddy!

Daddy who?

Get me a beer.

 

Knock Knock!

Who’s there?

Interrupting table!
Interrupting table who?

EAT YOUR DINNER.

Not funny.  At all.  But yet Oliver and Hazel are currently in our basement cracking each other up with their horrible jokes.  Kids need other kids around because kids get that stuff.  And they need time away from adults to be able to explore all of the horrible jokes they want without annoying anybody.

I’ve also noticed how much my kids gain from me severely restricting screen time.  They had a half day of school today, and came home and immediately wanted to watch television.  I said no.  They wanted to use the iPad.  I said no.  I said they were being too loud (Henry had just gone down to nap), so I sent them to the basement.  They played truth or dare.  They told unfunny jokes.  Now they are playing pretend.  All of which they would have missed out on if they had had the television on.  I’ve watched them take their boredom and turn it into creativity.  I’ve seen them build towers of milk crates (and climb them, and fall down).  I’ve seen them come up with weird games to play in the car on long drives because they don’t have a television in the car.

I want my kids to be kids.  I want to hang out with them, I want to spend time with them, teach them what they need to learn.  But perhaps I need to remember—perhaps we all need to remember—that part of teaching kids, part of raising them, is giving them opportunity to fail and opportunity to take risks and mess up.  It’s certainly easier to help them learn to make good decisions when they’re younger than when they are older and are taking on riskier behavior.  If they are confident that they can take risks, if they know that they can make good decisions without parental supervision, maybe when they are being offered cigarettes or drugs or alcohol, or pressured to have sex, they’ll be able to say no because they will know their limits and they won’t need to take those risks in order to feel like they are more grown up.  Maybe the high they get from living their lives fully will outweigh the high they would get from using drugs.

So, all that said, what do I do to implement this?  There are definitely downsides to kids playing unsupervised—oftentimes, other people’s kids are rotten.  Or is a moderate level of unchecked bullying okay, because it helps our kids develop a thicker skin?  Is the social hierarchy of unsupervised kids harmful, or does it teach kids negotiation skills, political skills, and other skills that (sorry to say it) will be necessary in the work environment when they get older?  And with other parents helicoptering their kids constantly, is it possible to avoid the guilt of giving my kids more freedom (obviously they love their kids more than I do because otherwise I would want to be with them all the time, right?)?  And the guilt of being afraid of the judgment of said parents?

How much freedom do you give your kids?  When do you start giving them more freedom, and what freedoms do you allow?

She Tried To Take The Leash

I think I missed an opportunity to experience something beautiful today.  Why?  Because I’m prideful and insecure.

With five inches of snow yesterday, school was canceled and today there was a two hour delayed start.  Since we’ve had the baby, Kullervo has been taking the kids to school in the morning, with a two hour delay, the responsibility fell on me.  The kids were ready for school, and with snow and ice and salt all over the sidewalks, it seemed obvious to me that babywearing an infant and pushing a reluctantly riding toddler in the stroller was not enough while taking the other two to school.  Clearly, I needed to bring the dog along.

There is a method to my madness-with this terrible weather and the snow and the ice and the salt, I haven’t been walking Dally like I was before the baby came.  It’s been too icy for Kullervo to take her running at night, because it’s even harder to avoid ice in the dark.  Also, he’s been crazy busy at work (if he still exists; I don’t know that I’ve seen him enough recently to be certain that he isn’t just a hologram or a wonderful dream that’s going to fade away).

So, this morning I put the dog into her face harness.  I have multiple harnesses and collars for walking her; my ideal would be for her to just naturally walk on a loose leash… her ideal would be to RUN! RUN! RUN ALL THE TIME!  I have a pinch collar that I’ve been training her with, and a face collar that annoys her to the point that she won’t pull.  Snow, ice, salt, baby, and toddler and all, I figured today wasn’t the day to train her, but get her some exercise.

So we walked to school.  The sidewalks were thankfully not too bad on the main road—in fact, they were perhaps oversalted in front of the schools.  I mentioned to the kids that we should have brought a brush and dustpan because there is a salt shortage in the stores, and our sidewalk is relatively treacherous.  (Sorry, neighbors.)

I kissed the Bigs and they held hands and trudged into school, stopping to pick up some clean snow to eat on their way inside. I convinced Henry to climb back into the stroller and turned around to head home.  I started walking home when Fitz’s hat fell off, into some slush.  No big deal, right?  I retrieved it, shook it out, and then attempted to put it back on his head.  But with my mittens on, I couldn’t get a good grip.  No big deal, right?  I just had to take my mittens off.

In order to take off my mittens, I had to unwind the dog leash from my hand.

As soon as I gave Dally some slack, she started edging away.

Henry decided it was time to stand up in the stroller and lean backwards, causing the stroller to begin to tip over.

So, I had a hatless infant, a struggling dog, a tipping toddler, and mittens tangled up in the leash.

I just needed a minute to sort everything back out.  To pull Dally back and get her to sit so I could re-mitten.  To instruct Henry to sit back down and make sure the stroller was steady.  To secure Fitz’s hat and put my mittens back on.  I could totally do it, it just needed some juggling.

A woman approached me from behind, and attempted to take the leash.  In the moment, I was confused.  I resisted.  I said I was fine.  She, wordlessly, attempted to hold onto the stroller.  I resisted. I said no thanks.  I sorted myself out quickly, and walked on.

I have seen this woman before.  In fact, to be honest, and to my current shame, I haven’t had the kindest of feelings about her.  She’s an older Asian woman who picks up her kindergarten grandson from school when I am picking up Hazel.  I see her regularly.  She doesn’t speak English.  And I have been certain that she has thought nasty things about me because she has fussed over me when I’ve had Fitz at school pickup—attempting to help cover him up with a scarf, etc.

I have assumed that she has been judging me, thinking that I’m incompetent or that I shouldn’t have a new baby out of the house or that I’m doing everything wrong.

As I was walking home this morning, though, I was imagining what it would have been like if I had allowed her to hold onto the dog, or push the stroller, and we had walked together.  I was thinking about how uncomfortable I would feel, walking with someone I couldn’t speak with.  I’m an awkward enough conversationalist that when you throw in a foreign language I’m pretty much dead on arrival.  But, then I started wondering what if I had let her anyway.  What if I had let a stranger help me shoulder the load?

I realized that the unkind thoughts I’ve had about her, and the assumptions I’ve made that she is judging me are all me and my own insecurities.  She hasn’t said anything—she doesn’t speak my language.  The actions that she has taken, that I assumed were assertive and presumptive—what if they were an older woman reaching out to a younger woman to help?  What if they were the acknowledgement of the challenges of juggling multiple children and responsibilities, and an attempt to lighten the burden?

I don’t let people help me.  I don’t ask for help, and I am very resistant to accepting it.  I like that about myself, but it has a flip side.  I am lucky because I have good, wonderful people in my life, and I’ve had good friends basically smack me over the head and help me over my protestations.  One friend once said, “I know you don’t need help. I know you can do it all on your own.  But I am going to help you anyway.”

I’m always surprised when people show up for me.  When people are willing to go out of their way for me.  Like, sobbing into my pillow at night surprised.  It’s clearly something broken inside of me that makes it so hard for me to accept it.  Something that, for all of my independence and can-do-it-all-by-myselfishness, I need to fix.

I might have missed an opportunity today.  I might have spent the rest of this year walking in companionable silence with an older woman from another country, someone who was gracious enough to try to help someone clearly juggling too many things.  Someone who was willing to put herself out there for someone else even though she couldn’t communicate her intentions verbally in a way that I could understand.  I might have gotten to know her over time, gotten to understand her, gotten to learn from her.

But because I’m too prideful to accept help, and because I’m too insecure to realize that people who offer help aren’t offering it because they are critical of how incompetent I am, I didn’t.  Because of that, I might have missed out on something beautiful.  At the very least, I certainly missed an opportunity to let someone else lighten my load this morning.

Now, in writing this, I see obvious tie ins here to Jesus Christ and to my Christianity and my willingness (or reluctance?) to accept His sacrifice for me.  I’ll leave that alone for now, and spend some time on my knees working on that.