The Perfect Crime

I’ve never told anyone this.  It should probably be a tearful conversation with my husband or one close friend, but for whatever reason telling the whole internet world suddenly seems like the best course of action.  While I came to terms with my guilt a couple of years ago, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified of your judgment, because mine is among what is widely considered to be the most disdainful of crimes.  

You see, in first grade, I committed plagiary.  

At the time, I was in a play called Peace Child.  It was the story of an American boy and a Russian (Soviet at the time.  Soviet.  Do not call them Russians, our directors drilled into us!) girl who formed a friendship despite the objections of both their parents and their respective countries.    

I don’t remember what the assignment was, but I do remember that what I turned in was a scene from Peace Child.  My teacher, Mr. Israel, was blown away and immediately set to work staging it.  Suddenly I was the writer and director.  I was in too deep to come clean.  I didn’t even know what all the words in the play meant–for instance, I had made mention of an “M16”, without the slightest idea of what one was.  

For years, I was torn apart by remorse.  Even at 30, I think on some level I truly believed that if people knew what I’d done, I’d be finished.  Learning that plagiary was part of what Shakespeare was famous for didn’t soothe my conscience one bit.  

It would seem that Mr. Israel must have just been giving me enough rope to hang myself with, although that would have been a pretty cruel thing to do to a first grader.  Besides, I don’t remember ever being hanged.  Still, I puzzled over the memory–how on earth did this happen, and how did I get away with it?  

I believe my questions were finally answered a couple of years ago.  Another thing that I’ve always remembered was that, on the first day of first grade, there were two girls in my class with long, blond hair.  On the second day one of those girls had disappeared.  Ironically, never forgot her name, Anna, but can’t for the life of me remember who the girl I presumably went to school with all the way through sixth grade was.  I didn’t see Anna again until high school.  We were friendly but not close.  We never discussed first grade–I suspected that she was the girl who had gone missing, but I wasn’t sure.  I barely knew her, but she would later be the key to my unraveling the whole fiasco.  

Fast forward to that fateful day in my early 30s when Anna and I met again and everything became crystal clear.  Why had Anna disappeared after that first day?  For one simple reason–her mother saw that Mr. Israel knew absolutely nothing about young children.  He had spoken to her after the first day and told her that he didn’t think her daughter belonged in the gifted program because she’d wanted to color when the class was doing something else.  Shocked and insulted, Anna’s mother pulled her out of the school and put her in Waldorf, where she remained until high school.  Understandably, Anna still had hard feelings for Mr. Israel, although rumors had reached both of us that he’d died of AIDS some years before.

So guess what?  I have solved the mystery.  I was a smart kid, but I didn’t write a script of a fictional game show satirizing the cold war at six or seven years old.  Now all I can see is the outrageous fact that Mr. Israel believed I had.  Maybe that should just make me feel guiltier, but in retrospect it seems stranger–and more hilarious–than fiction.  This man had no earthly clue what his first graders should be capable of.  While I know I shouldn’t attempt to put the blame for my actions on anyone else, perhaps it is even possible that, with expectations like that, I felt that I could not turn in something my seven-year-old self had written?  

Despite it all, I still love my memory of Mr. Israel.  Over the years I occasionally received word that he remembered me fondly too.  But I was relieved to learn that, sometime between my first grade year and the end of his teaching career, he moved on to older kids.  


The 50 States

When I was a child, I learned a song that taught me the 50 states in alphabetical order–an important lesson that has stayed with me for life.  I realized even than that kids all over the country were probably learning the same song, which ended in:

North.  South.  East.  West.
[State your state here] is the BEEESSSSST.

But I see now that this song failed to provide me with a stereotype for each of those 50 states.  Sure, I picked up preconceived notions about most of them along the way, but I am left without unfair judgments of Delaware, Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire (and I’ve been there) and Rhode Island.  There are quite a few other states (I’m looking at you, Ohio!) that I only have a vague stereotype of, which is almost as bad as none at all.  

This helps.  I’ve learned that my state is seen, far and wide, as being the home to “richer hippies than Oregon”.  This I prefer to the idea that the Pacific Northwest breeds serial killers, which many of my regional brethren seem to take a perverse pride in, but I take offense to.  Let Michigan have that honor, I say.

What is your favorite state?  Which states do you harbor strong stereotypes about, and which do you know nothing about at all?  How did you learn to remember all 50?  And perhaps most importantly, which ideas of your home state do you take pride in, and which ones just irritate you?  


How the *** do you get kids out of bed???

I was going to put this on sherishu’s diary, since my daughter is entering kinder, but it seemed more general than that. It’s really, really hard to get the 6-year-old to get up and get dressed. Add parents who are a little scattered – probably too scattered for, say, sticker charts – and we’re just having meltdowns.

We already lay everything out the night before. But just getting teeth brushed is a 15-minute battle, once the half-hour get out of bed battle is won.

Don’t even get me started on putting on shoes.


Thursday Open Thread

It’s Thursday! It’s the last day of kindergarten! And I’ve got two sick kids :-(

Both of my sweeties came down with a nasty cold. Maya is mostly coughing but poor little Alex has a runny nose and phlegmy cough. His sleep is suffering and his usually jolly mood? Is largely absent.

Summer colds are a suck-fest. So I was less than pleased to see this story, which suggests that summer colds tend to be nastier and last longer than your garden-variety winter cold.

The rhino-, corona- and parainfluenza viruses that cause upper respiratory infections in winter are joined in the warmer months by a particularly nasty accomplice: enterovirus, which can cause more complicated symptoms, Hirsch said.

Enterovirus spreads by coughing and sneezing, and by the fecal-to-oral route. The virus can bring diarrhea, he said, along with sore throats, rashes and other symptoms beyond the common cold’s typical headache, hacking cough, congestion and low fever.

“Winter cold viruses tend to make you feel really sick, and then you get over it,” he said. “Summer colds just seem to lurk in the background … and just go on and on and on.”

Maybe that explains Alex’s mild case of diarrhea. FUN!

In any case, life is good. Maya’s kinder class is having an end-of-year party today and I’m volunteering. She brought home a perfect report card yesterday (well, as perfect as a kindergarten report card can get :-) and as of tomorrow, we get to sleep in a bit.

So BRING IT, summer.

What’s on your mind today?


Working on Next Year

This marks the beginning of our last full month of school.  And I do mean full – there is only one day off in the entire month.  I don’t think that’s the case for any other month in our school calendar.  Until May, there isn’t a month with at least one day off every two weeks; sometimes more.  

Lena is doing really well in school this year.  She decided, on her own, to participate in Battle of the Books.  It’s a nationwide program that’s similar to the old College Bowl, except the questions are all about children’s books.  I was pleasantly surprised to see the books included on the list (the reading list is here in case anyone’s interested).  Her team’s in the semifinals this week.  For their first year participating as a school, they’re amazing.

There was some bad news this morning in my email, though.

For the past 3 years, Lena hasn’t been in class with both of her best friends.  She’s been in class with one, or the other (except for this year, when they were all separated), but not both.  That’s our school’s policy, by the way: they deliberately separate friends in the name of “breaking up cliques and discouraging bullying”.  That hasn’t worked this year, at least not in the 6th grade.  But anyway.

Next year was going to be different.  The girls all wanted to be in the same-gender class program next year, so they could be together.  I agreed, a little reluctantly.  So all three families signed the girls up.

We got the news this morning that the same-gender program would be cancelled for their grade.  Not enough takers for a girls class and a boys class.  There won’t be many happy faces tonight, I’m afraid.  Plus we won’t know whose class they’ll be in until the middle of July (2 weeks before school starts).  


Tuesday Open Thread

Happy Tuesday, all!

This post on Jezebel caught my eye:how far must a school go to accommodate a child with a severe food allergy?

In one unfortunate Florida case, parents have mounted protests against an elementary school’s accommodations for one first-grade student. They say the student’s peanut allergy is so severe and prohibitive that the child should be home-schooled. The child’s parents say they don’t want their child ostracized, while the school district says the allergy is severe enough to be considered a disability under the ADA and they must make any necessary accommodations.

Among them:

Students must wash their hands and rinse out their mouths before they can walk into their classroom.

Desks must be regularly wiped down with Clorox wipes.

All peanut products have been banned.

Snacks are no longer allowed in class.

Outside food is no longer permitted for holiday parties.

A peanut-sniffing dog has also visited the campus.

Some experts say the school, while well-meaning, may have gone overboard.

“I have never seen anything like this,“ said allergist Dr. Scott Sicherer with the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network or FAAN, an organization that monitors national food allergy issues. “There are many guidelines on how to manage food allergies in schools… things like no food sharing. There are plenty of relatively simple things the school could put in place that aren’t burdensome,“ said Sicherer.

But the girl’s father says even smelling peanuts could trigger a fatal reaction.

“We’ve fought very hard to put certain things in place… to keep her alive… in school,” he told MyFoxOrlando. “She’s already a cast-out. She can’t do things that most kids can do.”

It’s a thorny situation, for sure. My children don’t have food allergies but we had no problem complying with the “nut-free zone” requirements at my daughter’s pre-school. Interestingly, there are no such requirements at her much larger public elementary school.

I just wonder what will happen as this child grows older. Middle and high school students attend much more crowded campuses and change classrooms throughout the day. Will each school be able to ensure the student’s safety? And should some trace of peanut manage to harm her, would the school be held liable?

What say you? Do your kids have food allergies? How have you dealt with them and ensured your child’s safety?  

This is an open thread of course so chat away!


Review: The Zeum Museum in San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — Last week the kids were off from school so I coordinated an impromptu winter camp, in which I took my two kids and their friends on various outings.

On Wednesday, the Zeum Children’s Museum in San Francisco had given me five free passes (including mine) so I put together a big group, 9 kids and 4 adults total, to trek down to the city to check it out.

Now, I had previously attended a Sesame Street event at the Zeum, but it was my husband’s and other folks’ first time at this hands-on, multimedia arts and technology center for kids. The prognosis? The Zeum is worth a visit, whether you are a member or a visitor. For our group, which included kids between the ages of 3 and 7, there was something for everyone and getting them to leave the place really was like herding cats.

There were even engaging activities for the adults. My husband, a computer and video game geek, loved the “stop action animation” stations at the museum. He oversaw a project by Ari and his friend Felix, in which they created these clay models and recorded a movie about “bad guys” jumping into the sea to kill Ari’s fish. It’s pretty funny, check it out.

The fish look a lot like Ari’s platies so I am not sure how I feel about that. LOL! Nevertheless, from my husband’s perspective, he thought the museum was valuable in getting kids excited about the video technology that is going to shape our future media.

For my part, I was helping watch three 3-year-old girls, who found these huge cushion blocks to build a house. I could tell they have big brothers because when a couple big boys showed up and knocked down their play structure, the girls had no problem defending themselves. “Hey! That’s ours!” Eli and her friend Isbella told the boys as they yanked the pieces from their arms.

Eventually, they found princess costumes to play dress-up and the blocks were long forgotten. Yes, there was something for everyone, including a comfortable place for me to sit and watch the spectacle put on by the girls.

The museum is centrally located in downtown San Francisco by the carousel, shopping, lots of restaurants, and public transportation. Between transporting the kids to and from the museum on the BART train, scarfing down burgers from a nearby restaurant and lots of play, this was a great way to spend a vacation day. For that I am grateful to Zeum for the opportunity.

What do your kids do on their days off from school?


Memorizing Math Facts

My daughter is in the 3rd grade and is having difficulty with memorizing math facts.  This is nothing new since she hasn’t mastered that many since we started in the 1st grade.  It’s becoming a problem as she falls behind her peers and it’s affecting her ability to keep up with more complex math because she doesn’t have the basics to use as a building block.

Starting in 1st grade, they have weekly math facts tests and need to be able to do 50 problems in 3 minutes.   In 1st grade she didn’t get to practice addition facts until she got them because each week, they did a new set and she really didn’t have time to master many of them.  Starting in 2nd grade, individually each child stayed on a specific set (e.g +5s) until they were able to do the 50 problems in 3 minutes.  She was able to get all the way through 1-10 addition facts last year.  This year at the start of 3rd grade, they did review work and she’s stuck on the 1-10 addition review sheet.  She can get 40-45 done in 3 minutes but hasn’t been able to do all 50.  Some of her classmates are working on division math facts.  She’s frustrated that she’s not moving on and feels bad that she’s not doing as well as most of her classmates.

She and her dad practice math facts nearly every morning on the way to school.  We practice with the written pages occasionally (maybe we need to do more of it?).  When I watch her do the written practice, I see that she’s still often counting on her fingers or tapping her pencil to count to the answer instead of having memorized it.  

When I helped her this week with homework, I realized how far she’s falling behind.  The homework was multiplying with money (e.g. $6.52 X 6).  She gets the concept of doing the multiplication with carrying over.  However, it’s really hard for her because she doesn’t know the multiplication math facts.  

In other areas, she seems to be doing OK.  She didn’t really take an interest in reading until last spring but now she reads everything and will have her nose stuck in a new book before we get to the checkout.  She does OK on spelling tests.  I think she would do better if we practiced a couple of more times at home before the test but it’s a huge battle.  She understands that if she practiced more at home she would do better on the test but she doesn’t want a high score that badly.   She likes most of the project type work that they do – research or art.  She likes science class.

Help!  Any suggestions or tricks for getting the math facts to stick in her head?????  


Tuesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

This week is American Education Week. And National Education Association Vice President Lily Eskelsen had tips on how parents can aid their children’s education. Do you volunteer at your child’s school? is collecting blog posts and stories urging Congress to extended unemployment benefits. I helped collect stories, including from my mom, Elisanta Batista, and childhood friend in Florida, Teresa Rey. Surely, they are not the only ones feeling the heat this recession. If you, or anyone you know, would like to submit a story please let me know: elisa at mothertalkers dot com. Let’s not leave folks in the cold this Thanksgiving. Thanks!

The Center for Health, Environment & Justice just put Toys R Us on notice for failing to phase out toxic PVC-laden plastic toys. The website is helpful in that it features many of the popular toys with the synthetic chemical.

In celebrity gossip break: two of the 6-year-old Gosselin sextuplets have allegedly been expelled from their private school in Pennsylvania and are now being homeschooled, according to the New York Post.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Saturday Open Thread: Notes From A Volunteer

It’s the LONG weekend, y’all! I kicked mine off by volunteering in my daughter’s classroom for the very first time. My job: to supervise two groups of 5 kids each, tasked with tracing shapes on a school bus drawing, coloring it in, writing “BUS” on the side of it then cutting it out. The groups rotated through periodically. Some random impressions, in no particular order:

Kindergarten teachers are SAINTS. They do. Not. Stop. They are referees, disciplinarians, nurturers, nurses, clerks and educators. And they listen patiently to the ramblings of 5-year-olds (including my daughter, who regaled her teacher with a long summation of a SpongeBob plot).

Kindergarten classrooms are LOUD, especially when they are filled with 30 kids– goodbye, Class Size Reduction, hello draconian budget cuts!

Kindergarteners are impulsive, chatty, hard to wrangle, eager to please, and utterly adorable.

Kindergarten has changed since I was a kid- no school nurse to bandage up playground owies, and no “quiet time” resting on the floor after recess. Teacher is now nurse, and nap time nonexistent.

Kindergarten is exhausting, even for a parent pulling a 2.5 hour volunteer shift.

Volunteering is a blast, if only because of the look of happiness on my kid’s face when I walked through the door.

I’m so glad my reduced work hours made it possible for me to do this. It’s a balancing act for sure, but so worth it!

Have you volunteered in your child’s classroom? Do you have any other regular volunteer gigs? Any past volunteerism that you remember fondly? Tell us about it!

What’s everyone up to this weekend? Chat away!