Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Family Camp two months later

Family camp at Farm and Wilderness, which happens around the third week of August, has had a profound affect on me and on my family. We've gone three of the past four years -- walking those piney New England woods was one of the visceral events of that summer that made me wake up to the fact that it was time for me, us, to move north.

But more than that, although that's plenty. Going there rejuvenates me, helps me set priorities, organize and structure my life, figure out what's important. What's important is family, community, the Golden Rule, eating healthy, moving my body, being around nature, work, love, laughing, reading, relaxing, sharing. All those things.

So what happens when we get back is first a sense of, not quite the cold water in the face, but close. It's the real world, rush, rush, rush, words, noise, frequent isolation, anxiety. And also beauty and love, of course. But it's hard to remember those in daily life. So what changes, or more, what of F&W do I want to continue during the other 51 weeks? In no particular order:

-- washing my hands with soap and water for two rounds of happy birthday. And lots of hand lotion.
-- singing before a meal
-- a period of quiet contemplation every day
-- healthy, delicious food, mostly organic, mostly vegetables, not too much, well-prepared, eaten at regular times
-- everyone takes a turn in helping prepare and clean up
-- a good night's sleep every night
-- work, both drudgery and fun
-- moving around -- swimming, hiking, walking, rock climbing, biking, whatever
-- storytelling
-- good conversation
-- lots of different ages around -- children, teens, young adults, middle aged, older
-- offering to help, with children, the elderly, and others
-- sharing what I know, whether organizing a hike, baking sourdough bread, making friendship bracelets, talking about health care
-- learning from others about what I want to know, whether hiking, baking, friendship bracelets, health care
-- being in the woods and meadows
-- being around animals
-- lots of music, singing, playing, goofing
-- dancing regularly -- weekly is probably too much to ask, eh?
-- laughing a loooooooooooot
-- teaching and learning
-- doing group projects -- work, entertainment, maintenance
These sound like such cliches but they are all a part of the family camp experience. Can't wait for next year!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Hurrah to JFK!

Lily was glowing when she came off the bus yesterday afternoon -- a free school bus at the end of your street is a very nice benefit to attending your local school, by the way -- and charged home, talking a mile a minute. She had already memorized her locker number and combination and knew how to open it -- the biggest worry. She had three email addresses from new friends -- avoiding icky kids being the second-biggest worry -- although she had to tell them she wouldn't email them until Monday, as she's been kicked off the computer as a penalty for lying to us about brushing her teeth, and was busted by the dental hygienist at her new dentist last week (!).

(Does it make it more palatable to say "penalty" instead of "punishment"? I am so opposed to punishment in general, and especially as a parenting tool. But I really wanted this lesson to sink in, and I was very disturbed that she lied to us. At any rate, that's the consequence.)

She didn't know the names of her teachers yet and she had no homework except to bring in colored pencils today. She found her classes pretty easily, and was really excited about her new friends. Unfortunately the band doesn't have many experienced players so there's no intermediate group, just beginner. But she'll be okay there, I think.

Last night the school had an open house "cookie social" to let parents come see their kids in their new environment. I was highly impressed that the teachers showed up too, and we met most of Lily's. We didn't have much time to chat, but I told them to work her hard, and they promised they would. They seemed to be getting a sense of her already. We met other sixth grade families, including her new friends. She opened and closed her locker about a thousand times, and rearranged the stuff inside over and over. She was very happy to be back in school, I think! and she loved showing us her new digs.

She wants to join the drama afterschool group, and I think she'd like to work on the school newspaper. She will be taking chorus and flute and theater improv, like last year, so she'll be busy! Wednesdays at least she can walk over to improv with the other middle schoolers, and I won't see her until we get her at five.

Just a slight worry, what with that guy who was just arrested for kidnapping an 11-year-old and keeping her as his sex slave in his backyard for 18 years. I guess she was snatched at the bus as her step-father watched, and I gotta say, I know this stuff doesn't happen often, from what they can tell, something like 100 kids a year. But still, it gives you pause. I'd feel much safer if she were in Brooklyn, with tons of people all around. I guess I'll have to meet her bus every day. It's just going to make me feel safer, at least for awhile. Now that's an illusion, right? Safety. Bah!

Oh, and I am going to be editing the PTO newsletter! Some things never change . . .

Oh one final, final thing: We have gotten a couple of nice notes from some people at Bement, and I really have no hard feelings there. There are some very fine people there, and they are trying hard to be the best school they can. But I do think this fits Lily better. I hope JFK makes her work hard -- I know Bement would be more rigorous, right off the bat. But I think socially we will all be much happier. I felt much more at home last night, looking at all the other families, the kids, the way the administrators interacted, it just seemed so familiar, all the best parts of what we've been missing about PS 261. I guess at heart we are a public school family, and while Bement was the right choice at the time, I think this is the right choice today. Lily just seemed so relaxed and at home. Can't buy that feeling, ya know?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Lily prepares for middle school

Really, she's been preparing all summer. Life went on, with camp, computer, some TV (mostly netflix), but also math homework pages and practicing flute and piano. But I sense it was always in the back of her mind. Still, she forgot it during family camp last week and I didn't remind her. It wasn't until we were driving home on Saturday afternoon that she suddenly said, "School starts next week!" Wednesday, to be specific.

But this year I decided not to leave this all until the last minute. So when Land's End had a big sale with free shipping in late July, we ordered a bunch of clothes for my now incredibly tall daughter -- she's about five-two, and all legs -- and still growing. We did shirts, leggings, a down vest, a backpack and matching lunch box, and shoes that were too big so we sent them back. Then we went to JC Penney's weekly sale for a few more things -- mostly jeans, now that she can wear them to school, and a special blouse she really liked.

Her new school, JFK Middle School, has a looser dress code than Bement, but as Dave keeps saying, we're going to continue to enforce much of the old code. I am fine with her wearing jeans, as long as they are clean and not torn, and I don't need all her shirts to have collars, although I don't want her t-shirts to have writing on them. Also, the school does say shoulders have to be covered -- no tank or string tops -- and skirts and shorts have to be mid-thigh at least, stuff like that. Also, no hats, to her dismay. Dave says, "we can just say what our guidelines are for her," so we are doing that.

Next she and I went to Staples for school supplies. Her grandmother thoughtfully gave her $20 to accessorize her locker -- lockers are the big deal for middle schoolers, getting one, using one, decorating one, not getting shoved into one, not forgetting the combination, using the combination -- and she bought a shelf, a mirror, a little basket, and some magnets. All her old notebooks and stuff were falling apart so she also got stuff like a binder, pencil case, looseleaf paper, an assignment book. Turns out the school gives you one of those. Oh well.

Finally, we went to the new Goodwill in town for their end-of-summer dollar sale -- everything a dollar. I had been a couple of weeks before, looking for a costume for Lily's performance as the adult Simba in The Lion King at camp, and picked up a couple of very cheap shirts I knew she'd like -- the kids clothes are really cheap and in good condition, and the racks are very well organized. This time we did more of the same, and also got our free monthly book -- everyone can take a book a month, for free.

[A word about Goodwill. It was founded in Boston a century ago and we used to donate to it when I was a kid and it was known as Morgan Memorial, but in the early eighties, when I was working at a homeless shelter for women in Boston, I was told that the owner had a separate antique business and he'd skim off the best donations and sell them for profit. I don't know if this is true but it always left a bad taste in my mouth and I was ambivalent when this one opened up, just a mile from my house.

But we finally got over there, and my concerns were answered very satisfactorily by one of the managers, who gave me lots of reasons not to like Salvation Army and its anti-gay policies. She said each Goodwill is kind of a franchise and distributes its profits to its own beneficiaries, and that this one works directly with those folks. She seemed genuine and truthful and I felt a lot better.]

At any rate, we got a pile of clothes and some books for something like $10, including some stuff for the rest of the summer. And we had fun. A great place to inexpensively scratch that shopping itch.

Back from our week in Vermont, we spent Monday and Tuesday, hanging out, talking about school, and the summer, and just stuff. She decided she wanted a special dinner on Tuesday night, the night before school started, so among our many errands those couple of days -- the transfer station, the Y a couple of times (they had a big fire in the women's locker room and I had to pick up the contents of my locker and see if any of it was salvageable; none of it was), Dave's for catfood and a wicked cool new toy for Chance, etc. -- we went to the Big Y for groceries. She'd decided on baked ziti and garlic bread.

With our help she found a recipe, checked the pantry for what we had, wrote up the ingredients she needed, decided to have cooked carrots as her vegetable, and then found it all at the store. We also got a congratulations balloon and flowers -- lilies, her choice -- in honor of the big day. She tried to get me to get her an iTunes gift card but I said, enough. Now you need to work hard at your school work, and later we can talk about gift cards and other rewards.

[By the way, if anyone reading this is wondering what to get her for her birthday or Christmas, she has been asking for gift cards lately, from iTunes, Barnes and Noble, and similar places. She also really likes our fabulous local science and nature store, A2Z, and they sell gift cards, of course.]

I can't stand store-bought pasta sauce so after we got home I made our own and she put together the rest of the ingredients for her ziti. Dave came home and helped her.

The rest of the day she painted her nails over and over, so they'd match her outfit (!), which she had picked out two days earlier (!!). She showered and washed her hair and continued to practice hair styles. She picked up her room, and her desk downstairs, and put away all her laundry just like I asked. She got to bed pretty early. She slept well. She was ready.