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Today on the (25-minute behind schedule) ride home, there was a woman on the bus with Tourette's. Not that she could help it, obviously, but there's nothing like a woman hand-flapping and screeching, "sweaty vagina!" in an odd, high voice to let you know you're on a public conveyance.

ION I started 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles,' and then went and spoiled myself for the plot via Wikipedia, and I'm not sure I want to go on. Maybe I will only read 19th-century novels written by women, since so far in the ones I've read written by men the women are all Symbols of Pure Womanhood and/or Connected To Nature (or actually named The Vengeance.)

IOON, week two of moving books 4 hours a day and I am not any less sore at the end of each day. Nor is my butt smaller. I suppose this is a consequence of being 39.
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I've reduced my hours and my duties at my job to 4 hours a day, shifting the journals (a complex back-to-front flip in tight space, with the need to leave room for growth for some titles but not all, the need to shelve in oversize titles (resetting shelves as necessary), and the need to integrate a formerly separate modern Greek journal collection.) This allows me to put the kids on the bus at 8:45 and pick them up from the bus at 4:10 and it feels so luxurious not to be rushed and exhausted all the time.

The bad part is, I am taking the public bus to and from work now (instead of driving with mr. flea.) Day 1: I caught the AM bus and all went as scheduled. I expected a 3:32 pm bus; the bus actually came to the stop at about 3:50. This was late enough that I was in danger of missing the pickup from the school bus. I called mr. flea and it turned out he got to the school bus stop right as the kids got off. I didn't know that, though (we only have one call phone and I had it), and saw the bus turn down the next block as I ran to the stop, and saw a kid I took to be Casper looking out the window, and saw the other family walking away from the bus stop, and didn't see mr. flea or my kids. So I kept running home, now sobbing, thinking nobody had met the kids and they'd been taken back to school on the bus. That sucked, even though everyone was fine except me.

Day 2: I caught the AM bus. Less than halfway into the 4-mile journey, it broke down. The driver didn't actually make any announcement for a few minutes, so we just sat there. Then he said there wouldn't be another bus for half an hour, so I got off and walked at top speed and was only 7 minutes late to work, although somewhat sweaty. The afternoon bus (I shifted my schedule to take a bus 45 minutes earlier, so no matter how late the bus was I could make it), worked as scheduled.

Either The Gods don't want me to do this job, or the Cincinnati public transit folks suck. And people wonder why everyone drives everywhere.

Baby name: Cyril Ray, big sister Petra, parents Heather and Niclas. Nicknames already include Cy and Spy-baby.
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I guess the only thing worse than no choices is having choices, right?

I went to the open house at the school very close to our house. This fall they will definitely have the Gifted Academy there (3rd-6th) and a neighborhood school Kindergarten. It sounds quite unlikely that they'll offer first grade this fall, as there had been a rumor going around about. That could only maybe happen if they have, say, 35 Kindergarteners sign up, and they could open a second K and make it K-1 if they got 10 1st graders. So this school is unlikely to be a choice for Dillo until fall 2013.

The Gifted Academy, on the other hand, sounds pretty good. The school manager spoke and ran the meeting, and I was impressed by her - she was frank and transparent about uncertainties (it's unclear how things will progress with the neighborhood school because a lot depends on how many people actually enroll). Next year the Gifted Academy will have 2 3rd and 4th classes, and 1 each of 5th and 6th. This means there is still room in 4th, and she implied when I spoke to her personally that there will be for some time to come, so we don't need to sign up immediately. She says the school is diverse ethnically, religiously, and geographically - it currently draws from 25 neighborhood districts in the city, and next year she expects it to draw from 35. The work is project-based. When I spoke to her one on one, I asked what sort of student the school was for - was it for the Hermione Granger types, or the wicked smart but more disorganized and more creative thinker types? She said there were both kinds of kids at the school and suggested I go over and talk to a current parent who has a 3rd grader plus 2 other kids at our current school.

So I did, and was really heartened by what this parent had to say. I re-used my Hermione Granger analogy (that was the kind of gifted kid I was) ad she totally got it, and she said her son was not that type, but he was thriving at Gifted, and they teach to the kids' learning styles. She obviously likes our current school - her other 2 kids are happy there, and she'll be president of the PTA next year - but it was good to hear someone else say that the very traditional pedagogy there is not right for every kid, even every smart kid. (I have been feeling guilty about being unhappy with one of the best schools in the city.)

We're getting Casper's Georgia gifted testing scores faxed over to our current school, and hopefully they will let us see them (they wouldn't fax them to us directly; ah, bureaucracy.) They do Ohio testing April 21, so if Casper's scores won't get her in, we can consider that, if we want to go forward.

I'd still like to go look at the Montessori public school our neighbors go to, and the School for Creative and Performing Arts downtown. Now that my job is, for the moment, over, I hope to have the flexibility to actually go to the schools, although the Open House season for them is basically over, and we might not be able to get spaces for fall 2012. But if one or both of them screams perfection, we might stick with the current school and plan a transfer in fall 2013 for Casper. We might, after everything, stick with the current school anyway. You remember what I said about the paradox of choice?

Dillo, I dunno. He is excelling academically at the current school, and while he isn't Hermione Granger in personality, he does have a really straightforward sort of high intelligence, unlike Casper. Everything academic so far comes easily to him. He hates change, which is an argument for keeping him in the current school. On the other hand, he did really well at his Montessori preschool, and the Montessori elementary might be a good fit. And as far as social atmosphere, the current school's traditionalism does extend to gender roles, and I think that's unhealthy for Dillo. His fundamental nature is beta, but the past 2 years of school social environment seem to have made him act out a lot and his primary emotional reaction to anything is anger. I'd like to see him in a gentler social environment. (In good news, there's a "feeling class" at school that's been started - by external researchers from a local college - about teaching emotional awareness and social skills to K-1 kids, and we got Dillo into it, and it's pretty damned awesome. I hope it helps him.)

red flag?

Mar. 19th, 2012 06:45 pm
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As you may remember, I've never felt super-great about the kids' current school. It's rated excellent, they have a lot of good enrichment and so forth, but we haven't felt like it's a real community for us, and it seems like there's an excessive focus on test prep and achievement generally.

A couple of weeks ago we did a Girl Scout Cookie booth, and the leader, who has daughters in 6th and 3rd grades, gave me an earful about 4th grade at our current school (unprompted). She said, "4th grade is the year [school] loses kids," and talked about the 3 4th grade teachers who have worked together for 15 years and are very tight, how parents are explicitly discouraged from spending time in the classrooms (despite a school-wide open-door policy), and how they are very hard on the kids, with respect to strictness and high standards. Today Casper told us that her current (3rd grade) teacher gave them a lecture today about how hard 4th grade is, and how if you forget to turn things in you get a 0, and (unlike in 3rd grade) they don't let you correct mistakes in your work for extra points after a first grading. Casper was in tears about this.

So, what to do? I definitely think it's a bad idea to paint the 4th grade as a "make or break" year, presenting a challenge in a negative light, to the children, as Mrs. S did today. Casper now has the impression that the 4th grade teachers are mean.

But aside from the PR problem 4th grade has, is the actuality a red flag, or not? I've been ambivalent about the level of rigor at the school; it certainly feels more authoritarian and focused on achievement in the matter of grades rather than in the matter of understanding than our previous school. I have tried to convince myself that this is a good thing, or at least okay, since Casper has mostly managed to rise to the challenges of lots of homework, and she has a tendency to be a bit lazy and sloppy by her (daydreamy, rushing through boring work) nature. I told myself that the enforced rigor would be good for her, teach her that she can achieve high standards if she pays proper care to her work. Now I'm concerned that the school is teaching her that dotting the 'i's and crossing the 't's is more important than love of learning and understanding concepts. Which way is right? Does anyone have experiences with school personalities and the rigor question?

I'm going to an open house on Thursday for the new neighborhood school we'll be eligible for. Unfortunately they won't have 4th grade yet next year, and they won't have 5th grade yet by 2013, so it's not really an option for Casper. There will be someone from the Gifted Academy for 3rd-6th grades which will also be moving into the building. But I'm not positive Casper would be able to get into Gifted by the Ohio criteria, and I have no idea about the environment there. And then we get to think again about magnet schools and private schools, again too late and of course the $ issue.

Next on Woes of Elementary School Parenting, we'll have a fun discussion about social anxiety, brattitude, and your 5 year old. At least he has excellent grades?
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Casper had a hard day for no reason at school yesterday, and came home with a drawing of our "forever house." We've been talking about this since before we moved; some of it is silly, and some of it is real. Casper wants a fireplace, a big porch, a tree that's right for a treehouse, and a creek in the back yard. Also, a weeping willow. (She wanted a weeping willow for the treehouse, but I explained they were not well suited for such.) She also at various points has wanted dolphins and a Giant Pacific Octopus to live in the creek (while realizing this is environmentally implausible).

Today Dillo said he liked our old house better than this house because it had good places to play outside. Yesterday at after school he drew our current house, quite nicely and accurately, with the driveway and our car and his room and the big field in back that we sometimes let the kids play in.

I'm having a hard day today myself; it's dark, and our schedule has me in the car 80 minutes a day, and we don't meet anyone at the kids' school due to it so we don't know anyone except our (very nice) neighbors, and my job is high-stress and poorly paying, and we won't have much of a Christmas (we're not poor; it's lack of effort and inspiration) and it feels like obligation rather than joy to see family and exchange gifts. I am mourning our move today. I liked our OLD forever house.
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At the library, in a staff of perhaps 150, there are women named Irma, Erma, Ingeborg, and Elna.

Cincinnati is a German city!

(I have only met Erma, and she is probably in her 40s; no idea on other ages but as they are all fairly senior positions, probably also on the older end. I got emails from Erma, Irma, and Ingeborg all in one day, and then had to go looking through the staff list for others. In related but not close enough to lead with news, there are also a Lorna and an Edith.)

Oh, and actual baby born: Margaux Joelee, to Sarah and Jody (m.).
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Applications to magnet elementary schools in Cincinnati occur November 16. As Cincinnati magnet schools operate on a first-come, first-served basis, parents are now camping out outside the top schools, to get a preferred place in line for when the name-taking begins on Nov. 16. Which, you may note, is still 10 days away. An acquaintance posted to twitter from the line (in a tent? mr. flea suggested we drive by the school and see!) with the hashtag #occupyfairview. Note the inherent favoritism in this system not only for the organized and dedicated parents, but also for the parents with the resources, support, and flexibility to camp out for 10 days. What do single parents, families with two working parents, families with small children at home (which must be in a majority, as most of the camping out is for K enrollment) do? It's beautiful weather today, but generally in the low 40s overnight. Surely there is a less cruel way?

This is why my kids attend a "neighborhood" elementary school.

Just for shits and giggles, I looked into the application procedures for the magnet K-12 school for the creative and performing arts. For students entering K-3, you fill our forms and go for an interview. For students entering grades 4 and above, you fill our forms, get written recommendations from academic and art teachers, and audition. 4th and 5th graders submit a portfolio of visual art, a portfolio of writing, sing "America the Beautiful" (in the key of F), perform a short dramatic monologue (from the beginning of Charlotte's Web), are asked to turn up in a leotard (and those with dance experience are asked to submit a photo in first arabesque), and those with experience in musical instruments are asked to play.

I think getting into college might be simpler. Can we move back to small-town Georgia for the sake of the kids' education, please? Or at least for the sake of my stress level about it?
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I wonder about the school we've chosen. I don't quite feel it's our vibe. It's a good school, but it's a little more traditional and test-prep than my ideal, and the demographics are a little too heavy on stay-at-home mothers with dyed blonde hair, designer jeans, and shiny, shiny boots.

Emblematic of the issues is the large packet of homework Casper wrestles with weekly. Part of the wrestling is her, based around personality, not liking to do hard things, not liking to do boring things, and dawdling. But part of the issue is there's easily 3 times the homework of our old school. Is it really accomplishing much? I think she's accomplishing at least as much as the president of the Rockin' Hot Buttercups, the club she and Dillo and the two neighbor girls have established for themselves.

She's also getting special test-prep tutoring, I assume basically because she is new to the school and system and they want her to do well. But there hasn't been any critical assessment of her reading and spelling difficulties. (I realize I want an explanation, ideally with concrete things that can be done, of her struggles in these areas; there may not be one, and the thing to be done may just be to live with it.)

I think the actual place we're living is a little bit of a better fit, socially, for us, than the school, which is technically in another neighborhood. Many of our close neighbors are childless 20-somethings passing through, but the ones we've met who aren't are more laid-back and less consumerist than my perception of the school. Little things, like my neighbor is a Quaker, as opposed to school where several 3rd graders were army men (never saw that at our old school!)

The one family on our block with kids sends them to a public magnet Montessori, and it sounds good. The "camp-out" season for admittance for next year is now, though, and I am not ready to give up on our current school after only 3 weeks. Another possibility is the planned re-opening of a neighborhood school on our side of the neighborhood, for fall 2012. But much depends upon the pending school levy, and it's not entirely clear what the school will be - some talk of making a a gifted magnet instead of a neighborhood school, or maybe combining the two in the same building, and the opening might not happen until 2013. I also want to investigate the school for creative and performing arts. It runs K-12, and if Casper is not going to be a good candidate for the very rigorous traditional high school (Walnut Hills) that our elementary feeds to (it has a required admissions test), it might make sense to get her into SCPA before the end of 6th grade, when presumably it will be more competitive (people move to Ohio from other states to send their kids to SCPA).

sad now

Sep. 25th, 2011 12:25 pm
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Aside from the things that are a lot of work, like packing and getting the house tidied up and dealing with the children and I found a FLEA on Older Cat yesterday but we only have one dose of Frontline, I'm really sad. I don't want to move. I don't care much for me, although I'm worried about finding a job and excited to have better weather, but I am sad about moving the kids constantly. Like, every day dropping them off at school nearly in tears, every time they play outside with our neighbors nearly in tears sad. They have such a great life here, and we're taking them away from it. They will ultimately be fine - mr. flea told me there was a posse of kids playing on our new street this morning - but it's going to be hard getting there.

Ok, so.

Sep. 8th, 2011 07:43 pm
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We have a place to live. It's the 2-3 floor apartment of a 2-family, brick, vaguely tudor-style foursquare ca. 1910 or so. Hardwoods on 2, and berberish on 3, where there are slightly sloping ceilings. I think the kids go up there. Only 1 bathroom, on 2. Not much of a kitchen, but it has a dishwasher. W/D and storage in the basement. Quiet street, it dead-ends in unused train tracks and backs up against the Whole Foods Parking. It's flat with big sidewalks and street trees. We have 2 spaces in a garage but no back yard, and a maybe 8-foot wide front yard, and a balcony above the porch. The kids will have to take the bus to school; it's at least 3 miles. But I can walk to the nice local bookstore, and Whole Foods and Kroger, and Hyde Park square with 3 pilates studios and a post office and library. Buses to downtown stop at the end of the street.

mr. flea is leaving here Saturday afternoon and plans to stay with friends (whom I strongly suspect he has not yet contacted; I offered to contact my father and/or our mutual friends who have a guest room, but he makes his own bed, so to speak.) He can get into the house on Thursday night.

My last day at work is 9/30 and we haven't made a moving plan yet. Movers are pricey but I suspect right now we do not have the reserves to deal with a UHaul situation. I have lined up transportation for Casper to dance classes for all but the last. I need to make some calls to get a grocery solution (probably our neighbor - I can leave the kids at her house and we can shop together; we did this once before when our car died.) I can do school. I am working 4-day weeks until I finish, as well, and tonight is my last evening shift.

mr. flea has been trying to get everything scheduled as far as house stuff; he had a painter in today and is getting an estimate, and I think has scheduled the driveway-gravelling folks. There may be some porch and deck painting to do, which I can probably do, and some general yard-tidying. The porch is done and the fellow mr. flea has been working with is trustworthy, so I am comfortable with him having a couple of days worth of things he'll be doing after mr. flea goes.

I started packing things for mr. flea to take; an aerobed (and once in the house he can buy a mattress, since Dillo's is impossibly sprung and should have been replaced ages ago), the porch chairs and table (all folding), a duffel with sheets and towels and his clothes, a box of kitchen basics, and boxes and boxes for his office. The last is the most problematic - really, a lot could be recycled, but I can't make those decisions for him.

There's a lot to do. There's stuff I'd like to be rid of, but would like to get a return on; I've listed a beautiful fancy but impractical chair on craigslist, and I'd love to get rid of one of our four sets of dishes, but I suspect that will not happen. I've been culling stuff as I go through spaces and putting everything I don't want to keep in my closet, but I have to decide what to do with it. And I won't have transportation. A yard sale might just be a decent way to get people to come take my stuff. The hardest culling - of the toy bins - is yet to come, too.
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...issues with moving 500 miles, selling an house, etc., there's a lot of emotion involved in moving. Emotion besides stress. Oh my god, I'm moving back to Cincinnati! The city where my father grew up, where my parents met, where I was born, where I attended graduate school (and ultimately didn't finish a PhD), where I met mr. flea, where we got married. It's very strange. It's not a place I expected to be again, not a place I expected to raise my kids and settle. (Not that Georgia was either, needless to say; at my age I should have learned to stop expecting anything in particular out of life, but still.)

I'm trying to focus on the good things - Thai Express in Clifton is still making excellent and cheap pad thai; the Bonbonerie in O'Bryonville still makes tangerine moon cake (our wedding cake); presumably Ault Park still looks like Ault Park.

We're planning to visit this weekend, and hope to find a place to rent. Lot of driving, lot of processing.
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Actual chat from today:

Caroline: are you free? i have an important question to ask you about cake
2:17 PM ok, i will just leave the question here for when you get back. would you rather have a pretty, classic cake or one that had cincinnati chili/spaghetti on top made of candy and icing?
thank you!
[I saw the message, and then laughed and laughed]
2:19 PM me: the office has voted, and we vote Chili Cake!
2:22 PM Caroline: ha ha!
i thought i'd better ask!
ok we will see what our mad scientist [baked colleague] can cook up. i am sure it will be amazing

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