Girl has been dressing as a box troll and going about her business for a couple of days now. Maybe you’ve seen the movie? These trolls wear boxes that are their only clothes, their shelter, their bed. They are named by what is written on their box. Girl’s says Fragile, and she asked me to write ‘Glass’ underneath. Hence: Fragile Glass the Boxtroll. Today she asked to wear her box to co-op, and how could I say no? Oh, another detail: boxtrolls are terrified and humiliated to leave their boxes. So every time Girl took her box off today, she also huddled down and yelled, “Ahhhh! I’m naked!”
She stayed in character most of the day. Since today was class picture day for Play and Learn, Fragile Glass will be featured in the yearbook.
What did people think when they saw us walking to the church in the morning, my little girl wearing a box? It’s hard to say. But Fragile studied the letter R today, painted a rocket ship, practiced counting down from 10 (in order to launch a rocket), and studied the water cycle.
Boy made an Abraham Lincoln hat, acted out the fable The Crow and the Pitcher, “ran” a mummy race (in which all participants were wrapped in toilet paper), and carefully dissected an owl pellet, brushing off innumerable rodent bones, including perfect little jawbones lined with tiny teeth, perfect little skull domes, perfect little claws. And as always, he ran and played with his friends.
Tonight Boy and I made a worry doll for Boy. Here he is, posed heroically at Boy’s request.
Boy asked for privacy in his room before bed to tell this guy his worries, then put him under his pillow.
Today was only our second day at co-op this semester; last week was cancelled for snow, and the week before that Girl had a fever.
We all had a great day. It was my first day helping out in Girl’s Play and Learn class for the first two hours of the day, mostly working with one child who needs some extra attention. I loved being in Girl’s class with her, seeing all of the things they do. It was a little tough for her having me there but paying so much attention to another child. At circle time, she silently pulled her little rug square next to me, where I was sitting with the other child on my lap. Girl curled up into a little ball on her rug square, forehead to the floor, not saying a word. Maybe she was trying not to cry. I rubbed her back while we listened to the stories, and then she seemed better. She told me later that it made her a little sad that I was paying so much attention to someone else, but I explained that that was my job in her class, to help this friend of hers.
In the morning Boy had his biographies and forensics classes. In biographies they talked about George Washington, and in forensics they talked about fibers. I don’t know much more than that, though hopefully I can get more details out of him tomorrow, if we have time for chatting.
At lunch time Girl went to the nursery with all of her little girl cohort to play for an hour. Boy ate lunch at a table with one of his friends, then they went outside and ran around until it was time for their third class, fables. They all introduced themselves to each other this time, and the teacher told me later that Boy announced that there were three important things about him: 1) That he was strong enough to lift 20 lbs., which is almost half his bodyweight, because he weighs 45 lbs., 2) That he has $519, and that’s the truth, and, 3) That he is good at math. The adult helper in that class sat with Boy during the art project to make sure he didn’t get overwhelmed (much like I’m helping my little charge in the mornings).
After lunch Girl had her science class. They made rainbow milk paint, and then made a drawing of what it looked like. Girl made a numbered picture list across the top of her page of the things we would need to do this at home.
Last period Boy had Daring and Dangerous Club for Boys, where they were visited by a Navy air traffic controller who talked to them about what he does. Girl hung out in the nursery for a bit, then asked if she could sit out in the main room and listen to ladies talk (something she really enjoys).
When we left, it was snowing. We drove home and the kids played outside with the dog for a bit, before coming in for popcorn.
Today was the first day of co-op for the spring semester. This is a secular weekly co-op held in a local Unitarian church, with extremely high quality classes. It has two semesters a year, and this is our fourth semester. Our routine is that I read Boy and Girl the class descriptions at the beginning of the registration period, and they pick what they want to take (if anything). So, while to some extent these are ‘traditional’ classes, their participation in them is not coerced, but voluntary. They have complete control over what classes they participate in. And I cannot overstate how much the kids love their classes.
Girl is in the morning Play and Learn program with all of the kids her age, and then she has a “Hands On Science” class after lunch. A class in which she will be wearing a smock and safety glasses on a regular basis. She told me that today she learned about carbon dioxide. She said carbon dioxide a number of times, and that to me says it was a successful day!
I’ll be helping Girl’s teacher in the Play and Learn class this semester, though today I was downstairs helping with first-day goings on, helping returning and new families get their folders and information cards straight, helping make sure all the teachers got paid. But I know that Girl had a nice day in class. She made a family portrait and did a thumbprint numbers page. She made a couple of mistakes, but did her page completely independently, when a lot of the kids needed some assistance.
Boy has a very full day with four classes. In the morning he has a parent-taught Biographies class, in which every mom of a student in the class teaches two classes. I’ll be doing Harriet Tubman and Alexander Graham Bell. This morning his friend’s mom talked to them about Pocahontas, and they made clay pots. Boy’s is beautiful. He did great, his teachers said, except for briefly crying about writing a letter of his name wrong on the cover of his sketch pad. (He briefly cried about something in 3 out of 4 classes today, though everyone is very kind and understanding to him about it.) He also drew a picture of the Jamestown Fort and the English ships that Pocahontas was kidnapped and taken to.
Second period Boy has a forensics science class given by an outside instructor, in which the kids investigate crime scene mysteries. As far as I know that went just fine, and he said he loved it. At lunch he ate with a tableful of boys and then they all went outside and ran around in the freezing cold for a while.
After lunch he has a Fables class, in which they hear a story, then do various activities like skits, and some kind of art project. Today they were meant to make a picture using only shading (with the side of a crayon) and no outlines. Boy accidentally made a line, and cried, but the teacher and assistant got him calmed down pretty quickly. Here is his bear, being attacked by bees. It’s lovely. (The general consensus seems to be that Boy is pretty hard on himself, but otherwise a great student.) One of the moms took a very cute video of the kids acting out the Bear and the Bees, and I could see how much fun Boy was having.
At the end of the day Boy has the Daring and Dangerous Club for Boys, which is probably not all that daring, and definitely not dangerous, but mostly meant to engender confidence and build up their relationships. Today they went outside and played games, and Boy mostly had a great time, but cried when they formed relay teams and he was left out of the group he wanted to be in. Of course, my first thought was, how did that make the kids feel that he was supposed to be with, that he was crying about being on their team?? But of course he didn’t mean it that way, just as I’m sure his friends didn’t mean to exclude him.
One more note about today: I got permission to share Boy’s bird pictures! He said he wasn’t embarrassed about it, now that we explained it to him. That of course, he said, it’s silly to think that girls could own birds, and lots of men have been interested in birds and drawn them. I can’t find his osprey carrying a fish picture (it’s possible he crumpled it up when he was upset about things not being perfect) but here we have yellow-bellied sapsucker drilling holes in the pecan tree with a squirrel, and another bird that he drew trying to figure out what wings look like.
Both kids remembered on their own, and said Happy Birthday! the first thing when they saw me. That in and of itself might have been the best present I could have gotten. The kids were SO happy to see their friends at co-op today. And they learned some things, too.
The temperature dropped while we were there and it started raining, so by the time we left things were pretty miserable. When we got home I turned up the heat, made some snacks, and let them watch TV. (They are currently watching episodes of ‘Ghostwriter’ on YouTube; it’s a PBS mystery show for kids from the 90’s that their dad used to watch.) I started dinner, took a break when Papa got home to open my gifts and cards (the drawings/cards from the kids, a ‘coupon book’ from Papa, and cards from two dear friends).
After a simple, quick dinner (white rice and spiced ground turkey and onion) we all drove to the airport (only 15 minutes away) so I could pick up a rental car. The roads were madness, and we passed two accidents between us and the airport. One on the other side of the highway was serious, with four firetrucks and a huge backup. We should be driving over the mountains tomorrow for Thanksgiving with my family and friends of theirs, but the storm will probably prohibit travel. So long as the road are cleared, then, we’ll just leave early Thursday and try to make it for dinner. Girl and Boy would really like to see the mountains. Especially with snow.
I would really like them to see a sky full of stars. I can’t imagine a better birthday gift than that.
If I had one piece of advice for a new mom or dad it would be this: don’t start parenting strategies you don’t want your children to do back to you. Think giving your kids choices (that aren’t really choices) is a good idea? Someday they’ll be giving you rhetorically empty choices, too. For example, when your husband asks your daughter not to start making a second batch of ‘cupcake batter’ from actual ingredients in your kitchen, she might present him with these two (equally sound) options: (Note: a museologist is the job she has made up for herself, basically a scientist who works in a museum and tells people about things.)
“Do you want me to be a GOOD museologist who knows EVERYTHING? And an adult who knows how to do things? Or do you want me to be a HORRIBLE museologist, who doesn’t know how to do anything? IT’S YOUR CHOICE.”
Wow, Girl, when you put it that way, I see that I really do want to let you try to make cupcakes again completely by yourself even though you haven’t eaten dinner and it’s bedtime!
But let’s back up a little.
You know what happens when you empower children to believe that they can do things? They do things. Sometimes those things are charming and completely convenient for you. And sometimes it happens like this. You’ve just gotten home from costume day at your co-op (which was awesome, and also your daughter made a beautiful rainbow painting), and you’ve made the kids a plate of snacks, but they want more. You’re telling them to wait because you are trying to upload and tag adorable pictures of kids in costumes. They are watching PBS Kids. They go in the kitchen after watching an episode of Arthur. You hear some noises but you figure they’re getting some tortilla chips or at most, making toast. But then your son comes in and say they need help with the oven. The oven?
You go in the kitchen and see ingredients on the table: milk, flour, olive oil, cocoa, baking powder, raisins, chocolate bits…but only one measuring cup and no measuring spoons. And a big bowl of batter. Really thin batter. They ask for the cupcake tin and cupcake liners. Your daughter throws an unopened bag of chia seeds at you and says she wants to add these sunflower seeds to the cupcakes. You explain about chia seeds and you stay cool. You know this is what you signed on for. You can see in their faces that they believe in these ‘cupcakes.’ They think they are doing a great job and that they are adequately following the ‘recipe’ they saw in that episode of Arthur.
So you get them what they’ve asked for, and you let them fill the paper liners with thin batter on the kitchen floor, and then you put the tin in the oven for them. They cook! They rise! And they taste…terrible. But you don’t really say much about it. You don’t process this experience for them. You know they’re disappointed, especially your son. You wonder what’s going to happen. Will he want to try it again tomorrow? You’ll leave that up to him. You just ask him to put the ingredients away, and tell him you’re proud of him for trying this on his own. Because that’s the truth.
‘Co-op’ probably means different things to different people. Ours is effectively a one-day-a-week school held in a Unitarian church, though the program itself is secular. Classes (two periods in the morning, and two after lunch) are offered for different age groups, from Pre-K through high school. Some teachers are moms of students, some come from outside. All are highly qualified. We pay for classes. It can get expensive. There are a lot of students, in every corner. Moms stay on site, mostly in the large wooden main space, working on their laptops, talking to other moms. There’s a nursery/playroom for littles. At lunch time kids, even big ones, spill out onto the narrow lawn that encircles the old stone church, running, playing crazy tag games, gathering in little groups, crawling behind the bushes, talking about whatever kids talk about. A couple of moms sit outside or stand around to enforce the few rules and keep an eye out, but mostly they chat, too. Some of the little girls, in particular, prefer to spend lunchtime in the playroom.
There’s a Girl Scout troop that meets the last period of the day. In fact, Girl is newly a Daisy Scout. She knows the Girl Scout Promise. So does Boy. Girl told him he, too, would be a good Girl Scout. Lately, when Girl does something particularly considerate or helpful, she declares, “Because I live by the Girl Scout Law!!”
Today Girl also learned about elephants. She tells me on the ride home: elephants have pads on their feet so that they walk quietly, even though they are so big. She tells me: Africa elephants have large ears that flop around. Asia elephants have small ears, that cannot flop. She made a book of seasons. She drew a picture about the book Who Owns the Sun, a picture of things ‘too beautiful to own’. The sun, the stars; also me. You are too beautiful to own, Mumma, she tells me. I’m fairly certain she doesn’t much understand that book (it’s about slavery) but I am extremely gratified by the drawing nonetheless.
Boy tells us, driving home, that he learned about long-distance communication in ancient times. The ancient Chinese used kites, he tells us, the kites were big and could be seen from a long way away. Also, people could use flashing mirrors. One flash could mean everything was okay. Two could mean danger. Three could mean an enemy was spotted. Or carrier pigeons. They used carrier pigeons in World War I, he says. They attached a message to the foot of the pigeon. Maybe they also used them in World War II, he thinks, probably they did.
In his Mini-Makers class Boy constructed an automatic drawer. Four markers attached to a red plastic cup, topped by a popsicle stick that can spin, a little off kilter. There are tape and wires and paper clips and tin foil. He knows more about electronics than I do, I realize. After dinner we crowd around our little kitchen table, while he demonstrates, fiddling with the wire and the tin foil and the paper clip. He connects something, and the stick spins, off kilter. The contraption shakes and wobbles on its skinny marker legs, moving, drawing. Each marker moves a little differently. One makes little lines. One makes little dots, in a path across the paper. Girl says they are footprints. All of the movement originates simply from the off-kilter spin. We are fascinated. The automatic drawer reaches the edge of the paper and Boy moves it back to the middle, gently, so as not to dislodge the wire, over and over. It’s beautiful.