Monday, April 27, 2009

The Flower Girl

So we heard, in a roundabout way, that M wrote a note to her teacher asking whether she could be her flower girl. (Her teacher is getting married over the summer, to the gym teacher.) Her teacher wrote a note back saying that she was sure M would make a good flower girl, but that she had nieces who were already signed up for that job. M wrote back with this abbreviated reply: "OK."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Montessori sharing night

The Montewssori school that our kids attend had "Parent Sharing Night" last Thursday. This is where parents come into the classroom and learn about all their children's "works."

Here is J demonstrating her "letter work." The wood card she's holding has the letter f on it, in cursive script and slightly raised with a sandpapery texture. Her work is to feel the letter and trace it. A companion work is tracing the letter (again, in cursive script) on a piece of paper -- not a small, inch high letter, but one that fills the whole page. Having just turned four, she's just developing the fine motor skills she needs in order to write. But she can use her gross motor skills to learn what the letters look like, and she can use her sensory skills to get a "feel" for the letter. While the language center of her brain is still being "turned on," the sensate part of the brain is what Montessori calls "highly absorbant" at this age.

Montessori kids start learning cursive rather than printed writing for several reasons. For one thing, cursive is actually easier for kids to write: the letters flow, so they require less fine motor control, and each letter starts and stops at the baseline, whereas printed letters involve making a series of intersecting lines and curves that each start and stop at different points. Also, the capital letters look substantially different from the lowercase letters, making them easier for kids to distinguish. Of course, kids are simultaneously learning to recognize their printed letters through their reading practice. At the moment, J is very big on sounding out words syllabically--she goes around the house "sounding out" various words, including her name, syllable by syllable.

In the next picture, J is doing another work on her work rug. Montessori is big on order (contrary to the stereotype); one of the first thing kids learn to do is to create a defined workspace by laying out a rug or mat. They get the mat, unroll it, and roll it up and put it away themselves from a young age. I'm not sure what the name of this particular work is, but basically it's another sensate work: it involves slowly moving different shapes together to create new shapes. Here, for instance, J's "sensate" brain is focusing on how two equilateral triangles form a square. She traces the edges of the triangles with her fingers, then the edges of the square.

Here is B, demonstrating his mastery of map skills. He has worked with maps ever since he was in Children's House -- he created a map of the United States when he was four. Here he is working on identifying the names of all of the countries in North America (including all the little ones in the Caribbean). Rather than working with paper, however, he's using a wooden puzzle that allows him to feel the shape of each country, and feel how they fit together. Seems like a small thing, but it engages more of the brain--including that primitive "sensate" brain -- in the task, making it easier to master.

And here Ben is after successfully naming all those tiny little countries. He can also name most of the capital cities in North and South America.

Here is M, who loves reading, writing, and drawing (and is extremely good at each of those skills), but who has always hated math. She is doing better, though, after learning what they call the "bead frame." (I guess I would just call it an abacus.) Here she is showing how to add two four-digit numbers using the frame. Another interesting math work that she demonstrated once before involves manipulating wooden beads, bars, squares, and cubes, each representing 1, 10, 100, and 1000 using raised dots (or a bead, in the case of single digits). This, along with several other similar "manipulative" math works, gives her a concrete idea of what she's doing when she's adding and substracting such large numbers. She is also looking forward to learning how to count money using a play cash register.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Family reunion

This past weekend we finally managed to make it up to visit my parents, after two weekends of cancellations due to illness. As luck would have it, my sister was visiting with her family, and all of us managed to get together on Friday night -- a rare occurence. That meant we had fourteen kids in the house, all under the age of 11. Here are most of them during a joint birthday party for M and J and my sister, whose birthday falls after M's.

It was great to see them all again, but the time was too short, especially considering how well all the cousins get along with one another. B has a slightly younger cousin who is a fast friend -- they really enjoy hanging out together. Unfortunately, we only had 24 hours with them. Hopefully we'll see them in the summer.

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Birthday girls

Yes, it was all princesses all the time for the birthday girls last week. M and J have back-to-back birthdays; M turned 7 and J turned four, which she indicates when asked by holding up four fingers. ("I am this old!") The morning of her birthday she said, "I am never going to be three again!" Which was a little poignant.

Each girl received a nice bed canopy from their "Alabama" grandmother, which they loved, loved, LOVED! And they received other princessy stuff as well. The girls made their own cakes (one cake mix divided into two separate cake pans) and decorated theirs. M really got into the cake decorating, to the point that she is saying she wants to be a professional cake decorator when she grows up. (She wrote the letters on her cake in the picture below -- pretty good for a first-grader.) Her Spanish teacher is a cake decorator, too, and has offered to lend M her tools. :) Both girls celebrated birthdays with small celebrations at school. We attended the one for M; at the end, the whole class got up and sang "Happy Birthday" in a very hammy way, with hand motions and everything; at the end, the entire class rushed up to her with hands extended in a dramatic flourish. She hid behind me, so I had a couple dozen kids right up in my face, which was funny and a little unexpected. "I liked my whole party," M said later, "except for afterward when we had to have a long talk about respectful behavior during birthday parties."

We try to take birthdays beyond the presents, though. One thing we did new this year was to say the birthday blessing from the Catholic Household Book of Blessings. We did that as part of the meal blessing before their special birthday dinner. And then, after the cake and before the presents, we each take turns saying something about why we're glad the person was born, which the kids usually are pretty enthusiastic and generous about. This year B was pretty stricken with jealousy, but even he managed to come up with something non-sarcastic for each of the girls.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

The light of Christ illuminates the world from within

It's a happy Easter around here: not only is Christ risen, but J finally "rose" from her sick bed after five days of being completely out of commission. Literally in bed all day every day without food. So good to see her up and around. . . and enjoying the Easter festivities (although she slept through most of the Mass -- in which M, by the way, sang with the children's choir).

Easter morning Easter baskets. Because we were running out of colored high fructose corn syrup, you know.

New Sunday dresses. Hey, they match!

J running out of steam during the Easter egg coloring at the Catholic Worker.

These three couldn't  take a straight picture if their lives depended on it.

And a final coda: M asked at bedtime: "How could the angels have sang at Jesus' birth, since angels are pure spirit?" My response: "Give me a few years and I'll get back to you on that one."
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Thursday, April 09, 2009

Washing feet -- and everything else in sight

Today I took M along with me to our Holy Thursday service, which was as great as usual. As people were washing one another's feet, I couldn't help reflecting on the day I'd spent ministering to sick kids. J in particular has it really, really bad. Let's just say I did more loads of laundry today than I think I've ever done in one day in my life: towels, sheets, blankets, clothes, rugs. I spent a few hours in the bathroom with her, too, moving her from the bathtub to the toilet and back again every 10-15 minutes.

Washing feet in ancient times was dirty work -- practically no paved roads, and poor sanitation, you know. Washing a child, and nursing her and getting up with her, is also a "washing of feet," and in its way, just as holy.

B is sick with nausea and a low fever, but not as bad as the girls, thank goodness. M, meanwhile, is almost completely recovered. I would have said she was all the way there, except that she took another three-hour power nap this afternoon, and she collapsed in the middle of church tonight (right during the Gloria!) -- fainted dead away, making quite a scene for the people around us. I was going to take her home, but she wanted to stay -- which she did, seated.

On the way home, M pointed out the moon -- a "bowl of milk in the sky." And tomorrow is Good Friday.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

J and B go down

Well, I always wondered whether it was possible to have the stomach flu and a bad cold at the same time, and this morning I found out, because at 4:30 a.m. J -- who has been fighting a bad head cold -- started throwing up. Just like with M, it's been pretty intense. She's vomited maybe a dozen times or so. Now she is begging for tall glasses of water, which of course we can't give her -- just a teaspoonful of water every five minutes. Or a popsicle, which she's now turning down regularly. (Never thought I'd live to see the day when she would turn down a popsicle.) B is complaining of nausea now (around 6 p.m.), and has a slight fever of 101. S has fled the house to get away from the Apocalypse. Well, as long as one of us doesn't come down with it, I think we'll be fine.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

B's bus accident

Well, nothing quite matches the feeling of approaching your child's bus to see it surrounded by the flashing lights of emergency vehicles . . . or being told over the phone that the reason why your child isn't home yet is because his bus was in an accident. Talk about going from the frying pan into the fryer . . . up until then, we'd just been mildly annoyed and worried about B not crashing through the door on time.

Fortunately, the administrative aid who we talked to followed those words with ". . . but none of the students were hurt." When I told S, she said, "So that's what all those sirens were about!" So over her objection I hopped into the car and retraced the bus route.

This is what I encountered a mere four or five blocks down our quiet residential street. Turns out a pickup truck failed to yield and got clipped by the bus. The only thing seriously hurt was a broken tail light, but since it was a school bus, they had to wait for a replacement bus and fill out lots of paperwork. By the time I picked up B, it'd been a good 50 minutes since the crash. We didn't see the replacement bus come by until an hour and fifteen minutes after its usual time.

B, for his part, said it was "exciting but then really boring." He said "you couldn't miss it" -- a loud bang, apparently.

All's well that ends well. Speaking of which, M is now smiling, laughing, eating, and drinking. Last night she consumed 10 french fries, her most substantial food since Thursday; today, she followed up with some yogurt and two mini-hamburgers. White Castles, to be specific. Hey, it's what she wanted, and the doc said to give her what she wanted . . . .

Monday, April 06, 2009

M is still sick

M is still very sick. She has been bed-ridden (or couch-ridden) since Thursday. I took her into the hospital on the advice of our pediatrician Saturday night; they kept her for a few hours, giving her anti-nausea medicine and popsicles to rehydrate her. She enjoyed watching tv and getting lots of attention from the friendly nurse. Then Sunday she lay around all day, not even wanting to read. I kept thinking she must be incredibly bored, but apparently she's too sick to even be that bored. She did finish watching Mr. Magoriun's Wonder Emporium that evening.

We thought she was turning the corner, but then she had a really bad episode of diahrrea in bed last night -- so she's back on popsicles, lying on the downstairs couch.

I guess since this is called "GraceWatch" I ought to find some element of grace in all this. I suppose one aspect of grace would be the realization that, as a parent, you would gladly trade places with your child in order to spare them their suffering. And that's what we celebrate this week, Holy Week.

Friday, April 03, 2009

"Have you seen a smile today?

J has really turned the corner in the disposition department. She is much cheerier these days, and fun to be around -- although still very persistent and strong-willed, and prone to the occasional tantrum.

I have been complimenting her profusely on her smile. "You have such a great smile, it really is one of the best things I see all day! It makes me happy inside when you shine those bright teeth at me!" Which of course makes her smile all the larger. Now every morning she says, "Have you seen a smile yet today?" I am not a morning person, but I cannot resist this overture, even at my sleepiest and grumpiest. She holds her hands behind her back and beams her best smile at me. Then we have a good morning hug, which she throws her whole self into.

She has also gotten into the habit of occasionally turning to me or S and saying, "Thanks, dad, for ____." Very genuine, too. We encourage her by responding: "You're welcome, honey, that makes me feel good inside!" She also will occasionally burst out with, "You're the best dad EVER!" Often after I give her a treat, but hey, I'll take the compliments wherever I can get them.

M is sick

Poor M is very sick with a stomach flu. Yesterday she came home from school and went to the bathroom, where she lay down on the floor.

"M, what are you doing?"

"Oh, nothing. Just laying around."

"Are you feeling sick or something?"


Well, an hour later we're making a quick run to drop B off at his playdate. On the way home, M says, "Dad, I lied! I LIED, Dad! Because I do feel sick!" Bleah, bleah, bleah -- all over the car.

Took her home and figured it was a one-off sort of thing, but no, she kept vomiting for the next five hours, probably a couple dozen times. We kept her up watching the first half of Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium (an excellent little film, judging by the first half) until she wasn't throwing up any more. Gave her some Gatorade, which she kept down.

So she slept on and off all day today, and started running a fever of 102.5. Didn't eat anything but some fruit and a tiny bit of ice cream in the evening, which she promptly threw up. So we're watching her for dehydration.

J and B suggested that we pray over her, which is something we do whenever someone in the family is particularly sick. So I got our purloined copy of The Catholic Family Book of Blessings and Prayers (actually just borrowed for an excessively long time from the diocese) and prayed the ancient rite of blessing for a sick person over her.

Hope she is better tomorrow.

Kids' report cards

Well, report cards came today. Here they are:

B has been doing a wonderful job this quarter. He continues to improve on his writing skills and spelling. B continues to amaze me on his drive to learn and study many different topics ranging from field mice to the solar system. Keep up the hard work, B!

M is learning about grammar and math. She has a curious nature and loves to research. Her writing skills are exceptional and are an insight to her mind because she is extremely quiet. She has a tendency to wander the halls and we have been emphasizing the importance of getting to class on time. She loves to work with her friends and this leads to socialization. We've conferenced recently and are already seeing effort at improving this. Keep up the great work Maria!
J does not have report cards, but I can report that she is learning how to write her letters and numbers, and is practicing her phonetics and sounding words out. She knows how to break words down into syllables and is proud of her "writing." She enjoys school much more now that she has gotten through her "developmental leap" -- a whole bunch of areas have really come into new focus for her, from socialization to language. She asks the teacher to give her a presentation on a new work every day, and she has made a special effort to befriend the new girl in class.

Another thought on M: I've seen -- and heard from others who've seen this -- how she teases the boys and gets them to chase her all over the playground. What a flirt!

Here is the link to M's classroom web page: -- you have to click on the newsletter tab to get current info.

Here is the link to B's classroom web page: