Wednesday, September 28, 2011

My Gypsy Daughter

With Sarah being away at college, we mainly communicate through texts or pictures. She tells me I send her enough pictures of the baby to make a daily calendar, or at least a monthly one. She (Sarah) is also noticeably absent from my usual blogging, owing to her general scarcity. The other night I sent her a picture of one of the twins, clean and shiny, fresh from the tub. Sarah tried to guess which twin it was (wrongly) and then shot back this picture of her own.

As for the gypsy part, it's sort of her "thing" for the moment.

The "mystery twin"

Another clean, shiny kid

"Take my picture!"   Don't ask.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

2:33 p.m., Any Given Weekday

This picture speaks volumes, if you know what to listen for.   

I’ve been homeschooling my kids since 1998.  None of the children who are currently homeschooled, with the exception of Clare for her kindergarten year, have ever been in traditional school.  12 days ago, (on Thursday the 15th) Clare, who is 10, faced off with me and told me she doesn’t want to do her schoolwork.  This was not a news flash.  We'd been having issues with her cooperation for almost two years.  She was just being honest - sassy, but honest - but I was tired of threatening her and telling her how much easier she had it with me rather than in school, tired of her draining me of time and energy and enthusiasm.  Within a few minutes I had called the principal and made an appointment, and before she knew what hit her, she started school last Monday.  I cried about the decision for 2 straight days, and she cried every day in school for the first week. 

It’s Tuesday of the second week now, and both of us have stopped crying, although we still both have mixed feelings about this development. We are spending the same amount of time on after-school homework that we used to spend on all of her daily work put together.  She misses being home, being with her sisters, spending time with me, and she regrets losing the freedom we used to enjoy. She's sorry that she didn't cooperate more.  She wishes she could just come back home.  I don’t think she’s learned enough of a lesson yet.  We agreed that she has to finish out the year, but that seems so terribly long to me.  I want her to do well in school, but not so well that she loves it and never wants to be homeschooled again. 

And yet, without her, I’m getting a lot more done with my other kids.  The younger girls are getting regular lessons every day now, where before I often ran out of time.  Noelle will be 5 on the day after Christmas, and she has already progressed to the point where she can read 75% of everything she sees.  The “reading” switch has been turned on in her head, and now she can’t stop herself!!!    And Theresa, who is almost 8, still wasn’t reading fluently, but in just the past 2 weeks she’s made huge improvements.  The small increase in time we're put in has already reaped huge dividends.

Because Clare needs to get up early, all the girls have been put to bed earlier so that the house quiets down enough for her to be able to sleep.  She is notoriously nosy, and can't settle down if they're being noisy in the hall or the next bedroom.

There's another bonus I should mention - since Clare needs to catch her bus at 7:18 a.m., we have been getting up at 6:30 a.m. every weekday. I have never been a morning person, so this has opened up a whole world of extra time that I didn't even know existed!  (Just kidding, but only barely)  I have several hours of the peace I crave before the baby and the twins wake up.  If we get cracking, Brian and I can complete his courseload by 10:00 a.m., instead of us just getting up and moving by the same time.  I still haven't figured out how to work in all the cooking and cleaning too, but hey, it's only been 7 days.  Give me time.

So here I am, caught in this conundrum.  Because Clare is in school, I have this extra time.  If she were back at home, my motivation to get up early would diminish severely.  We'd probably fall back into our late bed/late rise pattern.  But having her in school was my last resort, and it was never part of my dream for our family.  All of the things she likes about school are the social aspects:  recess, seeing her friends, lunches.  There is tuition to be paid - we're paying for her to socialize?  Why is it that the school has her for seven hours during the day, but they send her home with two hours of homework that she can't even do, because she didn't understand the teachers' explanations?  If she can sit with me and do two hours of someone else's assignments, why couldn't she have just cooperated with me in the first place??  Then there's the endless fundraising, school uniforms, gym uniforms, new shoes, yada yada yada.  And did I mention that it's no coincidence that by the end of her very. first. week.  she and several others in our family had caught cold? 

There's no neat ending to this post, just a jagged hole in our day that used to be filled with Clare, for better or for worse.  And every day at 2:32, we go to meet the bus that brings her back to us.  They miss her, I miss her, and you can see how happy they all are for her to be back.

Postscript 10/21/11

That "cold" she caught turned out to be pneumonia.  She missed the next eight days of school and lost 9 pounds, but she's fully mended now.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11/For The Record

My experience of September 11, 2001, as I remember it:

We were staying that week in Ocean City, New Jersey, in a blue rental beach house in the 3400 block of Central Ave.  "We" consisted of Andy &Michele and our then-"enormous" brood of 5 kids - Sarah (10), Scott (8), Brian (5), Conor (3), and Clare, (3 months), as well as my mother, who was still well enough to travel with us.

Beach houses come with standard cable TV, sometimes one in every room. Since we had taken the plunge and canceled cable in the fall of 1998, the only chances the kids had to flip channels and melt their brains were when they visited grandparents or during our beach vacation.  Consequently, the television(s) were on nonstop (it was their vacation too, after all) and Andy and I did our level best to ignore them, turn them off, or pry the kids away from them.

That particular Tuesday morning Andy had taken the older kids down to the beach by 8:00 a.m. to fly kites, while I stayed behind to care for the baby and the younger ones.  When I finally made my way to the living room just before 9:00 a.m., the television was on AGAIN with my mother glued to the set.  The first plane had crashed into the tower about ten minutes prior.

Now you have to understand, my mother is one of those who couldn't miss "her shows" - every morning news program, Rosie, Oprah, the evening news, the daily number, every single Philllies game and Tiger Woods match, and "Wheel."  I hated it.  You couldn't talk to her or even get between her and the television when her programs were on.  Heaven forbid she miss the daily number.  What was the answer to that puzzle?  Did they win the trip to Hawaii?  Incessant boring golf matches. Aargh!  Spending a week living with it day and night was wearing on my nerves.  So when she called me over to watch the coverage, my reaction was, "Yeah, yeah, whatever.  A plane crashed into a building."  It was unarguably a tragedy for all those involved, but there are lots of sad things in this world.  Why should I watch one more?  I headed down to the beach to watch the kites.

Scott received an awesome blue biplane kite for his birthday that year, and it was a perfect day for flying - brilliantly blue skies dotted with puffy clouds, a brisk ocean breeze, an empty beach drenched with warm golden sunshine.  The only hitch was that his kite only came with about a hundred feet of string.  I volunteered to pop over to the boardwalk kite shop to get a longer spool.

In the kite shop, all the televisions were also on the same channels, and by then the second plane had struck.  I bought a 500 foot spool of string while keeping one eye on the screens, as we were all starting to piece together the information and realize that this wasn't just a bizarre coincidence.  The sun-drenched morning seemed to grow darker as a knot of fear twisted up in the pit of my stomach.  Everything wasn't right with the world.  It occurred to me for the first time that this life I was living, this peace and relaxation and safety I enjoyed and took for granted, was nothing more than a fragile facade that could be shattered at someone's whim.  We were vulnerable.  I was scared.

I took the kite string back to the beach and helped Scott tie it on while I related everything I knew so far to Andy and the kids.  Scott was really anxious to get the biplane kite going high, so we stayed on the beach for a while, but the anxiety and fear of the unknown was growing all the while.  Scott got the biplane going so high and so fast that it wasn't long before  he approached the end of the spool   It was with dismay that we abruptly learned that the kite string wasn't secured to the spool, as we had assumed it would be.  We all stood, open-mouthed, as the string paid out completely and the biplane went sailing, tethered no more, out above the wide-open Atlantic.  We watched until there wasn't even a speck left in the sky.

The rest of the day, nay, the rest of the week was surreal.  On the normally bustling boardwalk, small knots of people were clustered motionless around television screens, staring in disbelief as the story unfolded.  People were more subdued and polite to each other.  Andy and strongly felt that we needed to be at the special Mass that was hastily scheduled that first day.  Churches everywhere were packed.  I would never have suspected before that day that so many people would flock to worship and pray together in the wake of such a tragedy.

I felt so guilty to be on vacation, to be able to enjoy such glorious weather.  I felt vulnerable and unsafe.  It felt wrong to laugh or smile or even talk.  I kept glancing north up the coastline, as if I'd be able to see the smoke from 130 miles away.  I didn't want to let the children out of my sight.  I wept, watching each more shocking video that surfaced, showing the horrors faced and the desperation of some of the victims.  I wept at each poster and flyer made for the missing persons, and prayed for the families who were waiting for news, begging God to let them be restored to each other.  And I was, and still am, proud, so fiercely proud, of the bravery, the tenacity, the resourcefulness and the determination of all those people who were affected by the attacks or involved in the rescue and restoration efforts.