Tag Archives: parenting

Math Night


I’m gonna generalize in this post because I have to. I’m also sort of uniquely positioned to generalize because I see this issue from both sides — being both a teacher and a parent. So I know this is a not-all-parents situation, but man oh man, it feels like too many parents.

Anyway.

Last night was Math Night at the sprouts’ school, and because we are dutiful parents, my wife and I were in attendance.

And, I mean, maybe I’m dumb for thinking Math Night is going to be some sort of *event* — you know, a math-themed sort of celebration with games and events and all. (This is at an elementary school, after all.) But no. Math Night is essentially an expanded parent-teacher conference; a way for the teachers of each grade level to meet with parents en masse and disseminate information about upcoming tests and what standards they’re covering and all of that good stuff. Actually very useful information, but really, just a conference.

Of course, if they call it an “informational meeting on math and standards”, attendance would be even lower than it was. So “Math Night” it is. And they serve pizza. Because nothing brings people in like free cheap pizza.

Ahem.

We go to Math Night.

And I immediately find out what I already knew, which is that I don’t really need to be here. Both of our kids are doing pretty well in math in their classes (which I already knew) and the teachers’ purpose tonight is to sort of explain how the curriculum works and what strategies they’re teaching the kids (which the kids have explained to me). The presentations only take about twenty minutes. Blissfully short, in my opinion. Then there’s a question-and-answer period.

Which is where it goes off the rails.

Look, a question-and-answer period is pretty straightforward. A speaker gives out a bunch of information on a topic. When they’ve finished, they allot extra time for anybody in attendance who didn’t quite get it or who missed something to ask clarifying questions about the topic. You know, information that might directly benefit everybody else in the room, said information being pertinent to the topic at hand. And as I always tell my students, if there’s a question you have after listening to somebody talk, odds are somebody else in the room has the same question, they’re just too afraid to ask it.

But I know what’s coming, because this is not our first Math Night. We’ve done it before. And there is always a parent (or two!) who want to ask questions totally unrelated to the topic or the occasion. They’re sitting here with their kids’ teachers, after all, so why not ask the teachers specific questions about their student specifically?

(This is not the way to do it.)

So the rest of the parents in the room get treated to a lengthy discussion about how this student struggles with her work habits (not the topic) and is struggling with reading (also not the topic) and gets upset when they correct her work (still not the topic). The teachers are uncomfortable as roaches under a sun lamp discussing this stuff in front of the group — you know, because teachers aren’t meant to divulge personal information like that (and also because, y’know, NOT THE TOPIC) — but the mom keeps going on and on. And I’m not really listening and it’s just kind of droning on and man could the clock please go a little faster so this session can end and we can leave and somehow it breaks through the fog:

“I mean, of course, we took her phone away, but I don’t know what to do besides that.”

What? Er — what??

We’re in a 2nd grade class. Kids seven and eight years old. “We took *her* phone away.” Which means it’s the kid’s phone, not mom’s or dad’s phone that the kid uses.

So — let me get this straight. You gave your kid — your (let’s be charitable) eight-year-old kid — a magical internet box of her very own, and you’re confused as to why she gets upset about doing homework? Heck, most adults you come across can’t successfully integrate their lives with these things — we get consumed with social media likes and Youtube rabbit holes and push notifications to the point that they destroy our lives. And your kid has one of their very own.

Gee, I wonder why your kid is having math issues! I flippin’ wonder!

On the one hand, I get it. I really do. Screens are prolific and it’s next to impossible to keep kids off of ’em. Our kids use the tablets to watch garbage before they go to sleep at night, which, okay, yeah, I know, it’s terrible. But the tablets are not theirs, they don’t have ready, instant access to the things just anytime and for lack of anything better to do, and we monitor their time. And yeah, I also get that the “new math” of the Common Core is hard. I’m decent with numbers and even I go a little bit glassy eyed trying to understand some of the techniques they use. (The way they teach regrouping now is … just do yourself a favor and avoid it if you can. They showed us an image of the method and it looked like the hash-mark riddled wall of a twenty-year death row inmate. Hell, they’re teaching the kids “base 10” notation in the 2nd grade now. I don’t think I even heard of base 10 until I was at least 17 and even then struggled with it; and I’d wager that half the adults my age couldn’t explain what base 10 even is.) But you know what that means? That means you have to shake off the dust and learn the stuff so you can help your kid do it.

That’s what being a parent is. You suffer some inconveniences — and often some outright pains-in-the-tuchus — for the benefit of your progeny. That’s the deal you make when you bring a kid into the world.

But the problem isn’t even that this woman’s seven-year-old has a phone of her very own. I mean, that’s a problem, but it’s a relatively minor problem.

The problem is that this woman is the type of parent who’s involved enough to go to the Math Night event in the first place.

As a teacher, I can tell you (and here’s where I generalize) that the parents who come to events for parents are the types of parents who don’t actually need to come to events for parents. What I mean by that is, the parents who come to these things are the parents who are going the extra mile anyway — you’re talking about the top 10-15% of parents when it comes to more-or-less healthy involvement in their kids’ lives. The parents who need to come to these things — the parents of those kids “on the bubble” as it were, who need an extra push to help school make sense and come together — those parents are nowhere to be seen on parent nights. They’re off doing whatever else they have to do that’s more important than their kids’ education.

You see the calculus ticking toward a result, here.

This woman who was here for parent night — and therefore in the top 10-15% of parents — thought that giving her seven-year-old a phone was a good decision. Didn’t know how to help her kid focus.

This is what we’re up against. This is what these kids are up against.

Point is: Math Night is annoying.

And every parent needs to be there.


Tips For Surviving A Family Vacation


The fam and I just got back from our vacation to the sunny (actually not so sunny) beaches of South Carolina. Weather was cloudy and overcast with threats of rain each day which actually made the trip delightful — not too hot, no sunburns, and the occasional afternoon cloudburst. Batteries recharged; time to get back to work around here.

Here, then, are five things about vacationing with family.

  1. Kids’ Energy Management. Being back and forth to beaches and pools and outdoor events and sights will wear the kids out. And I dunno about your kids, but when my kids (especially my adorable little girl) get tired, they get angry. You gotta keep their energy up. That means feeding them sugar in irregular large doses. Candy, ice cream, funnel cakes … just shovel it in. Eat meals at odd times. Routine is for the boring. And don’t even think about feeding them a vegetable — this is vacation, for science’s sake.
  2. Your Energy Management. All the problems your kids will have go double for you, because you’re old and tired. Luckily, the same advice also works. Lots of sugar, lots of huge meals at odd times (preferably fried food whenever you can get it, which is always). The golden ticket? You’re grown, so you get to add alcohol to the mix. Do so liberally. Bedtime is for suckers.
  3. Putting the Kids to Bed. Odds are, the sleeping arrangement is gonna leave something to be desired. It is what it is. And if you’ve been doing it right so far, they’re hopped up on sugar anyway. Leave them to their own devices, and they’re gonna invent games to play, babble at each other for hours on end, and otherwise avoid falling asleep. You need help, and the TV is your friend. It’s full of all sorts of programming that will distract and then zonk your kids right out. We discovered that the Weather Channel is excellent for this — their programming is somehow fascinating and boring enough to make you wish you were watching paint dry all at the same time.
  4. Mornings Are The Best Time. I know this never happens, but you might get lucky: since the kids are so wiped out, there’s a good chance they could sleep in an extra twenty or thirty minutes. You might feel compelled to seize the opportunity for a few extra Z’s yourself. Fight this impulse. Morning is a magical time — you just don’t appreciate it at home because you’ve seen it. Away from home, the magic is unmistakable. Have a tea. Meditate. Write. Run. Whatever. You can nap later.
  5. If At All Possible, Get Your Mother Drunk On Margaritas. Man, oh man, the things that will come out of her mouth.
Myrtle Beach, 6 AM. Got the street all to myself. Magic!

Don’t Forget to Wash Up


This is the kind of thing that you find all over your previously perfectly boring, perfectly un-terrifying house when you become a parent.

Kids don’t give a hot handful how a toy is meant to be played with. They’re going to play with it in the way that makes the most sense to them at the time, dammit, and if that means dumping six 300-piece puzzles out on the floor and mixing the pieces together so that those puzzles will never be completed in this life or the next, that’s what they’re going to do. If it means running Hot Wheels tracks all over the house and the couch and the cat sleeping on the couch, that’s what they’re bloody well going to do. And if it means decapitating their action figures and not so much tossing but posing the disembodied heads in the sink drains so that it looks like little blue gremlins are slithering out of the unseen depths to haunt my nightmares, then that’s what they’re absolutely going to do, thank you very much.

Never mind that I’m going to stumble on this disturbing tableau first thing in the morning. My sleep-addled brain is going to have to contend with a miniature demon head peeking out of the drain. (It won’t contend well. I’ll first have a lizard-brain fight-or-flight jump accompanied by a quite unmanly yelp, followed by some hyperventilating and finishing off by jumping at shadows for the rest of the day.) Never mind that the petit horror is waiting for me in a safe space within a safe space to thoroughly throw off my sense of routine. (Nobody expects to get their brains scared out first thing in the morning in the bathroom, for goodness’s sake … but if it is going to happen in the bathroom, I expect the terror to come from the shower, as would any red-blooded horror movie fan, so the sink is just out of bounds. I’d at least be gratified if the kids had set a trap for me in the shower.) No, the scare will come, not from the last place I’d expect, but from a place that it wouldn’t even occur to me to ever consider that it might come from.

I’ll table, for now, the question of whether leaving a disembodied head in a sink means my kid is a serial killer in the making, and instead focus my mental efforts on checking the toaster for silly string and my kids’ artwork for surreal nightmare imagery culled from my dreams.


A Foolproof Method for De-Cluttering Your Home


It may surprise you to learn that my house is often filled with clutter.

Yes, yes, hard to believe, but it’s true. With two kids, a dog, an indeterminate amount of cats (who seem to wink in and out of existence like quantum particles) and then, y’know, me, things don’t always end up where they belong. A place for everything, they say, and everything in its place.

Not in this house. In this house it’s more like A place for everything, but sometimes just for today I’m really tired so that thing will just go over there with those things, and I know that isn’t where it really goes but bollocksed if I can drag myself down the stairs and back up the stairs again after to put it in its real place.

Things, in other words, pile up.

20180706_075024.jpg

Clutter. Pictured: Nine books, two notebooks, a couple pairs of headphones, a pack of highlighters, a pair of socks for some reason, my keys, a tape measure from a fix-it project I worked on last week I think, a single glove leftover from winter (it’s July), a speaker I’ll be taking to school at the end of the month (so why would I move it until then), other sundries. Bonus: next to all of this, on the floor, my daughter’s shoe. You are dealing with a clutter expert.

But never fear. I have for you today a simple, step-by-step process for dealing with the clutter in your own home; a process which has worked for me more times than I can count and is guaranteed to produce results. (Just maybe not the results you expected or wanted.)

  1. Notice clutter.
  2. Summon the will to care and then to do something about it. (Don’t be discouraged if this step takes a day or four.)
  3. Consider the proper place for the clutter, and measure the convenience of that place against your willpower from step #2.
    1. If you don’t know the proper place, ask your wife.
    2. If she’s not there, or if she sasses you for not knowing, take a nap and start over.
  4. Okay, let’s be serious. If you start putting things away now, you’re going to feel silly if you don’t clean the entire room, and since nobody has time for that, let’s just tidy up the clutter a bit. Push it to an unobtrusive corner of the table. Tuck it into a corner. Hide it under your sleeping dog’s backside. Be creative!
    1. Or, for bonus points, make the clutter more intrusive to encourage your future self to clean up the clutter sooner. Moving a stack of junk into the hallway so that it must be looked at / stepped around several times an hour is effective. As is putting whatever’s in the way on the kitchen counter so that you can’t cook until it’s dealt with also works.
  5. Focus all your mental energy into ignoring the clutter. Breathe deeply. Feel the energy of the universe flowing through you. Meditate on what it would be like to be a feather tossed on the breeze. Feathers can’t clean up clutter, and neither should you have to.
  6. Become overwhelmed and slowly panic inside, but continue not to do anything about it. You really need that “spiders crawling inside your skin” feeling for the next step.
  7. Wait for the weekend (which is what you were always going to do anyway) and clean the entire room.
    1. As you’re cleaning the first room, you may find yourself cluttering up a second room. Be careful not to start the cycle over again. Leaving the lights off as you clean can be particularly helpful for this.
  8. Relax in your newly uncluttered room.
  9. If you live alone — congrats, you’re done! You might not enter the cycle again for months. If you are married, you might get a week or so. Pets, a few days. If you have kids, expect to begin the cycle again within an hour.

This post brought to you by me stubbing my toe three times on a crate I put in the hallway so that future me would put it away properly at some undetermined time in the future.

It has since been properly put away and replaced with a fake potted plant.


I Am Not The Target Audience


We were watching The Little Mermaid today with my youngest (she’s four, now, and has a serious thing for mermenaids, as she calls them — which is, actually, maybe, the best possible version of a non-gendered title for the things?).

Watching it as an adult is not at all like watching it as a kid. It’s hard to imagine a less sympathetic protagonist — literally all she does is run around behind her (single) father’s back and disobey his orders and requests (all of which are not only reasonable, but pretty darn sensible at that).

  • She spends her days stalking and obsessing over humans — amassing a room full of their junk. This is creepy.
  • She blows off a major family (and community!) event — “the pinnacle of [Sebastian’s] career” — because she “forgot”. (By the way, and this is particularly irksoe as a guy who knows a thing or two about performances myself, how in the hockeysticks did that performance even begin when they didn’t know where Ariel was? It ain’t like she told somebody “brb, gotta fix my seashells, I’ll make my cue” — they just straight started the show and then were SHOCKED when she wasn’t there. Nonsense!)
  • She runs away from home to make a deal with basically a drug dealer, essentially signing her life over in exchange for a chance at love. Crikey.
  • She busts up a wedding with the help of her band of ragamuffins. (Okay, it was a sham wedding but still.)
  • She leaves her father and family behind to marry a guy who was basically ready to propose after just two or three days (Disney seems to have a fixation with this happening actually)

The only way she works as a protag for me these days is if you accept that the entire plot of the piece is about her naivete — but then that doesn’t work either because she doesn’t learn to not be naive in the end. Quite the contrary — daddy swoops in at the end and fixes everything, giving her exactly what she wanted without for a moment suggesting she, I dunno, maybe think about her actions and their consequences for half a second?

Frustrating. I guess I shouldn’t be watching kids’ movies so closely.

Meanwhile, Sprout the first was in and out of the room, too. Since questions literally come out of his mouth ten-to-one with actual statements, I take great pleasure in messing with him when I can, and watching him mull over whether I’m telling the truth.

“Daddy, what’s that mermaid’s name?”

Fishbooty.

“Daddy, what’s the crab’s name?”

Dippin’ Sauce.

“Daddy, are mermaids real?”

Probably not.

“Are they just rare?”

Very rare.

“How rare?”

Rarer than unicorns.

“Are unicorns real?”

Probably not.

“Dad, what does ‘probably’ mean?”

Just watch the movie.

Problem is, the more he thinks, the more questions he asks. Which, I’ll grant, is a good thing. But an exhausting one.


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