Saturday, June 29, 2013

15 months/6 years

The other day we got out of the house early to get the boys in to the doctor. They are both growing well.

Gareth was happy he didn't need any shots. He's staying in the 50% for his weight at just over 46 pounds, and has jumped to the 60% for his height at just over 46 inches. He's asked to cut his hair, so we'll be going back to a shorter cut sometime this summer. He's starting to get into Legos and still loves video games and is constantly asking questions. A very social kid, he's always wanting to have someone to play with and loves making others, especially his brother, laugh. He's a voracious reader these days, staying up at night to read and reading just about anything he can get his hands on. He's currently into Captain Underpants/Super Diaper Baby and is really interested in the Ivy and Bean series after we picked one of those up at a little free library a few blocks away. But he's also steadily working through one of the Henry Huggins books that we got at the library and loves books about space as well. His writing improved a lot throughout the school year, he asked me today if I could teach him cursive (because I totally remember how to do that) and he also does very well in math, though this is the area where his perfectionism is most likely to cause frustration (he wants to work ahead of his level and gets upset if he doesn't understand things perfectly on the first try).

Malcolm is also growing well. He's up in the 50% for height at 31 inches and hanging around the 15% for weight at 20 pounds, 5 ounces. I'm excited he's hit 20 pounds because that means we can turn the car seat around whenever we want (they encourage you to keep them rear-facing for two years, but I'm getting really, really tired of having to buckle Gareth's seat belt for him (the latch in our car is poorly positioned and makes buckling other seat belts extremely difficult and the only way the car seat fits rear facing is in the center seat, right next to Gareth)). Malcolm loves to climb stairs and one of these days will decide to walk. He cruises a lot and will occasionally stand without holding anything. The doctor isn't too worried about the not walking, but is hoping he'll be doing that by 18 months. Like me, she's fairly certain he's just a bit lazy. Why do something that's kinda hard when you can get around so quickly crawling? She says he's showing good social skills, despite his crying for the majority of the visit. He jabbers a lot, but isn't really speaking yet. He says "uh-oh" all the time and has occasionally said "ba" after we say "ball", but that's about it. A couple days ago I did realize though that he says "da da doh" or occasionally "dee da doh" for "peek-a-boo" and "aye" for "hi". I think, anyway. He likes imitating sounds - Gareth almost got Malcolm saying "thank you" this morning just by saying it over and over in a silly way that caught Malcolm's attention.

Malcolm suddenly has cute curly locks, especially on the back of his head. I'm pretty sure his hair was all straight until I gave him a bath the other day and then after I dried his hair it curled up a bit and seems to have gotten more curls at the bottom each day. It's quite cute. I was looking at a picture from Michaela's wedding the other day that has an almost 15-month old Gareth in it, trying to compare him with Malcolm at the same age. I'll have to post a picture of then-Gareth and a recent picture of Malcolm for comparison. Tons of people say that Malcolm looks like a miniature version of Gareth. I can see that there are definite differences, but I just can't put my finger on what they are. But they do share a lot of features as well.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Catching Up: Kindergarten "Promotion"

Remember how I think preschool graduations are a tad silly? Well, preschool graduations pale in absurdity and ridiculousness compared to Kindergarten promotions. At least moving into elementary school is typically a big step in a kid's life, or considered to be so by most people. Kindergarten to 1st grade? So not a big deal, especially now that most Kindergartens are full day and far more academically rigorous than they used to be. But, Gareth's school had a "promotion", so I dutifully made Malcolm miss his morning nap in order to support Gareth.

I even volunteered to make cookies or muffins (because what all 6 year olds need is loads of sugar at 10 am). I'd stupidly figured that the event was the day after all my projects and chem final would be over, so I'd be free the evening before to bake. I didn't stop to realize that not only would I be exhausted but that my kitchen would still be a huge mess from several nights of no time to clean. So instead of making banana bread, we ended up running to the store to buy some yummy (but expensive) muffins before heading to school the next morning. I felt better about this when I saw that just about everyone else who brought in food had also purchased it.

Gareth had been singing songs that they'd perform at the event for the couple of weeks before and was generally very excited about it. All the Kindergarten kids filed in, the principal spoke briefly, the kids sang "You're a Grand Old Flag", complete with Nazi salute to the flag at the end (someone obviously wasn't thinking clearly when they made that choreography decision), a teacher read something, one room read all their names, Gareth's teacher read something, another room read all their names, the principal read a poem he'd written, and Gareth's teacher read his class's names, then the kids sang a song, and then ended with a song about moving to first grade sung to the tune of "New York, New York". This idea must've come from the common core because my cousin's daughter sang exactly the same thing in North Carolina. The children were all very cute. Gareth was in the front row, so he could easily see Malcolm and me (who were in the very back in case I needed to make a quick exit with Malcolm), and he was pretty excited that we could see him and he us I think.

Gareth's teacher
Gareth getting his certificate
A friend tied a balloon to Malcolm's stroller before the event which kept him happily entertained until about halfway through. At that point he wanted out of the stroller, which guarantees some upset moments when he's not allowed to crawl all over the floor. But he was intermittently happy (usually when playing with the balloon again) and upset. Using the camera with him in my arms was out of the question and he absolutely refused to go to a friend, so the friend ended up taking pictures for me. He really did quite well considering he was missing a nap.
Getting grumpy
In the end, the kids were cute but it was such an unnecessary event. Why do kids need a pat on the back for completing Kindergarten of all things? Gareth was excited about singing the songs he'd learned and being up on the stage though, so it was good to go to be supportive of him.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Picture Catch-Up: Ryan's Birthday

Okay, I actually don't have many pictures for this. So more of an event catch-up.

We typically make a German chocolate cake for Ryan's birthday. I don't know why, whether to try and save me some trouble (his birthday fell on an extremely busy weekend toward the end of the quarter) or just for variety's sake, but Ryan asked for a cheesecake this year. I didn't have time to look up a cheesecake recipe, so I used Google to see what I could find for cheesecakes in Seattle. We'd been to Cheesecake Factory a few years ago and I remember being unimpressed by either the food or the cheesecake. I found a place in Pike's Place Market, The Confectional, that makes mini cheesecakes. And I found some people mentioning Rusty's Famous Cheesecakes, for which I found a facebook page but nothing more. But some people were adamant that Rusty's was better than Confectional, so I dug a little more. I finally gave them a call the day before Ryan's birthday, asking how I could order a cheesecake if it wasn't too late. Rusty called me back and offered to meet me at their south Seattle office on Saturday to get me a cheesecake, so that's what we did. Ordered a creme brulee cheesecake and he even threw in a few of their mini cheesecakes for free.

Creme brulee topping makes it difficult to insert candles (5 candles because Ryan turned 32, which is 2^5).

Malcolm was somewhat mesmerized by the flames.

Absolutely delicious cheesecake; I'd say it's up there with our wedding cheesecake. The crust had coconut in it, which complemented the rest of the cheesecake (plain other than the topping) wonderfully. It's a small cake, but Rusty told me they usually cut it into 12 slices and, sure enough, it probably made at least that many servings for us.

Ryan can be difficult to get gifts for. I know several things he'd like, but they're almost always far too expensive. And, while he enjoys reading, he's already got several books waiting to be read. In the end I did get him a couple of books, ones that both of us will enjoy most likely. And I knew he wanted some money for the Steam summer sale, so I did that along with a card that Gareth helped me pick out. Gareth thought this card was pretty hilarious and was very excited for Ryan to open it.

And then I went through the Chinook book to try and find something that would be new and different that Ryan might enjoy. He likes plays, but I already did play tickets for Christmas, and we're likely to buy tickets for the theatre anyway (they've been bugging me to buy season tickets and I'll probably go ahead and do it). There are some fun-looking things in the Chinook book (like an entertainment book, except way more useful, less expensive, and very small, local-store/experience oriented). In the end I opted for a kayak tour of Elliot Bay. Close enough that it'll only require a sitter for 4 or 5 hours, but something that we haven't done before. It's not like we haven't seen Elliot Bay (our temporary housing was right there), but it'll be fun to actually be out on the water. There was a coupon in there for an Orca watching kayak thing, but that lasted much longer and the travel time for us to get to the location would be longer as well. Something to keep in mind for when the kids are older.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Picture Catch-Up: Piano and Being Cute

Malcolm has fallen in love with our keyboard. The piano at his sitter's house was one item that helped him finally transition into being happy about being there. Gareth is usually happy to play with the keyboard with Malcolm for a bit.

We've entered the stage where you try to take a picture and Malcolm quickly comes and tries to eat the camera.

Gareth always wants pictures of himself.

Malcolm is super-cute when he plays the keyboard (and the lighting in our house can be difficult to work with).

Gareth loves metal music these days. Here he's rocking out on his air guitar in his painfully mis-matched outfit.

Malcolm loves the outdoors and gets very upset if you take him out to, say, check the weather, and then quickly come back in. For the first couple of months at the sitter's he was only content (sort of) if our friend was carrying him in the ergo outside. If his sitter dared to carry him inside in the ergo screaming ensued. Anyway, he loves standing by the screen door (which we're so glad has a lock on it!), banging on the door and also getting to see whatever might be going on just outside the front door (usually not much).

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Picture Catch-Up: Gareth's Birthday

So back when I wrote a post about Gareth's birthday that ended up being all about the cake I made, I promised I had some pictures of him opening presents and whatnot. Here they are:

Eight surviving balloons. I purchased twelve, even though we only had seven kids attending. But they were cheaper per balloon if I got twelve. And it's a good thing I did because they over-filled them or something and they were popping like crazy. One more popped before the party was over, so we ended up with just enough. Which was unfortunate for the kid who lost hold of his as he was walking out the door.

Seven 5/6 year olds in our small house. It was loud. Fun, but loud. I was actually pleasantly surprised that nothing in the basement got destroyed. All the kids seemed to have a fun time. Two hours was perfect - I would've gone crazy with more. As it was, I had a headache from all the noise by the time it was over. I think seven will be the limit for all future years.

Anticipating Cake

Gareth doesn't look excited in this next picture, but he actually was. This present was from a friend unable to make it to the party. But he and Gareth had recently been seated in the same group of desks at school, and this kid had shared his twistable colored pencils with Gareth. Gareth then took his twistable crayons to school to share with the friend. It was all very sweet, and so the colored pencils were a very fitting gift.

Excitedly ripping into another gift.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Reflecting on Kindergarten Year

Our school year has come to a close here in Seattle (we got out a bit early this year, I assume because they decided to cut mid-winter break from a full week in February to a Friday and Monday in February). Here are some of my thoughts after one year in our local elementary school.

I still feel like I have no idea what's going on half the time. I'm going to go ahead and assume that most other parents feel the same way, especially if they've only been dealing with the schools for one year. But I also wonder if I'll continue to feel this way for the entirety of Gareth's journey through school. I can't help but feel that part of it is due to the enormous size of the school district, which is completely different than what I'm used to. My kid is just one teeny, tiny speck that, if you just look at the big picture, hardly matters at all. I have a feeling it's going to be very difficult to advocate for what an individual child may need in such a large system. I also think part of it was that I wasn't up at the school volunteering a lot. I did what I could, but when you've got an infant trying to take two naps during the six hour period of school, it gets a bit difficult to work around that. I'm not sure what future years will look like, but hopefully time will help increase my familiarity with the school and how things are generally run.

I'm a bit nervous about what math and language arts will look like next year. They don't have an accelerated program at our school, except they sort of do. Maybe. You can test your kid to be labeled as gifted, which qualifies them for a self-contained program (which may not exist anymore soon or at the very least will be revamped and which they were having issues of not enough spots for all the kids testing in, so even if your kid did test in they may not get to be in the program), but doing that program would've meant switching schools, Gareth didn't qualify anyway (apparently he may have if we'd had him privately tested, but at $400 there is no way I'm doing that!), and I really, really don't want him in an isolated program. But if you decide not to do the self-contained program they can still be labeled as such and do ALO (advanced learning opportunities), which it sounds like can look very different at each school. I've heard that if the kids score well on the standardized test they're automatically put in ALO (which, so far anyway, Gareth has scored very highly on those tests). What does ALO look like at our school? No idea, and no one I've asked really knew either. So maybe it's just a label for their record that doesn't mean anything. I think at most it means the teacher tries to give them some extended work once in a while. But I have heard others talking about their fourth grader being in fifth grade math, so it sounds like they do try to place kids where they'll learn the most. But I've also heard of problems with that - not enough space in fifth grade math so they try to tell the kid that already excelled in fourth grade math that they can just take it again. Anyway, I feel like Gareth is the kind of kid that will only go as far as is expected of him, so I'm a bit worried that if he doesn't get a teacher willing to push him beyond the minimum standards that we'll end up with any of a variety of problems (boredom, behavioral, or just not reaching the levels he's capable of for example).

I have a complicated relationship with the bakery that's on the way to school. So, so yummy. And way, way too tempting, especially when we don't have much in the house for breakfast. Too easy to say, "Oh, I'll just grab a muffin/danish/croissant after I drop the kiddo off". And the children begging to go there after school every single day gets old really fast. But I don't blame Gareth for wanting it every day because it is so very delicious.

I wish all states adequately funded education. Washington does not. This puts a lot of pressure on parents to raise money and donate a lot of time to fill in the gaps, meaning wealthy areas end up a lot better off than less wealthy areas. Our PTA does a ton of fundraising. This gets overwhelming rather quickly. In the fall we got a flyer for a direct drive fundraiser. I'm thinking, "Awesome! No wrapping paper sales! Maybe I'll donate something just because I don't have to sell anything." and the very next day we get home the information for the jog-a-thon. Will my kid be upset if I don't support him in the jog-a-thon? I have no idea, and end up debating which to send money for until I just don't do either. They also hold a spring auction, auctioning off art that each classroom makes as well as various donated items. Tickets run $50 per person and this event, held at the Seattle Center, hauls in $150,000. I think the jog-a-thon brings in something like $20,000. Or was it $40,000? Anyway, some insane amounts. Because we live in a school area where the parents fork over such obscene amounts, our kids get to have a music program and new computers. That money also helps pay for an art docent program (they don't have a full-time art teacher) and keeps the office staff at the needed levels. But we still only have a nurse twice a week, meaning students with special health needs such as,say, diabetes, would have to pay out of their own pocket for an aide to be there daily, or have to move to another school that can provide them with the services they need. Oh, and lack of funding means overcrowded classrooms. Gareth's K class had 26, but his teacher was new and I think they were trying to help her out a bit. One of the other teachers had at least 28. And the numbers allowed per classroom go up into the 30s once they hit first grade.

The gym teacher at our school is awesome. Gareth loves PE and I've got to say, they do some really cool stuff. Archery. Roller-skating. Yeah, we never did that when I was a kid. Older kids do a bicycle unit; some even get started on unicycles (and ride them in the Syttende Mai parade).

I don't like getting all the artwork only at the end of the year. I didn't think much of this at the beginning, figuring maybe it'd be nice/maybe there was a good reason for it. I can't remember the reason his teacher gave; I'm not sure she even knew, except that that's how she'd been told it worked. But I've decided that it's really dumb. I want to see, and possibly hang up, the things he's creating through the year. Especially since my kid is not a prolific artist, I like having the occasional piece from school actually come home. Next year I will ask his teacher to send home his pieces (at least some of them) after they're finished displaying them in the classroom or hallway.

I love having a neighborhood school. Apparently Seattle used to work on a lottery system, which I've seen so many other people have problems with and which can mean your kid ends up getting bused across the city because they didn't get into the schools near you. Now you're guaranteed a spot in your attendance area school - usually within fairly easy walking distance. You can apply to get into a different school if you want, and that is based on lottery, but if you don't get into the school you apply to you at least have a spot at your neighborhood school. I love that we can walk Gareth to school (though I will only get to walk to pick him up during fall quarter next year - our sitter will walk him two days, Ryan two days, and I'll drive him before heading to class one day). You meet so many other parents just by walking your kid to school. And you get to chat a bit with Fred the crossing guard, who is well-loved by everyone. And we're close enough that a lot of kids hang out and play on the playground after school, so you get more opportunities to socialize with parents then.

Gareth loved his Kindergarten year. I think any of the K teachers would've been great, but it was fun to have the new teacher because she's young and brought a lot of enthusiasm into the job. She tried her best to challenge Gareth in math and to help him work on some of the social things he needed help with - dealing with disappointment and keeping his hands to himself with his friends for instance. It was a great year, Gareth is super excited for a break from school, but also for what 1st grade will bring, and so am I.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

One Quarter Down

Some things I've discovered this past quarter:

School is a lot harder when you've got kids than when you don't. And when you feel like it's okay to have spaghetti for dinner every night of the week. I wish I could go back and make single, childless me appreciate how easy I had it.

Scheduling classes over lunch time is not the greatest idea - for me or for Malcolm. Malcolm often wouldn't eat while I was gone, meaning he'd get a rushed lunch at 3 pm before we ran back out the door to pick up Gareth from school. I fared better, but finding things to pack and take with me wasn't always easy and I usually just took a snack (apple, veggies and hummus, a muffin), so I often was scarfing down lunch at the same time as Malcolm.

Community college is fascinating for the wide variety of people and their life circumstances that you encounter. I worried a bit before starting classes that I'd feel weird and old and out of place, but at a community college that's definitely not the case. And when I move on it'll be in a master's program, so hopefully won't be entirely odd to be a little older there either.

It's more interesting to take classes when you have more life experience to bring to the table. I find myself relating my courses to other parts of life so much more now than I did when I was younger. Some people I know have always been good at this, but I've needed the past several years to start doing this I guess. Ryan and I were discussing debate and I was reminded of topics we'd discussed in Psychology that week - group polarization and circumstances required to overcome prejudice and stereotyping. Even in our tv watching psychology information has come up. A drug was mentioned (clozapine, if I remember correctly) and they're trying to make it all dramatic, not telling you what the character is using it for, but I recognized it as a drug used to treat schizophrenia. I can see how operant conditioning can work on my kids and it's fun to delve into things I've experienced personally, like cognitive dissonance theory, a little bit more. Chemistry didn't cover anything I hadn't seen in high school, but it was more interesting a second time around. Ryan thought I was a bit crazy, but the journal articles I read for my final "paper" (very, very short summaries don't count as papers) were fascinating. Did you know how important trace elements such as selenium are to your body function? Selenium helps with basic life functions in your cells, can have anti-tumor benefits, and aids in thyroid hormone metabolism. Apparently the soil in northern Europe doesn't have sufficient selenium, so researchers are trying to figure out how to add more selenium to agricultural products (humans don't efficiently process inorganic selenium). You can enrich yeast with selenium, but this can be dangerous as the Se levels can vary and if you get too much it can be toxic. So they're trying out ways to increase amounts available from things like wheat and chicken.

I still really hate posters. I've never been good at things like posters. Our final project in psych required a group poster and I definitely still hate them. It's a good thing there are several templates for academic posters to be found on the internet.

I don't, for the most part, like to even think about breaking social norms.

It takes Malcolm about ten weeks (at two days per week, about 3 hours per day) to become comfortable with a sitter. Seven to eight weeks to not cry the entire time. He didn't cry at all the last two days. Our friend has signed on for the fall (morning classes, so he'll get both boys and take Gareth to school a couple days each week), so hopefully Malcolm will remember him still come fall and will transition back into childcare easily.

This quarter went really well and I even made a friend in Psychology that I hope to maintain a friendship with. I'm taking the summer off and will start back up in the fall, this time with both classes on campus. Chemistry (again) and Lifespan Psychology. I hope to schedule Chemistry, part II and Human Nutrition for winter. From here on out most, if not all, of my classes will be on campus, which makes childcare more costly and more difficult to arrange. But hopefully in a couple years my head will be stuffed full of an awful lot of chemistry and I'll be ready to apply to my program.