Andrew Jackson’s Hands

We took RR to DC to visit the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and the Portrait Gallery to visit the Obama paintings. I was particularly excited for the latter because they are so visually interesting and well, I miss seeing that man’s face. Also, RR has never been to an art museum before and I thought that there was a good chance she’d enjoy it given the kinds of lessons she’s had at school and her general overwhelming appreciation for art.

I had no idea.

No idea that RR would find the Natural History Museum only mildly interesting (except for the Aye Aye skeleton which she knew all about…for some reason…). Though given her feelings about zoos, I shouldn’t have been too surprised.

No idea that neither dinosaurs nor diamonds would be considered “big enough”

No idea that the Portrait Gallery at dinner time after a three hour drive and two hours looking at an Aye Aye and judging dinos would be so fascinating.

No idea that a room filled with nearly all white men wearing similar suits, sitting in the same pose, painted in the same style would be the hands down most compelling thing that has happened in recent memory.

And especially no idea that Andrew Jackson and Andrew Jackson’s hands, in particular, would be the highlight of her day and would involve an intense session of investigation and examination filled with pacing and muttering and attempted caressing of the texture of the oil paint.

Who knew.

 

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RR and the Earrings

It turns out that third grade math facts are RR’s latest challenge. I don’t quite understand a “math fact” and I’m told this is the way of it these days. All the parents are out of the loop. I don’t think that’s it, at least in the Montessori context. From what I’ve gleaned from our parent-teacher conference and RR herself, math facts are the sight words of the numbers world. I didn’t ask for further clarification since I was pretty sure that this would be the teacher’s lightbulb moment. Aha, so this is why RR can’t put two and two together!

Things RR can do are many and significant. She is an excellent speller, a great reader, she is kind to the other children, her art skills are first-rate, she is a leader and a teacher herself. She’s also super good at using her graph paper to draw pixelated My Little Ponies and using the empty spaces in zeros to build her own tiny artistic snow globes. The Montessori works for manipulating numbers make sense but she doesn’t make the leap from those to basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. It doesn’t help that I’m no math pro myself, including the rarified air of single digit addition.

In addition to RR’s general eschewing of numbers as a thing that are a reality, she is also hugely indifferent to money. We’ve tried tying the cost of things she wants to the concept of saving and spending. We’ve tried handing her coins, letting her pay at a register, and counting change. It appears the only thing she has any investment in are pencils, markers, and paper and it feels wrong to charge her for use of those things.

The school has a tiny shop, Maria’s, where the kids can purchase snacks during the day. The kids leave class with a buddy, traverse the open campus, make their purchases, and meander back to class. While an account is an option, we’ve never given RR one in part because she doesn’t want anything and in part because math! money! skills! We have given her a dollar here and there only to find out she never spends it. In fact, she usually has no idea where it is until we go through her change purse only to find out she never remembered she had the dollar in the first place. She’s basically been on the same dollar for two years now.

The other day we set her on a mission. Go, we said. Go to Maria’s and buy something with these two dollars. Don’t forget to tell us what you spent and how much you had left! So she went. She bought:

  • One (1) Gin Gin, a small, single, piece of hard ginger candy: possibly for $50 or for five cents. Very difficult to say and the witness (RR) was unreliable. Candy uneaten, possibly given away.
  • One pair of earrings made of pull tabs from coke cans: cost undisclosed.
  • Gave fifteen cents to a younger friend, purpose unexplained.

You guys. We gave her money to spend all for herself and she used it to buy me a gift and delight her friends. She excited to bursting when she handed me the earrings and I put them on. Also, she learned nothing of math. This is my child. Competent, wonderful, and thoughtful. But really, really, shitty at math.

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Right Now

RR started the third grade last week. I thought about getting myself a walker and and AARP subscription and then she flashed me and waggled her butt and I figured we had a few years left. She’s more though, in every way. Longer legs, stronger arms, she eats more, she tells more jokes, she has more friends, she says she’s doing geometry, I see her reading books with words like persnickety. I love this new bigness and the unexpected developments it brought along. She rides roller coasters now, fast ones, grown-up ones, and she greets the terror with laughter. Which goes a long way toward describing RR generally.

She’s not fearless but she is right in the center of any given moment. When she gets off the roller coaster she’s laughing, not because she wasn’t scared in the middle, but because that moment passed and now it’s all bright sunshine and smiling faces and the thrill of having done something daring. She she does it again and again because the fear, it happens, but she lands on exhilaration every time and that’s enough. She has always been this way.

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This picture of her four-year-old self shows perfectly how she sinks down deep into every experience. Here, she’s picking raspberries under the jasmine and a particularly spindly tomato plant. I can almost hear her softly humming. I know none of the raspberries made it into the house that day. She’s our garden fairy. She’s of the moment. There are times when I think she can’t possibly last and we can’t possibly keep her.

That got more grim than I expected. And after that adorable picture, too! This has been motherhood for me this year. Constant U turns back from anxiety and what if into the here and now. Start again. And again. It’s not too bad. It reminds me to stay right there with RR, in that moment with her, relishing every last second. But, since it seems sort of contradictory to say all that and not do it, here’s eight.

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Down With This Particular Sunscreen

I’ve never been so happy to have sent RR to what some of our friends lovingly refer to as “the chicken school”. And while they do tend the chickens, they also tend a garden, act as custodians to the local wildlife, make herbal teas, read, keep a fish pond to grow fish to eat, do complex math, paint, and play. Apparently I need to add activism to the list because the sunscreen petition I signed this week was a work of art.

Because you’d have to be a dedicated zoomer, here is the text of the three foot long petition, spelling uncorrected:

CHANGE THE SUNSCREEN:
a teacher sined it.
it is slimy
it makes us sweat
it is icky. WE hate it.
it smells.
got a sunburn with it once.
it stings on scratches.
it swelled up a mosquito bite [Inset: “this did happen” with drawing of wound for proof.]
you haft to take off the top to get it on you then it spills on the floor you can’t get it up you can slip and get hurt.
it is easy to get it in your eyes.
[Inset: A picture of the sun. Written on the sun it says “ha ha I will burn you” Under the sun it says “because the sunscreen does not (underlined) work”]
it soaks into your skin.
your eyes water a lot when you put it on your face.
[Inset: Picture of a beetle saying “OW”]
when you want to play on the monkey bars your hands will slip and you will fall and get hurt.
does not (underlined, emphatically) work [Inset: picture of a head/face with red cheeks, forehead, and nose.]
we hate it
WE HATE (underlined) THE SUNSCREEN
it is only 30 percent other sunscreens are way more than 30!
it says “fragrance free” but it has a strong fragrance.
it burns our face [Inset: sad smiley face]
it spills a lot (underlined in bold)
we want a CHANGE (in orange marker)

This is all accompanied by a well-done doodle of Wilma Flintstone proclaiming “I hate Terra Sport” and a page of glorious signatures which I haven’t included although I very much wanted to. Some of the signatories include “parent of X” and “x, the Boss”, “teacher X”, “X the dad of X”, tiny writing, big writing, first names, both names, cursive and not, and one parenthesis after a teachers name in which is scrawled “(As long as it doesn’t have chemicals)”.

I proudly added my signature to the thirty other names. RR has complained before that it stings but it’s sunscreen, I trust the school, and I realize it’s practically impossible to keep 30 sunscreens separate. I’m going to tuck this memory away for the next time she brings home a sheaf of beautiful drawings but blanks when I ask her what 2 x 5 is.

And You Get A Trophy, And You Get a Trophy…

I have opinions about participation trophies. Not that I’d begrudge a kid a little trophy for showing up, I just haven’t particularly supported that approach as a way to motivate or reward them. You know the arguments – hard work is the reward, they won’t value real trophies, it dilutes the work of the kids who deserved them, etc. As with everything parenting though, everyone has an opinion and everyone is right.

RR received a trophy for swimming this summer. She had just barely graduated past Flailing and Sinking when we signed her up. We didn’t put sign her up for meets at the start since it wasn’t at all clear she’d survive the experience. Thank goodness for lifeguards. I was also concerned that swimming would go the way of soccer where we spent most of our time watching her pick flowers and pass the ball to friends who hadn’t had a turn yet, her team or not. Or perhaps ballet, where she spent her time gazing in the mirror. I wasn’t at all confident this would be a success.

But she liked it. RR, who spends a lot of time being neutral about things, actually liked swimming. So we signed her up for swim meets. And she liked those too, once she got over the disappointment of it not being a swim meat.

RR: Mama, what kind of meat will it be?
Me: A swimming compitition, where you race the people next to you.
RR: Yes, but what kind of meat will they put in the pool? Pork? I’m hoping for pork.
Me: …

She wasn’t good at swimming and she didn’t win a thing. In fact, she mostly kept other little girls from coming in last. But she went to practice everyday. She tried hard. She coped with the weekly disappointment of not getting a ribbon and of not coming close to winning, even in the slowest heats. She has even been enthusiastic about the idea of continuing over the winter.

This weekend we had the awards ceremony for the close of the season. The look on RR’s face when they called her up was priceless. She was amazed and shocked and grateful and overwhelmed. She kept holding it above her head as all the kids came to the front, bouncing with excitement. She high-fived her friends (RR has friends!). She was breathless when she came to the back to show us. I had no idea that a participation trophy could make such a big impact on a tiny person. She was so proud of herself and it was clear – that little gold swimmer packed more motivation to try harder and get better and go faster than anything anyone could have said to her.

So here’s to yet another milestone: participation on a team and motivation to do it again.

Eight!

RR is eight. You guys, it’s so much fun to see the delight passing to horror passing to acceptance on the faces of our work acquaintances who realize that oh my god we’ve known these people and their baby since she was in utero and it was that long ago?! Followed by (I suspect) how am I that old/how has almost a decade gone by/why are you (or I) still here? I don’t feel overwhelmed myself, just happy she’s still the delightful little person she always has been (Wolverine-ing aside) and that we’re all still coming out on the good side of life.

I don’t often think of eight in years. Sometimes it’s milestones like number of teeth lost, inches grown, clothing sizes (you guys, we’ve finally left 4T shorts behind. miracles), stuffed animals acquired, or shoes outgrown. Sometimes I think of it in terms of child development expectations: on-grade skills in reading and math, check. Increasing self-awareness and social skills, check. Behavior ups and downs, check.  I’m not proud of this, but eight sometimes is calculated in why nots: Why can’t she ride a bike? Why doesn’t she talk about friends more often? Why does she insist on liking My Little Pony? Why doesn’t she complain about playing alone? Why doesn’t she tell us about her day? Why can’t she swim faster? Why isn’t she a genius at something?

Most often I think of eight in terms of accomplishments. When I do, I’m amazed at how wonderful, smart, charming, cheerful, and strong she is. She’s an artist with skills well beyond her years. She speaks with adults with growing confidence and finesse. Her cursive writing is lovely. She reads stacks of chapter books and has preferences about what she likes (adventure) and what she doesn’t (“boring family stuff”). She writes and illustrates her own chapter books and graphic novels. She tells jokes (and remembers the punchlines). She has mastered gliding on her scooter (I never thought it would happen). She can swim (I never thought that would happen either). I finally witnessed her roll over which I say in jest but, if you’ve been following along, you know that it’s a developmental baby holdover that exemplifies RR’s nonchalant approach to growing up. Her teachers think she’s wonderful and her school is helping her grow to be independent and considerate, a gardener and nature conservator, empathetic and inventive, a herbalist and animal care-taker. I value those things far more than being a genius at something.

Eight will bring 3rd grade, a bigger backpack to hold all those books, more adventures, and a bike ride come hell or high water. Eight is also going to pack in a heap of delightful surprises, I’m sure of it. Onward.IMG_6473

 

The Variety Show

I don’t know if you did this as a child, or if a child does this to you, but RR does most of her deep thinking with Debra. Usually at night at bedtime, she unrolls a carpet of insecurities woven of dying, loss, and the future. The last two years have been difficult ones and it’s not something we’re overly concerned about. In fact, I’m glad she’s safe enough to use that time to explore those fears*.

Although the topics and timing are different, sometimes I’m the listener. Today I got to hear, at length, about her worries regarding today’s Variety Show. I suppose you’re not meant to celebrate this sort of thing but I was silently happy to hear it. Every so often, the Iron Curtain drops and we get to hear about life at school/camp. This week we got a deluge – she doesn’t actually need a snack this week or last (that might have been nice to know before the last day of camp); she loves egg salad, celery if it’s IN the egg salad, and, zucchini if it’s IN bread; she desperately wants a Pokemon stuffed toy; and, she was in a variety show last Friday and will be again today.

Well, this is a development. RR has long resisted public performance of any kind. It turns out that not only is she in the variety show, she has designed the bit that she and her friends** will do, and not everyone in the camp is performing, which makes her participation even more remarkable. I know you’re dying to know, but all I got to hear was that it was “a bird and cat” piece. This performance has issues though (like all do) and here’s a glimpse of what she’s facing today:

  • Stella’s costume includes a very long bird tail. No one know why she wants it to be that long but what if they trip on it?
  • Lyla keeps disappearing and no one know where she goes
  • Izzie keeps forgetting to play the xylophone and she’d probably be okay if it weren’t for having to do Lyla’s part.
  • Because what is Lyla even doing?
  • June keeps acting crazy
  • And perhaps most importantly (besides where IS Lyla going) is what if no one likes it?

I don’t know why she wasn’t nervous last week or, if she was, why she only mentioned it this week but so it goes with RR. We finished up the car ride with tips and advice that she’s heard before. Other kids are nervous. Other kids are worried no one will like their part. Adults get nervous and worried. We revisited the quirks Debra and I have before speaking in public. And concluded with one suggestion: when you get out there, meet their eyes, pause to breathe, and smile. They will always smile back. Always.

I hope the Bird and Cat is not a serious piece because that wasn’t the best piece of advice for a drama.

*I’m pretty sure this exact sentence is straight out of an early aughts parenting advice column. Believe me, I’m not proud of myself for saying it. But it’s true and also, who misses an opportunity to say early aughts? I had to do it.

**To be clear, it seemed like RR had no friends for a long time until we realized she just didn’t tell us about her friends or, more commonly, many other children were friends with her even though she was impartial. I’m not sure whether these are friends, recruited classmates, or the heap of younger girls that follow her around, but does it matter in a Bird and Cat show?