Common Core – The Standards

I think that anytime there is an implementation of a sweeping new policy or procedure, in most any walk of life, it is met with suspicion.  This could just be now (we have all been burned before—post 9/11 weapons of mass destruction, I’m lookin’ at you), or maybe it’s always been the case.  In any case, change is scary.

So, when it comes to the Common Core Standards, I think there are multiple things that need to be addressed, and need to be addressed separately.  It’s so easy to get overwhelmed with information, from the ZOMG-BIG-BROTHER-IS-LEGISLATING-A-CRAZY-NEW-CURRICULUM-AND-ALL-OUR-KIDS-WILL-DIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!! to ZOMG-LIKE-THIS-IS-THE-BEST-NEW-IDEA-LIKE-EVER!!!!!!!!!!  There are plenty of terrifying YouTube videos showing kids telling their parents all about how dumb the curriculum looks to blog posts filled with conspiracy theories to propaganda.  For the record, we have always been at war with Eurasia.

I think that the main issues that need to be examined include, first and foremost, whether or not the standards are any good.  If the standards themselves suck, well, I guess OUR-KIDS-WILL-ALL-DIE, no further examination needed.  Second, if the standards are alright, what’s the deal with the implementation?  Is this another case of widespread new education policy that isn’t funded and does more harm than good (No Child Left Behind, I’m lookin’ at you)?  And the implementation issue is a big one—there is a lot to unpack there.  What resources do teachers have?  How much training on the new resources do they have?  What kinds of assessments are going to be used?  How much information, source materials, and curriculum understanding do teachers have going into this?  What happens to the kids who are most of the way through their education and don’t yet meet these standards?  And other questions that exist that I haven’t thought of yet (if you have any you’d like me to think about, post in the comments!)

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  This is probably a total straw man, but is there something wrong with our public education system in the first place?  The answer seems obvious to me—um, yes—and I think that most Americans would agree with me.  Public education, and who attends for how long, has grown faster than we could keep up with it.  It wasn’t that long ago that many people didn’t progress beyond elementary or middle schools—and didn’t need to.  Nowadays, we have a huge push for everyone to go to college that I think is unnecessary considering that most jobs these days shouldn’t require a college level education.  But, that’s a different thought process for a different day.  Along with the huge growth of public education in our country, we have the added problem of education being a convenient political football to be tossed back and forth by politicians without education know-how.  While the politicians huddle up and smack each other’s bums, children and teachers take all the hits as education reform swings its pendulum in various directions.  Mixed metaphors aside, we have a really complicated history of fixing education problems in the United States with bandaids placed in where there is the most blood (regardless of whether that’s where the bleeding is coming from).  In a lot of ways, it seems like the easiest solution would be to scrap the whole danged thing and start fresh.  Of course, how you scrap something that affects oh, 80 million kids or so, is too complicated.

I would argue that we do need nationwide standards.  I would also argue that how those standards are implemented should be done by the states, not federally.  I would also argue that the federal government takes too much of our taxes, which means that states who need more funding for education have a hard time getting it, because you can only tax people so much, and how much money the states get is a political matter, complete with more bum smacking, huddles, and pork.  (I would also argue a very unpopular raising of the Social Security and Medicare ages, and a phasing out of benefits if your income in your old age is higher than a threshold amount, but that’s unrelated to this, except inasmuch as the amounts we spend on one area in government are amounts we can’t spend on others.)

Universal standards across the nation are good, I think, based on my earlier blog posts.  And I don’t think that having these standards precludes states from taking them above and beyond if they are capable (which is an argument that I’ve heard—that some states have to become ‘dumber’ to implement these standards—if that is the case, then the states are doing something right (yay for smart kids!) and something wrong (it really doesn’t make sense that they’d have to teach kids less if the kids are already understanding these standards… First of all, you could teach them the next “grade level” material.  Or, take them deeper into subject material.  Your students already know alliteration?  Great.  Read more poetry.  Talk about more literary elements that go into these poems.  Have them write alliterative poems.  Talk about assonance.  And that’s just on the surface of the standards.  In other words, I call bullshit on that, with a small caveat*.)

*Caveat: For the first few years of common core implementation, as states are working out the kinks in their curriculums and in figuring out how assessments will be administered and what will be focused on, it’s possible teachers would worry that they might muddy the waters or focus on the wrong things.  That’s a time problem, and an implementation problem.  Not a long term problem.

I think universal standards are appropriate.  I admittedly did not read all of them (there are math and language arts standards for all grades, and I really focused my time on the kindergarten standards and the second grade standards; the grades of my children), but they are not overly specific.  I think that is also appropriate—states can interpret them and fine tune them.  I also found them to be specific enough to convey the concepts that should be learned at each grade level.

First I looked at the kindergarten math standards.  (If you want to read along, you can find them here.  While reading them over, I considered whether these are standards that I think it is fair to assume that Hazel should learn this year.  Hazel and Oliver may not be the best benchmarkers for the standards in general, because they are ridiculously smart and engaged kids (obviously thanks to their awesome mom and dad), but they’re the kids I have, and the kids I’m mainly concerned about (although I’m sure yours are just lovely).

My lovelies with Kullervo.  Just kidding, that's Rodger, the school mascot.

My lovelies with Kullervo. Just kidding, that’s Rodger, the school mascot.

In math, kindergarteners are supposed to learn to count to one hundred by ones and by tens, to understand greater than and less than, perform addition and subtraction problems within ten, using manipulatives to understand and demonstrate the problems, memorize math facts up to five, begin understanding place value for the ones and tens digits, begin measuring things and understanding measurable attributes (length, width, height), and learn shapes and their names, and relative positioning of objects (above, beside, and other prepositions from the Schoolhouse Rock song).

Personally, I think those math standards are very appropriate for kindergarten.  I would have a hard time finding something to argue with—Hazel can already count to 100, can do basic addition and subtraction on her fingers (manipulatives for sure).  She knows shapes (although maybe not their three-dimensional names), and can always tell me who she sat beside and across from at lunch (obviously the most important part of a social butterfly’s day).

My favorite butterfly

My favorite butterfly

In fact, I would have a hard time imagining that these math standards are a huge departure from what kindergarteners were already learning.  I want kindergarteners to be playing with blocks (and learning their shapes and relative positioning in doing so), to be experimenting with measuring tapes (goodness knows they are really quick to steal all of my knitting measuring tapes to “measure” all sorts of inane things as well as to taunt the cats), and to be able to count to one hundred.  Hazel and Oliver’s preschool classes were practicing counting to one hundred by all standing up and hollering numbers (or maybe that’s just what it sounds like when 20 three and four year olds are counting in unison…).  Any kindergartener with a sibling understands more and less (“you gave him more juice than you gave to me!”)… actually, I think we should be teaching volume to kindergarteners and showing them that different widths of glasses might look like more or less juice, but I seriously am not a rookie who doesn’t measure out your damned juice.  Maybe if we taught that skill earlier, kids would be less annoying.  Just sayin’…

In second grade, kids are expected to be thinking algebraically and being able to solve one and two step addition and subtraction word problems within 100.  They should be able to mentally figure out addition and subtraction problems within twenty, and have memorized single digit addition.  That’s good.  I never fully memorized what 7 + 5 is (really), or 8 + 6.  It’s really annoying to have to think that out and not just know.  12.  14.  12.  14.  Maybe while Oliver learns his, I’ll work on learning the ones I’m missing.  It’s dreadful when your kid is smarter than you, and this child already knows more about history than I do.  I will be better at math.  Dammit.  7 + 5 =12.  12.  12.

Seriously.  I need to be better at math than he is.

Seriously. I need to be better at math than he is.

Second graders should also be able to figure out odd and even, and start baseline conceptual learning for multiplication by using equal groups and addition.  That standard wasn’t written as clearly as I would have liked, mostly because the word ‘rectangle’ reminds me that I never learned anything in geometry other than triangles.  But, I think this one means they are using addition and pictures or manipulatives to see how multiplication works.  Second graders also should know place value up to 1000, count by 1s, 5s, 10s, and 100s (can you imagine being the student teacher stuck testing kids on whether they can count to 1000?), read and write numerals and number names for numbers up to 1000, and compare using the greater than, less than, and equal to symbols.  (The alligator is going to eat the bigger number first, y’all. Every time.)  There are also various adding and subtracting standards that are meant to illustrate understanding of place value, and being able to explain why the strategies work.

Second grade math also includes more measuring standards (length, width, and height… not volume.  I want them to learn volume!  Come on, people!  They should learn how to tell the time to the nearest five minutes using digital and analog clocks and do simple math problems with money.  This is definitely age appropriate, and something Oliver hasn’t mastered.  He’s actually learning it in school right now, but the trouble is that his homework is on paper, so he gets confused about which coin is which.  Money manipulatives in the classroom would probably go a long way with this.  Money manipulatives at home (like, change), would also probably be helpful.  I’ll tell him to dig in the couch cushions for some.

The geometry standards also seem reasonable to me.  My fear of geometry and the worry that people might ask me to draw a hexagon (I’m unreasonably bad at drawing) aside, I don’t think that the geometry standards are too different from what kids were already learning in second grade (or even earlier in some instances).

Something interesting about the math standards is that throughout the elementary and middle school standards, it specifies using base 10.  Now, I never learned anything other than base 10 in school, so I wonder if other kids do, and if that is something that will now be taught.  I think other-than-base-10 is sort of a cool mental exercise, like learning a foreign language when you realize all the grammar rules you use all the time but always took for granted.

Now, for English and Language Arts, I won’t go into as much detail (mostly because I’m beginning to bore myself and I don’t think these standards can be that funny.  Or, at least, I can’t make them funny.)  Also, looking into the standards with my own children in mind isn’t really fair.  Kindergarteners are supposed to, by the end of the year, read words like rat and pot and other three letter words.  Hazel reads chapter books, and when she reads out loud, she reads with appropriate inflection and understanding of the storyline.  And, Oliver is so beyond his grade level in language arts that I’ve made things like his spelling list activities into logic problems for him to solve (along with learning appropriate spelling) just to keep his interest.  (If you’re wondering, if you’re still even reading, he can choose from a list of spelling activities, and one of them is to create his own.  Well, he creates his own “crosswords”, where he writes out his words but has them overlap crossword style.  It’s harder to do than you might think!)

That said, I did read the standards for kindergarten and second grade, and I think that they are all appropriate, and again, probably not a huge departure from what teachers were already teaching.  I know in Chicago, the goal was that by the end of kindergarten, all children would be reading.  That isn’t a Common Core Standard until the end of first grade.

So, my initial assessment of the actual standards themselves is a good one.  I think the standards for my kids’ grades are appropriate.  I haven’t read through all of the standards for all of the grades.  But I do want to take the time to read the 12th grade standards.  What do we expect kids to ultimately come out of high school knowing?

Because this is unreasonably long with not nearly enough cute pictures of my children, I will break for now and come back to talk about implementation and the other issues surrounding the Common Core Standards.  Because, again—I think it’s important to separate the different issues arising from these new standards.  Like all big sweeping policies, it’s easy to just decide to hate it or to love it, but most of them have good and bad points (even if you hate ObamaCare, you probably are pleased you aren’t paying copays for well-doctor visits, because insurance covering preventative care for everyone makes sense, for all parties involved).

Cute kids

Cute kids

So, there will be more blogging about this.  I might intersperse it with some other blog posts I’ve been wanting to write, but there will be more blogging about Common Core.  I apologize in advance.

Oh, and for the record, we have always been at war with Eastasia.

Gratuitous photo, completely unrelated to this post at all

Gratuitous photo, completely unrelated to this post at all

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Common Core Standards – Why This Matters To Me

I posted before about my experiences moving around as an elementary and high school student, and the major differences in curriculum and levels of education at my various schools.  I forgot to write about the experience that we had last year.  Oliver attended three different schools in first grade.  We moved once across the country, to the great state of Maryland, and once within the same county.  All of the schools that Oliver attended were rated highly on greatschools.org (the Chicago school is rated a 9 out of 10, the first Maryland school gets an 8, and the second Maryland school, our current elementary school, scores a 10 out of 10).

As this is more current than my experiences, I think it’s worth bringing up.  Oliver attended a year of preschool, kindergarten and half of first grade at our Chicago school.  It was a Literature and Writing, and Technology magnet school in Chicago.  The schoolteachers and administrators wrote their own curriculum, and we had a generally very positive experience there.  Oliver had some fantastic teachers.

Oliver isn’t your typical kid, you see.  He began reading at age three.  At four he was reading chapter books with help; at five he was devouring them so quickly that finding age appropriate, level appropriate reading material was a huge challenge.  He intuitively understands mathematical concepts, and is fascinated by all things science.  Sometimes I cook with the kids, and I work on math skills with them while we do it.  I’ll present Oliver with a question like, “Oliver, this pizza crust recipe calls for two and a half cups of flour.  We are doubling the recipe.  I am using a half cup measure.  How many half cups of flour do we need?” With barely a pause, he’ll respond with ten, and be able to explain to me how he arrived at his answer.  (I guess, maybe that’s normal, but it seems pretty danged impressive to me.)

With that in mind, Oliver’s education has always been at the forefront of my mind, and I can be a bit of a rabid dog about it with his teachers.  I have very little tolerance for him being bored in school, and I feel very strongly that he is a special needs kid, but the kind of special needs kid that can easily be ignored because he’s fairly easygoing, and is smart and engaging.

In Chicago, the curriculum was set up in such a way that the teachers were able to do differentiated learning.  In kindergarten, Oliver’s teacher actually had individual time with Oliver almost daily, because he was in his own learning group.  He was able to pull work out of Oliver that wouldn’t have happened otherwise, and keep his spark for learning going.  He provided Oliver with a set of learning bones and scaffolding that I think have been instrumental in getting Oliver through all of the transitions in first grade (and getting me through them as well).  His first grade teacher was able to engage him in other ways through technology (which I didn’t love, but he did) and more differentiated learning.

Oliver’s second school in first grade, our first school in Maryland, didn’t go as well.  Although the class size was almost half as big (19 kids versus the 34 in Chicago), the teacher didn’t know what to do with a kid like Oliver.  At one point, she said to me that she had six kids in the class who needed IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) that she had to do all the documentation for, and who were really disruptive, and she just wasn’t able to do much to help Oliver.  He cried every day before school, and I literally had to push him onto the school bus.  He came home with worksheets that were unreasonably easy, and the teacher took a month to test his reading level and insisted that he stay in the lowest level until she did so… even though she had documentation and letters from his Chicago school that should have assisted her in placing him.  When we met with the principal, the best solution they could come up with was to have Oliver skip a grade, which Kullervo and I decided wasn’t appropriate, because, as lovely and wonderful as Oliver is, he is not necessarily socially advanced.  And, on top of that, he was a first grader reading at a fifth grade level and doing math and science at least at a third grade level… being the youngest, smartest kid with a tendency to be a know-it-all doesn’t bode well for a kid.  I was very close to pulling him out and homeschooling him, but for the fact that we bought a house and moved to a new school.

Oliver’s final school for first grade was much better.  It was the end of the school year—he only spent three weeks there before summer break—but his teacher engaged him with creative thinking and projects that the class all enjoyed.

And it isn’t limited to Oliver.  While Hazel is a completely different style of learner, she is just as gifted as Oliver.  She, too, in kindergarten is reading chapter books (her first show and tell item in her class was the copy of Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew, which was the first chapter book that she read independently to herself.  Her needs are different from Oliver’s–she is a lot more like I was as a smart kid in school, wherein she is more interested in the socializing and doesn’t mind if the work is easy–but that means that she can also easily get looked over in terms of pushing her academically.  She attended preschool in Chicago before she had a gap in schooling when we moved to Maryland before starting kindergarten this fall.

So, all of that to say that the levels of education that kids get vary widely across this country, even within a county in a state.  Also, as I look into the common core standards, I am doing so selfishly.  My kids have special needs that should be, and need to be, met.  I have the luxury of being able to homeschool them if we determine that will be the best option for them.  I am less interested in the macro-effects of the common core standards than I am in the micro-effects, specifically regarding how these standards will affect my children and their education and opportunities for the future.  Not that I am not thinking or considering larger picture issues, but my focus is mainly on my family.

Common Core Standards – The Beginnings of an Opinion

If you are a parent of a child in school, and if you don’t live in Alaska, Virginia, Texas, Minnesota, or Nebraska, and if you don’t live with your head under a rock, you have probably heard of the new Common Core Standards that states are being forced encouraged to adopt, with the dangling carrot of federal funding.  There is a ton of uproar about it.

Maryland is implementing the English and Math Common Core standards this year.  And because there is such a hoopla about it, I thought maybe I should get an opinion.

My gut reaction to common standards in place throughout the United States is a positive one.  I moved to the United States right before I started second grade.  I spent second grade at an elementary school in Georgia.  Right before third grade, we moved to New Jersey.  We stayed there awhile—we left halfway through my ninth grade year, to Florida.  I finished high school in Florida and moved to Tennessee for college, and then finished up my bachelor’s back down in Florida.

Two of my kids started elementary school in Illinois.  Now we live in Maryland.  The plan is to stay here for the foreseeable future, and we actually put down roots (read: bought a house), so we can’t just gypsy away in the night, even on the days when we want to.

I don’t think my story is particularly unique.  As our job market changes, as people remain less loyal to companies that are showing no loyalty to them, people move.  Crossing state lines is easy—there are not security checkpoints to make sure you “belong” (well, maybe in Texas…), you don’t need to show your passport, and the Full Faith and Credit Clause means that you’re still married when you move, even if your new state doesn’t like it.

Moving from Canada to the United States and beginning the second grade was traumatic.  Less educationally and more that I didn’t know the appropriate lingo to tell people not to cut me in line.  Also, I may have still had traces of the English accent I started with (thanks, Mom and Dad!) and the Canadian accent I probably developed in kindergarten and first grade (O Canada!).  While having an accent as a grown up can be cool, it turns out that in elementary school it just makes you different.

The move that was the most challenging for me growing up was definitely the move in high school.  My school in New Jersey was stellar.  I was in an honors English class and spent the first half of the school year studying Shakespeare and writing college-level essays analyzing his works.

We moved to Florida in December, and I started at my new school in Florida in January.  Aside from the social awfulness of moving during my freshman year of high school (of which I could write an angsty teenage novel, I’m sure), I all of a sudden was in a new learning environment.  I was put into an honors English class in Florida.  My first day of school, the teacher gave me a seat, told me to sit down, and said that I could do whatever I wanted as long as I didn’t bother her.  I’m fairly driven, and I really like English, so I looked through the syllabus and saw that I was going to have to read a book from the list and write about it (I don’t remember the parameters).  So, I chose The Scarlett Letter, and quickly finished it and wrote something that was probably brilliant.  Or, at least, as brilliant as a 14 year old can write about issues that she doesn’t understand when the teacher isn’t helping to draw out the ideas and the literary techniques that she should be thinking about.  I got a C.  No feedback.  No rewrites.  No meetings with the teacher to understand it.  I never turned in another assignment.  I got a C in the class.

I also started in French.  I learned some in Canada, promptly forgot it when I came to the U.S., and began taking it again in middle school in New Jersey.  When I moved to Florida, I spoke French better than my teacher.  She didn’t like that, and tried to fail me because I hadn’t turned in an assignment that had been given before the holiday and that I wasn’t aware of.  She also accused me of cheating because when she gave me the midterm along with everyone else, to see how my French was, I got a perfect score.

In New Jersey, I had been taking a World History class.  That was a junior level class at my new school.  There weren’t enough chairs, and the teacher didn’t bother to ever find me one.  My first day in class I sat on a stool in the front of the room.  Then some girls took pity on me and I sat with them for the rest of the year.  Aside from one group assignment to do a presentation of some kind, we mostly sat in class with BET or MTV on the class television while the students gossiped.  I wish I was exaggerating.

Interestingly, in my Geometry class (also an upper level class in Florida), the two schools used the same textbook.  Unfortunately for me, in New Jersey, we had started at the beginning and were going through the book.  In Florida, they had started about halfway through the book, beginning with materials that were tested on the High School Competency standardized test that you had to pass to graduate high school.  When I arrived, they started back at the beginning.  So, I learned all about triangles, twice.  I never learned whatever came next.

So, basically, my experience with moving across state lines during my education was not pleasant.  Educationally, I was not challenged when we left New Jersey.  It was hard to adjust to the new curriculums and expectations, and a much slower and less vigorous learning pace.  Don’t get me wrong—I did have some fantastic teachers in Florida, and I switched from learning French to Spanish, and made some amazing friends.

But having such different educational standards doesn’t necessarily make sense as our country’s borders become more fluid.  Most people who were going to college in Florida were likely to go to one of the Florida schools.  It makes sense—Florida offered scholarships and grants to their high school grads (which I took advantage of when we moved back to Florida to finish our degrees).  I think a lot of states have similar programs, and as college gets more expensive, those programs are going to become more critical.

That said, what if I had done the opposite—what if I had moved from my Florida school to my New Jersey school?  I probably would have taken at least another year to graduate, simply because the pace of education was more relaxed and less vigorous and I would have had to ramp up, and perhaps take more basic skills classes to get on track.  Additionally, how is it acceptable that some kids are learning all of these valuable skills in one state, but in another, they are left behind (political reference intended)?

So, all that to say that I think that there is value to having a common set of standards that are used across the states to teach the skills that really really really every kid should know, or if they don’t, should not be able to graduate from high school.  Really.  And in case four ‘really’s weren’t enough, REALLY.

Next up:  Are the standards good standards?  And is the implementation of these standards going well?

Stay tuned, and hopefully I’ll get around to writing another blog post.

Why a Third Kid is Awesome

Hank the Tank is the third of my 3.5 amazing kids.  He’s rapidly approaching and achieving new milestones—terrible twos!  Big brotherhood! First sentences!—and along with all of the challenges of having a toddler in the house come all the delights.

Hank, lying on the kitchen table.  You know, because that's a place to lie down.

Hank, lying on the kitchen table. You know, because that’s a place to lie down.

Right now, my absolute favorite thing about Hank is that I’m able to appreciate him in a way that I didn’t or couldn’t the first two.  When Oliver was his age, I was eight months pregnant with Hazel, working some crazy hours, and had never gone through it before.  And I feel like every stage of kids is a stage that you worry will Never. Ever. End.  And you’re so worried that it will Never. Ever. End. that you really can’t appreciate all the joy it brings.  When your baby isn’t sleeping, like, ever, you are fairly certain that you will never get a night’s sleep again and you curse yourself for all the mornings before kids that you decided to get out of bed at all.

"Oooooooh!"

“Oooooooh!”

Altogether now!  Ooooooh!

Altogether now! Ooooooh!

Of course, strangers like to stop us (or maybe it’s just me; strangers generally really like to give me unsolicited advice) while we’re going through it and tell us that it doesn’t last, and to enjoy it, and to stop and smell the dirty diapers, because one day you’ll miss them.  (Word to the wise: you will not miss diapers.  I do not ever miss changing Oliver or Hazel’s diapers, or regularly needing to assist them in the post-bathroom clean-up after potty training.)  And I knew when Oliver and Hazel were young that I’d miss those days—the chubby fingers stuck so far up their noses that you wonder if they’re trying to activate parts of their brain, the endless stream of “No!”, the fact that they don’t want to ride in the stroller, but will only walk just far enough to make it impractical to go back and get the stroller before they won’t walk anymore, and then think you should carry them.  I knew I would miss them.  But I was busy.  And I was tired.  And I was in a hurry.

"I know we're on our way to pick the others up from school, but I'm done walking."

“I know we’re on our way to pick the others up from school, but I’m done walking.”

"Well, what if I sit here?  I found my pockets!"

“Well, what if I sit here? I found my pockets!”

With Hank, I’m still busy.  I’m still tired.  Heck, I’m still pregnant!  I still get frustrated and overwhelmed and I still get irritated when he throws all his food on the floor again or hands most of his peanut butter sandwich to the dog to eat.  I still appreciate naptime.

About five seconds away from throwing his food on the ground.

About five seconds away from throwing his food on the ground.

But, what’s happened with my third kid, something I wasn’t expecting, but am so appreciative of, is that I know that we’re in a stage.  I can laugh at the epic tantrums (eh, I probably laughed at them before too).  There is nowhere in the world that you get to see such pure, unfiltered emotion besides a toddler who has decided that your way is the wrong way.

Why me?

Why me?

I don’t worry as much about the fact that Hank will not touch a vegetable (unless it’s in pizza—I make a really good, healthy pizza).  I know he’ll grow out of it.  While Hank is a bit slow to talk (I call him my caveman), it means that I get to really try to understand what each word is.  Now that the older two kids have started school, since I stay home with Hank, I try not to schedule anything right away in the morning, so we can take our time walking home from school drop off.  We pick up sticks, we look at fences, we play on sewer grates.  When we go to the grocery store, there is a lobster tank.  Hank and I will watch the lobsters for much longer than I am interested in them.  We stop to smell the flowers, literally.  (Or, in Hank’s case, stick his face into a bouquet, pull it out and say, “mmmm”.)  I am able to experience the world with him in a way that I don’t remember taking the time to do, often enough, with the others.

Picking up sticks.

Picking up sticks.

Trying the door to someone else's fence (sorry, neighbors...)

Trying the door to someone else’s fence (sorry, neighbors…)

A bold and daring move

A bold and daring move

Lobsters!

Lobsters!

Mmmmmm

Mmmmmm

His personality is starting to emerge in new ways too, and he’s beginning to have preferences for books and toys and games.  He stopped breastfeeding a couple of weeks ago, but before he takes naps and goes to bed, he chooses a couple of books, and he and I sit together and read the books.  (Note: this usually involves me reading as fast as I can because Hank is turning the pages as quickly as he can.)

And I wanted to take a few minutes to announce how awesome the third kid is, defiance, tantrums, and constant need to take all the food out of the pantry notwithstanding.  My recommendation?  Get a third kid.  They’re totally worth it.

One shoe on, staring out the window

One shoe on, staring out the window

We love hats!

We love hats!

Hank the Tank

Hank the Tank

I Didn’t Post This On September 11

I did not blog about September 11 on September 11.  I did not post anything on Facebook about it.  In fact, the only people I talked to about it on 9/11 at all were Oliver, who asked questions after school, and my big sister, who relives it every year, remembering how she watched it all happen from a rooftop in New York.

It isn’t that I don’t think it’s important.  I certainly did not forget.  We will never forget.  Nobody in the United States who was alive will forget.  We all know exactly where we were when we heard it, when we saw it, when we turned on the television and saw the towers collapsing.

One of the traditions since 9/11 happened has been to share, on the anniversary, what you were doing when you heard.  Where you were.  Who you were with.  Who you were worried about.  How it affected you.  Inasmuch as you look forward to anniversaries of tragedies, I look forward to these memories as they are shared.  But I do not reciprocate.

It isn’t that I was terribly affected by 9/11.  By all accounts, aside from the way that all Americans were affected by it, it didn’t change much about my life at all.  My experience was not unique.  I cried—but the whole nation cried.  I was filled with pride for all of the heroes of the days and weeks to follow—as we all were, and are.  My heart swelled when I heard Lee Greenwood’s “Proud To Be An American”, and still does.  The Star Spangled Banner suddenly seemed more meaningful to me, a newly naturalized American citizen, immigrant to this country.  And I still cry every single time I hear Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning”.

But I also remember the good that came from 9/11.  All of a sudden, for the first time in my life at least, we were one nation, under God, indivisible.  The good of people shone through, and our great country was not destroyed by tragedy.  We were strengthened.  We were united.  We were Americans, and it suddenly meant so much more to be an American than it had before.

My husband, the devilishly handsome Kullervo, joined the Army National Guard after 9/11… but not right after, and not as a direct result of it, although to say that it had no bearing on the decision would be disingenuous of me.  He joined right before we invaded Iraq, and we were fortunate in that we did not have to deal with the atrocities of war which so many of our friends have endured.

So, like all Americans, the events of September 11 affected our family.  But, through being a military wife and getting to know an amazing group of women, I have seen how 9/11 has affected their families.  I have heard the stories of the PTSD from these wars we’ve been in since 9/11 that has changed marriages, hurt families, and resulted in suicides.  I have friends who lost loved ones, on that day and in the days, weeks, and years to follow.

There are people with stories that turn my stomach and hurt my heart.  Their stories need to be told.  Their stories are the ones I want to remember and never forget.  My heart cries for those who were lost, both during and afterwards, both through death and through emotional turmoil.  My prayers went out to our nation, bleeding and suffering, and still do.  My prayers still go out to the awful people in the world who are taught to hate instead of to love, who are taught to do evil.  I don’t excuse them the evil things they do, but I pray for them, because Jesus told me to.

So, the reason I don’t share my story every year is not that I don’t remember.  It isn’t that I don’t care, or that I don’t think it isn’t important.  I turn inward, and light a candle for the memories, and pray to God for sense to made from the senseless, for beauty to rise from the ashes, for joy to replace the heartache.

Building a Fence, Part 3

The following Saturday, Kullervo and our neighbor again got together to finish the fence.  They made a run to the dump (maybe two) to get rid of the most egregious parts of the bush from our yard, and went to the hardware store to get the rest of the Lollygagging Brackets they needed. 

And they got started.  I was incredibly helpful and sat outside with a book (The Outsiders) and the dog on her leash and occasionally said witty things to encourage them.  It was a tough job, but someone had to do it.  Luckily, I’m witty enough to be up to the task.

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The guys did mysterious things with power tools.  At one point, Kullervo was drilling into our brick house, and our neighbor was holding the house up in case it fell down.  He’s super strong.

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Men with power tools!

Neighbor D holding up the house

Neighbor D holding up the house

Seriously, he's super strong.

Seriously, he’s super strong.

They had gotten two standard (I assume) lengths of fence, but the smaller escape hatch in our yard didn’t need the whole thing.  So they shortened the length of fence by unhammering it, piece by piece.  (Just kidding; I think they only took out the one board and then sawed the cross hatches, but I was not paying attention right then; our children had taken two large boxes and were in our front yard playing a game they called “Homeless”.

Knocking out the board

Knocking out the board

A safe place to saw!  And an extra board!

A safe place to saw! And an extra board!

"Homeless"

“Homeless”

The fence was put up, drilled where it presumable needed to be drilled, cut out where it needed to be cut out to fit around the house, and fully secured.  And, it was level.  Success!

Fence!

Fence!

Not crooked!

Not crooked!

The other thing that they did, which I thought was quite clever, was to take a single board and secure it between our neighbor’s fence and our new fence.  The loose single board in this picture between our fence and theirs was put into place and secured, so it looks pretty seamless going across.

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They filled underneath the new fence with dirt so the dog can’t dig her way out (easily), and Kullervo spent some time cutting up the rest of the torn out bush to put it out for the yard waste collection this week.  Altogether, it turned out really well.  And it cost us about $230 to do it, so we saved about $570.  Not too shabby.  I will sit around with my sweet dog and interject clever puns into serious conversations for $570 any day of the week.

And Dally loves it.

Dally on the loose!

Dally on the loose!

Next yard adventure:  choosing what fruit trees to plant in the corners of the yard.

Building a Fence, Part 2

My darling Kullervo had left us with an exposed back yard and a tangle of yanked out bush in both our front and back yards. 

But, to his credit (and our next door neighbor’s!) they didn’t leave it that way for long.  As soon as they were both available, early the week after dismantling the bushes, they started securing the biggest piece of our new fence. 

They got partway through and realized that they didn’t have enough of something called an L-bracket.  I think it stands for lollygagging—since this was only a couple of days later, they had clearly not lollygagged enough, and needed to take a break.  That said, the biggest open patch of our yards was now covered, if not totally secured into place.  

Partially secured fence

Partially secured fence