Thursday, April 25, 2013

Crisis of Car Seat Conscious

I'm in the midst of a serious car seat dilemma, or at least it feels that way.  I happen to be a bit of a car seat snob and zealot.  Not totally, but maybe a little.  I only buy very good seats (read really expensive, too).  I know that the quality of the car seat actually matters.  I have a brand that I prefer as soon as they are out of the carriers.  This particular brand allows for both extended rear facing and extended harness use.  Both of which are very important to me.  Currently, The biggest One, my 9 year old, is still in a booster.  She hasn't hit the weight limit yet.  So, I see no point in changing that until she does hit the weight limit.  As a side note, she is only a few pounds away, and I will be totally heart broken when I have to take her out of the booster. Middie, who is now 6, is still in a 4 point harness.  The car seat allows up to 80lbs, I think, for the harness.  She is no where near that.  So, she will be in the harness until she out grows the seat via height.  She will then be moved into a booster.  Her older sister was only switched over just before she turned 8.  Yup.  I had a seven year old in a harness. The Littlest One is still rear facing at 23 months and 28 days.  She will be 2 this weekend, and I am really considering turning her around.  I know that rear facing is so much safer, and new guideline say that they should rear face until at least two.  My heart and head are totally conflicted. The problem is, in my older model Ford Expedition, I can't get the car seat to sit well rear facing.  It just seems like it is in a very odd place or angle for her.  Due to that, I think she may be better off forward facing.  The thing is, we have another vehicle where she fits just fine rear facing. My Husband likes for me to drive the Expedition.  He feels like it makes more sense and is safer due to it's large size (though I tend to disagree with that portion).  Anyway, the thing is, once I flip her, I flip her in both vehicles, not just one.  Once she forward faces, I know she won't want to go back.  She already hates riding in the car (total car screamer).  I am pretty sure that forward facing will cut down on that at least a little.  That means there is no going back when we switch vehicles back and forth.  She won't have it.
So, what to do?  Do I drive the truck with less room, but allows her car seat to seat safely rear facing all the time?  Do I go ahead and flip her?
I may also, in total honesty, be feeling a little bummed about turning her around because she is my baby.  Turning her means she isn't so much of a baby anymore.  Since we won't be having any more babies either, it makes everything like this just a little more difficult.
I'm having a total mommy conscious moment.  I've had a few of those, lately, but this one is going to have to be addressed this weekend.

**I don't need any feed back about how she must be getting cramped rear facing, or how that it "looks unsafe".  Extended rear facing is safer.  Fact.  No arguments.  If you aren't aware of how much safer, you should read up on it.  If there wasn't the issue of the poor position in the one vehicle, I wouldn't even be considering it.**

Monday, April 22, 2013

Its TCAP Baby!

For about the last two weeks, life at school for The Big Girls has completely changed.  It has been taken over by TCAP mania.  For those who aren't from the great state of Tennessee, that would be the name for the state standardized testing here.  It is seriously insane.  I know there are standardized tests in every state, and The Big One must have taken them in CA, but I have no real memory of them.  So, they didn't stand out as a huge deal.  Here, though, you can't help but know about them.  Even people who don't have kids know it is TCAP week in TN.  Seriously.
Its starts with rally preparations.  First, the school becomes completely devoid of all letters and numbers.  The rules here state that the children not be allowed to see any letters or number (not a joke).  So, every single thing with writing on it of any kind is either covered up with plain black paper or removed.  The school looks terrible.  It is both creepy and sad.
So, to make up for it, they try to make a big party atmosphere for all the kids taking the tests.  We have a massive pep rally the Friday before TCAPs start.  At our school, each grade comes up with a song, a parody of something popular on the radio, and rewords it to have a TCAP theme.  Middie's was TCAP Baby, Which was actually a parody of Call Me Maybe.  This isn't the same version that our school sang, but I have to share this video here.  I mean, after all, if teachers are willing to do this for their kids, you have to give them some serious love, and share it with the world.

This also gives you an idea of what I am talking about.
See, craziness.
Every day, the teacher on morning drop off duty has held a count down sign letting us know how many days left until TCAPs.  This whole week, Middie will be in a different classroom. Since her teacher has proctored TCAPs before, they are moving her to help with the older kids this week.  Her class is being divided up and put in the other Kindergarten class rooms for a week.
The Big One's teacher sent home a note asking us to send in snacks and water for the whole class.  We went to Costco and sent in a huge thing of mini water bottles and cheeze its in individual bags as per her request.  They were told that they could chew gum this week, and even take off their shoes, or do what ever else made them feel most comfortable.

One of the biggest signs that TCAPs were coming, though, is that for the last week to two weeks, the kids who have to take the tests, Kinders are exempt from TCAPs, haven't really been doing normal school work.  They have only been prepping for TCAPs.  They have taken practice test after practice test.  They have studied the material that should be on the test, and only that.
School has basically come to a screeching halt so that these kids can get the best possible score on the test.

Now, call me crazy, but I think somewhere along the line, someone missed the point.  Actually, I think everyone has in charge of this missed the point.  Instead of teaching a well rounded curriculum and hoping that the kids do well, the schools here are literally teaching for the test and only the test.  I know it isn't all the fault of the schools and especially not the teachers, but of a system that has really lost its focus as well.  The teachers are doing what they have to do.  There must be a better way.
I'm not sure what it is right now, but I know broken when I see it, and clearly, the way we are teaching our children is broken.  We should be doing better for them.  We should have the best educational system in the world, and I am so sorry that we are failing at that.  Perhaps it is the people who come up with these systems and rules who need some testing, not the students, at least not like this.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Cheating The Littlest One

Even though The Biggest One was born in South Texas, she was raised in San Diego.  Middie was raised there, until we moved here.  Though she was young when we moved, I think she will keep a lot of memories of our time there, and certainly the impact of all the things we did, and her experiences will carry forward with her.  The Littlest One, though, she won't remember San Diego, at all.  She was so small, that the fact that she was born there will just be something written on a piece of paper to her.  She is a Native San Diegan by word only.
That really breaks my heart.
I love San Diego.  I love the culture.  I love the atmosphere.  I love all that there is to do with my children.  I tried to take advantage of a lot of that, too.  As a result, I think I gave The Big Girls a pretty well rounded life experience before they started kindergarten.  I don't really believe that preschool is in any way necessary for a young child's development, and as long as you give them a great, well rounded life experience before school starts, they should be just fine, and maybe even fantastic, by the time they are ready to start school.  I think I was able to provide that for The Big Girls.  We did Sea World and the San Diego Zoo.  They were able to see all sorts of fantastic animals and shows.  They were able to learn a lot about the world around them.  The San Diego Zoo, one of my favorite places on earth, has a great program for moms groups.  They bring you in a little early before the zoo opens, and take you on a special tour of the zoo.  Each month there is a different theme and you get to learn about something very cool.  There was even story time at the end of each session.  It was fantastic.  The kids get to be exposed to so much that way.  We were doing that with our group every month before we left, and it was  seriously great.  We went to parks all the time.  We got out.  We played with out friends.  We got fresh air and exercise on a regular basis.
All that life experience is invaluable.
Now, though, we aren't in San Diego.  The weather is crappy most of the time.  We don't get to see the sun much, and it is freaking cold here during the winter and spring.  That means no outside time.  We rarely go outside, unless it is to run from the house to the car.  It sucks.  There is a Zoo, but it is more like a petting Zoo.  Besides, no other zoo compares to the San Diego Zoo.  IT really is the best.  There certainly isn't a Sea World anywhere near by.  We do have an aquarium, but there were a few of those in San Diego as well.  The fact is, there just isn't nearly as much to offer here as there was there.
The culture is also much different.  We are seriously lacking in cultural diversity here as compared to San Diego.  Seriously.  I went to the best Asian market we have here.  It was about the size of a convenience store.  That was it.  I guess I should be thankful we have one at all.
We just don't have what we are using to having in San Diego anymore.
I feel like The Big Girls got so much by living there, and by moving here, we are cheating The Littlest One out of all those opportunities to explore the world.  It isn't fair to her that she won't get to see dolphins any time we want, or check out a polar bear on a beautiful, sunny day. I wonder how it will affect her development as a person later on in life.
I can see a stark difference in the children who were raised here and The Biggest One.  They are already very close minded when it comes to anything that is different.  Telling them that a food is from another culture makes it gross, not interesting.  When they meet people who are new are different, and it takes a long time to welcome them in.  They simply haven't been exposed to anything, and have parents who aren't opening their world up, either.  It makes me sad.

The other day,  The Biggest One and I were watching Chopped.  One of the contestants said that she really needed the money because her partner was about to have a baby.  The Biggest One said that was really nice that she would just give that money to her friend.  I very simply told her that wasn't what partner meant.  It was more like a girl friend or wife.  The Biggest One's reply was "Oh, ok."  She just didn't get the term.  There was no big discussion needed.  There wasn't an astounded reaction.  She knows that any one can love anyone they want to because she has seen it with her own two eyes.  She knows there are two mommy households, and that isn't anything new or odd to her at all.  It's just a part of life as she knows it.
That is what I want for my kids.  I want them to love and respect diversity, and I fear greatly that they will miss out on all that by being here.

I'm really trying hard to find the good in our new home.
We do have some fantastic lakes, two huge ones really, with tons of parks around them, and even a make shift beach.  We have some other nifty attractions like the Lookout Mountain.  There is a lot of camping and hiking that can be done.  We also have a great Discovery Center that I think would actually put the Reuben H. Fleet to shame sometimes, or at the very least rival it well.
That's it, though.  So, I will have to seek out the best of our area that I can to try be the best parent that I can be here.  We can go down to Atlanta and visit their Aunt, to see what Atlanta has to offer.  We can hit the parks when it is warm.  I'll do the best that I can do with what I have, and hope, that I can give her what she needs, even if it isn't what I want.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

I Wrote an Angry Letter

When we moved here, we rented this house almost entirely because of the schools it was zoned for.  Most of the schools here are crap, and I mean crap.  We picked a house outside of the city limits just because it happened to have a very highly rated school.  The PTA seemed to be super active.  Their academic scores were great.
I have to say though, that I have realized so much of your experience really depends on the teacher you get, and there are great teachers, and not so great teachers, at every school.
If I were able to separate the experiences I have had with Middie and her teacher, and The Biggest One and her teacher, I would swear we are talking about two different schools.  Middie has had a great year.  Her teacher is fabulous.  Really.  I am in there helping as often as I can.  I would do anything for this woman.  She has the worst class out of all the Kindergarten classes because of the way classes were selected last year, and honestly, she does a fabulous job with what she got.  Middie loves her and loves school.
The Biggest One, not so much.
I have actually spoken face to face with her teacher four times, but in those times, I can tell you that I have been labeled a pain in the butt, and I am totally disliked by this woman.  I also think she doesn't likes The Biggest One, though I would never let her know that.  It just shows in her actions.
Our first time talking was the first open house about the first or second week of school.  I offered to help her with anything I could.  She already had a home room parent.  So, I let her know that I scrap booked, and I would be glad to make things for the class, come in and help with paperwork, really anything I could do, just please let me know.  That was pretty much it.  She never said she wanted help.  Never communicated with the me.  I have since learned that her home room parents take care of everything, even the food for parties which I have to beg to be allowed to help with.
Even though we haven't spoken, I was learning a lot about her.  I realized that her demeanor in class wasn't exactly what I would have wish for in a teacher for The Biggest One, but that's just how it works.  We are all different people, and I just let all the fart jokes she makes, and that type of thing go, thinking it was tacky, but sometimes we meet tacky people, until she made a big boob joke.  The class was working on improper fractions, where the number on the top is bigger than the number on the bottom, and she called them Dolly Parton fractions.  When I was helping The Biggest One with her homework, and she called the fraction that, I nearly flipped my lid.  I ask where she heard that, and she said her teacher.  I couldn't believe that a teacher would make a boob joke like that to her class, not at this age.  I was totally offended.
My intent was to talk to her about it at a parent teacher conference, which was coming up.  However, when we got there that night, my plan flew out the window.  The second time I spoke to her was this night.  She had requested the conference.  She said that she wanted to talk to us about The Biggest One's personality.  She explained that in the beginning of the year, The Biggest One was being picked on some.  She told her to stand up for herself, and she felt like that advice had been taken too far.  Now, The Biggest One was sort of like a brick wall.  She always took definitive charge of any group they were working in, and wouldn't always take her classmates ideas into consideration.  She was bull headed.  I ask if my child was being rude or inappropriate to her, because that wasn't ok.  I happened to know, though, that the kids she wasn't listening to were the kids who were picking on her the worst.  She was taking charge and refusing to listen to them as a defense mechanism.  She wasn't about to give them the chance to be mean to her when she had to work with them, which was all the time.  The teacher said that in her classroom, she expected everyone to get along and like each other.


This is the real world.  Those kids aren't all going to like each other.  They can all be civil to each other, but that doesn't in any way mean that they will get along all the time or actually like working together.  You can forget that.
Anyway, the seriousness that she approached the issue totally took me off guard.  I know the The Biggest One is bossy.  I live with her every day.  In part, that is absolutely my fault, and I even told her teacher that.  I explained that as a military child, whose father has been gone most of her life, she had to often take charge of a lot of things that other kids haven't.  That was her life.  That is how she has been raised.  I don't think that is bad, either, but I do think it makes her different than a lot of kids these days, especially those not raised in that environment.  Last year, if she was being bossy, her teacher would make some kind of humorous comment to me as I picked her up, to let me know we had an extra bossy day, and The Biggest One and I would talk about it.  We would work on it.  That's all that was needed.  One sentence. One statement.  We understood and tried to work on it.  Instead, I get a fed up teacher who eventually tells me that maybe I should take my daughter to see the guidance councilor, then, if she has had such a hard time.

I think it was about that point in the conference that my husband got up and walked away.  He didn't want to be present for any more of our discussion.  At that point, it was two brick walls just banging against each other, both of them saying the same thing over and over again, with nothing really being heard.

And I totally forgot the big boob thing.

Anyway, after that, our only two other face to face interactions have been very positive.  I ask to come in and make ceramic Christmas ornaments with her class, something I do every year with my girls' classes if I can, and which she let me do.  I also saw her on math night, and we chatted a little.  It was pleasant enough.

So, this week, when she went off script again, I just about lost it.

I had to write a letter to another teacher, The Biggest One's science teacher.

I know this post has already been long, but hang with me a bit more.

Every week, we have Girl Scouts on Tuesday right after school in Middie's kindergarten classroom.  Her teacher put both of her daughters in my troop, and she helps me out.  It is awesome.  So, all of my troop girls come straight into the room after school, and the ones on that hall are actually in there before school is totally over since they come in when all the other kids are getting in their bus rider/car rider lines.  I have to be in that room right away while the teacher takes care of her dismissal duties.  It isn't a big deal normally, and most of my girls come right in.  The Biggest One, though, is almost always my last one in.  The problem is that they won't always let her come.  Some days they make her sit in the car rider line until those kids start leaving before she can go, even if the bell has already rung.  I wrote her teacher a letter reminding her that I was in the class room we meet in and couldn't get her from the line.  I really needed The Biggest One to be dismissed to come straight to me.  After my letter, that's what she did.  Since dismissal duties rotate, though, she isn't always there.  The other teachers don't just let The Biggest One go.  She has to ask each teacher when she can go, and then they tell her that day what she can do.
This past week, it didntt work out.  The Biggest One ask a teacher, and heard "after the bell rings".  What she didn't hear was "wait until the car riders start leaving" because of all the other kids talking.  Regardless, she waited until after the bell rang, which meant school was over, and came to me in Girl Scouts.  She was early.  She was happy.  Then a boy came to the door and told her to go back to her science teacher.  In about two minutes, my child walked back in to me, hysterical.  She was sobbing and couldn't stop.  She said that this teacher had jumped all over her.  I know the teacher is very strict, and comes across as pretty mean.  The teacher told her that she hadn't listened and would be sitting out recess the nest day.  My child was horrified.  She tried to explain that the other teacher she had ask to leave that day, a fifth grade teacher, not even the teacher who called her back to yell at her, said she could go after the bell rang, but this teacher refused to listen.  She didn't want to hear anything from my child.  My child did wrong, and she was in trouble.  Period.  End of story.

I don't think so.

I was mad.  If The Biggest One really did something wrong, I would expect her to be punished at school.  However, I don't think misunderstandings, especially when you are talking about inconsistent policy, should count.  Most importantly, though, is the fact that this woman chose to punish her with out ever listening to her.  That isn't ok with me.  In fact, they yelled at her for asking to go every week in this whole debacle.  It was clear that it was irritating to them she needed "special treatment".
I had to make it through an entire Scout meeting super pissed and not let my kids know.  That was hard. It took everything I had not to just walk down the hall and speak with her science teacher right then.
Instead, I talked to my husband that night, and decided to write a letter to the science teacher, the one who chose to punish her.  I slept on it to have time to think and calm down.
I wrote very carefully.  I said that it had been a misunderstanding.  I said that the biggest problem was the inconsistent policy.  I ask that every teacher give her the same dismissal routine, even if it meant that should would be the latest in the room, just so that The Biggest One would have a clear set of instructions to follow each week ,and she could stop asking them what to do.  I did say that she was almost always the last one in the room, and I would like to see her dismissed when the bell rang, like her teacher does, but if they feel that is unsafe for any reason, that we would take what ever was best.  I also said that if there were more concerns, then I would be glad to meet with the teachers who have dismissal duty over her, and the principal if needed, so that we could come up with a safe plan of action for dismissal for the rest of the year that would work for everyone.
It wasn't mean.  It was firm, but there is a huge difference.
I had my husband read it, and let me assure you, when it comes to my being bitchy, he can spot it from a mile away and would never fail to call me out on it.  He said the letter was fine.
So, since I had missed writing it by the time they left, I took it in to school.
There is a great little side story about me seeing this teacher as I was getting there, but I will save that for later.
For now, what you need to know is that I got it to The Biggest One right before lunch and recess when she was supposed to stand with her science teacher.  She went back to class, and before recess, she ask her teacher if she could go ahead and give the letter to the other teacher.  Her teacher ask to see it and read it first.  That pisses me off right there.  It wasn't addressed to her.
She read it, and according to the Biggest One, made a big eyed face.  She called the other teacher over, and said, "Here, her mom wrote you an angry letter."

I will let that sink in for a second.

You good?

Ok.  She said, in front of my child, that I wrote her teacher an angry letter. I ask if she had been kidding.  The Biggest One showed me the face she made three separate times.  She was absolutely not kidding according to my child.

Well, if I wasn't angry before, I was the moment my child relayed this.
It wasn't an angry letter.  I promise you.   Even if it had been, that was totally inappropriate to say in front  of my child.  You can bitch about me behind my back like all the people who have sense do any time you want, but not in front of my child.  What she did was just set up an adversarial position for the two of us.  She said I did something mean to that other teacher.  The teacher parent relationship should never be adversarial, and setting it up that way goes against the grain of everything I think schools work for.

How dare she.

So, this time I decided to take a couple of days and cool down.
I'm thinking a conference with the principal is actually in order.
That really wasn't ok with me.  I don't know exactly why she dislikes me so much.
I swear that if you got Middie's teacher together with The Biggest One's, and had them each describe me as a parent, you would think they were talking about two totally different women.  I would do anything for the school and my girls' classes that I could.  If you know me, you know that.  Last year, I went in no less than once a week for a couple of hours with two kids in tow to do paper work in the parent room because I feel it is my responsibility to help out any way I can.  That's my job.
Instead of viewing me as an asset, though, for some reason, she has chosen to make me an obstacle.  It honestly makes me want to cry.  I just want to help, not to be treated with out respect.
Anyway, this post has been super long.  Sorry.  If you made it through, thanks.
I'll let you know what happens from here.  I'm hoping for some kind of better.  Any kind of better.