Sunday, September 11, 2011

Prologue: All the World's a Stage...

Before you can fully appreciate the recent Geoffrey-centered drama, you must understand the context of all my past pregnancies.


I have remarked before on the tendency for drama in my pregnancies. With Eric, I had some major adjustments. In the space of twelve months, I got engaged, graduated from college, got married, lived in married student abject poverty for a semester, celebrated Jon's graduation and job offer, got pregnant, and moved to North Carolina. I then went through occupational withdrawal (I wasn't a student and I wasn't working) while pregnant in a new ward with a high turnover rate. My mental state fluctuated between insanely bored and incredibly worried, both as pertained to motherhood. Add in some not-quite gestational diabetes. And there was the time I thought I was having a heart attack. (Turned out it was a combination of the baby strrrrretching the connective tissue between my ribs plus an anxiety attack.) Then 9/11, two weeks before my due date, terrified everyone and almost grounded both grandmas. Oy.

Both grandmas did manage to arrive in time. My due date arrived and I poked my distended belly. "That's it, B," and said firmly. "You're of age. Now move out or start paying rent."

I went into labor early the next morning. Both grandmas, Jon, and I all got to the hospital in plenty of time. Labor and delivery themselves were absolutely textbook. Slow but steady, 10-12 hours total. Epidural, second-degree tear....

I did pee all over the doctor. I didn't do it on purpose, but neither did I feel remorse. He was an obnoxious, hyperactive, egotistical chihuahua of a man. I did not appreciate his constant lecturing about how I was "breathing wrong" and "wasting oxygen by grunting."

I thought of all kinds of come-backs, some then, and some, inevitably, hours later. ("I don't care how many babies you've delivered, you've never actually delivered a baby," or "I don't have room for a back-seat driver!" or "Those who can, do. Those who can't, coach." I would have been delighted to switch places with him. Grrr.)

Unfortunately, I couldn't deliver the lines since I was too busy breathing, pushing, and, alas, grunting. I accept that I wasted oxygen which should have been channeled to my straining muscles, but, truly, I could not help it.

Nursing was horrible. I rank them as the third- and fourth-worst weeks of my life. I loved baby Eric of course, but trying to nurse him was sheer hell. Frustration, complete exhaustion, and excruciating pain for me. Frustration, exhaustion, and gnawing hunger for him.

I'm amazed I stuck with it. I'm proud of myself for succeeding, but even today, I think the cost was almost (but not quite) too high.

The best memory in all that was the day I spent sitting on the couch listening to General Conference with a sheet over my head, trying vainly to nurse discreetly. My poor father-in-law sat valiantly trying to listen to modern prophets and ignore the background sound track of weeping, wailing, and gnashing of baby gums. He also tried to avoid even glancing in the direction of his burqa-clad daughter-in-law. I made this difficult by flailing about with occasional shrieks of "OUCH!!!" and "Bad baby!" I imagine Eric and I (completely draped in a white sheet) looked and sounded like a very scary (or very funny) ghost.


At an ASL lesson, Kathryn Chapman once asked me to practice story telling. "Tell me a story," she instructed, "Like about what happened when Eric was born."

"Eric?" I signed. "Hospital--doctor--nurse--medicine--boring." (This was actually perfectly acceptable grammar in ASL.) "But Danny," I continued, placing "home" in one spot and "hospital" in another, then showing a car moving swiftly between them, "Super fast--freezing rain--screaming--no drugs--pain, pain, pain--awful, horrible....Drama."

Physically, my pregnancy with Danny was my easiest. I had other medical issues going on at the time, though, which really complicated things. Still, I worked through things fairly well and had mostly regained my equilibrium.

On the night of January 24th, 2004, I was sitting on the couch reading. It was around 11:30 and I was about to go to bed. Suddenly I realized I'd been having some abdominal discomfort. "Huh," I thought, dismissing it as a minor digestive problem. Then, " that a contraction?" I glanced at my watch. Around six minutes later, I glanced at it again. And then, an interval later, again. It was ten or so days early, but there was an ice storm coming. Jon and I had already discussed how we didn't want to be stranded at home and then have me go into labor. "Perhaps," I thought, moving upstairs to throw a few things into an overnight bag -- yes, I had procrastinated, despite Jon's frequent reminders -- "Perhaps we should err on the side of caution."

I told Jon, who began grabbing stuff far more aggressively. I called the doctor. She listened to my "Owww!"s over the phone and said to come on in.

We got Eric up. Poor kid, he was roused from sleep at midnight, thrown into the car, and rushed to a strange house. (At least we had a plan of where to park him.) He was two.

Yes, we had to stop and pack a bag for him, too, and yes, I was ill-prepared. Jon has been gracious enough not to rub it in too much over the years.

Sadly, the babysitter's house was in the opposite direction of the hospital. We drove over there, dropped off a very disoriented Eric and all his gear, and paused while Brother Schnegelberger assisted with a priesthood blessing. I remained in the passenger seat the whole time. Poor Brother S. was wearing light pajamas, and the temperature was plummeting rapidly. I was also beginning to pant and whimper. The contractions were coming more quickly and I was getting nervous.

Jon then retraced our route in the direction of the hospital. It would ordinarily have been a twenty- or twenty-five minute drive. In the middle of the night, with minimal traffic, it went slightly faster. It seemed like ages. I began yelling. "OW, OW, OWWW!!!"

Jon stopped for a red light. "Run it!" I ordered, tersely, and he looked startled but complied. We hit every single red light from then on, but by then I was screaming "Aaah! It hurts! Make it stop!" and Jon didn't have to be told to run 'em.

In retrospect, screaming "Jon!! Make it stop!!!" was one of the cruelest things I've ever done to the man. He's a guy. And an engineer. He likes to fix things. This was one problem where he was helpless. I maintain I was not responsible for anything I said at that point. (I do note proudly that I did not curse, even once. Or call Jon nasty names.)

 He began going twenty, then thirty, miles over the speed limit. I worried that a cop would pull us over. I feared not the ticket, but the inevitable delay. Would a police escort offset the time lost explaining the situation?

By then I was crying incoherently. It was a very odd experience: I could think fairly rationally, I just couldn't communicate.

Jon screeched to the ER entrance. A nurse was standing ready with a wheelchair and bundled me into it. Jon raced off to park the car. He said later the brakes almost caught on fire.

The nurse wheeled me, shrieking, through the ER. I had a vague, blurry impression of lots of faces staring at me, mouths dropping, as I was rushed past them at a moderately loud volume. (I was pre-registered at the hospital, by the way.)

The labor nurse didn't even have to look at me. Hearing me coming from several hundred feet away, she automatically routed us into a delivery room. She helped me undress and began to examine me. Jon rushed in, gasping asthmatically and looking like a second medical emergency.

"She's there," one nurse said to another, and I REALLY started to wail.

"Nooooooo! I want drugs! Give me drugs!!!!" I screamed, over and over. (I remind everyone of my classical vocal training. Despite a baby interfering with my diaphragm, I was very...piercing.

The next twenty or so minutes are rather vague. What I really remember thinking was "This must be what torture feels like. If someone told me, right now, that he could make the pain stop instantly if only I would reveal the top secret nuclear launch codes, I would totally do it. In fact, I wish I DID know some top secret nuclear launch codes, because then perhaps I could negotiate something..."

This was just a few weeks after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke. I have always opposed torture, but this experience gave me a much deeper, personal view of the issue.

It also gave me a new perspective on the atonement, but that's a topic for another time.

Somebody gave me something to bite down on. It wasn't helpful. I think I almost accidentally bit off someone's finger, though. I wished for a nice, thick, crunchy leather strap. Or a thick stick.

I remember a nurse getting in my face and yelling back at me. Something about "Gail. The baby is coming and you have got to focus!"

I did manage to push when they told me to push. Horrible as it was, I realized that I wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible. I also managed not to scream while pushing, since I was highly motivated to use my oxygen efficiently.

From the moment I thought "Huh. Was that a contraction?" to the moment I delivered measured almost exactly two hours.

Daniel popped out. I collapsed, hyperventilating and shaking uncontrollably. The pain and accompanying hysteria waned quickly. The first coherent thing I said was, "I am NEVER doing that again!!!" Jon got a quick disappointed look, like "Aww, I kind of wanted more kids, but I am totally not arguing with her right now!" Reading his look, I clarified, "I mean natural childbirth, not no more children."

The nurses gaped. "How," they asked in astonishment, "Can you even think about hypothetical future children right now?"

They had a point.

The second coherent thing I said was "Hi, my name's Mommy and I'll be your server for the next eighteen years."

It was odd how quickly the nurses moved from drill sergeants to sweet, sympathetic ladies. During the crisis they yelled at me and practically slapped me around. Afterward, they were very solicitous.

Jon stuck around briefly, but he needed to hurry home to beat the impending storm.

That night, an inch of freezing rain fell, shutting the city completely down and cutting off power to large sections of it. Including our neighborhood.

Jon awoke freezing and trapped. The electricity came back on, but not the furnace. He was frazzled too, poor guy. When he called the babysitters to explain that not only were the roads unsafe but our house lacked heat, Erin suggested gently that he should call about getting the furnace repaired. "Oh! Good idea!" he said, dazedly, and she thought "Poor guy."

Poor Eric ended up spending two extra days at our friends' house.

The roads cleared after 36 hours or so, and it looked like I could go home on time.

Then, with Jon on his way to pick me up, the nurse came in to do one last set of vitals on Daniel. After a minute, she said, with studied casualty, "I just want to check on something," and wheeled his bassinet out of the room.

She returned a few minutes later, without my baby, and sat me down. Daniel was "breathing funny," she explained. "It's not exactly wrong,'s not right, either," she said vaguely. Then she described how his chest was doing a see-saw motion. Sometimes his upper chest moved a lot, and then it would migrate so his diaphram had all the motion, and then back up again. A gradual cycle. They wanted to keep him a few extra hours for observation, and to give the resident pediatrician a chance to examine him.

Jon showed up. "A few hours" turned into "at least two extra days in the NICU." He might have meconium-induced pneumonia.They would take a sample and grow it in the lab, but it would take at least 24 hours to get the results back, so they wanted to start him on antibiotics right away, just in case. But the regimen would take at least 48 hours, and in the meantime they might as well run every single test imaginable, checking his blood oxygenation, the air pressure in his lungs, a chest x-ray, and a host of other things I can't recall any more.

They kept expecting me to freak out, and I kept not complying. I was worried, of course, but I thought that if my baby was having breathing problems, the very best place for him was in a very well-monitored NICU, where the slightest issue would be caught instantly. They granted me continued stay in my room; although I was officially discharged, I was staying on as part of Daniel's bill. Insurance even covered it. In fact, it was rather restful. I pumped, slept, and visited Daniel whenever I wanted. No nurses nagged me, except for one reminder that Danny was getting hungry.

Jon and Bishop Garrison gave Danny a blessing. Feeding him was complicated by all the wires and needles stuck into my poor little pincushion. I hated to see him uncomfortable, but he was in a crib next to a set of three-pound twins who were later transferred to UNC via helicopter. My eight-and-a-half pound baby looked like a giant in comparison, and I felt vaguely guilty that he was the healthiest kid in the room.

No, the real terror came forty-eight hours later, when they sat down with Jon and me to go over their findings. It boiled down to "All the tests came back negative, so we're not sure what was actually wrong with him. There might have been some meconium in a lung, the x-ray was inconclusive...anyway, it's probably fine to take him home. We're discharging him. Just watch him carefully, and if he suddenly spikes a fever, has a seizure, turns blue, or quits breathing, call 911."

Wide-eyed, I thought, "I am so not going to sleep for a week. Couldn't they keep him another few days...?"

It all worked out in the end, of course. And my mother was very gracious when I called to tell her, "I know I've apologized for your labor and delivery with me, but I have this new perspective about what it must have been like..."

Ah, karma. Alas, Daniel can't undergo natural childbirth himself, and I wouldn't wish it on a daughter-in-law. In fact, I wouldn't wish it on anyone. I'm sure the universe will find other ways of balancing things, though. Wahahaha.


I don't talk about Marian much, but it seems like Daniel has been telling everyone in the ward about her. That experience was definitely dramatic. I will only add that as bad as nursing each of my babies has been, lactating without an infant was even worse. I tried to donate to a milk bank and was disqualified because of a mild, routine medication I was on. Though it was safe for my own babies, the milk bank couldn't risk drug interactions for preemies. The sheer waste of it all made me feel even more frustrated--and helpless.


Sammy was definitely the least dramatic of all my babies. After my previous experiences, I had predicted a huge, histrionic scene involving a car accident, ENTs rushing me to the hospital via ambulance, and my giving birth, six weeks early, via emergency C-section.

I like to think that Sam was just too sunny and cheerful, and too much of a gentleman, to do that to his dear, sweet mama. In any event, the pregnancy, labor, and delivery were all fairly calm. I pumped instead of nursing for six weeks and it was wonderful. Sam was a marvelous baby, easygoing and charming. I was almost (but not quite) disappointed by the lack of opera quality. This exhaustion with drama signaled to me that I was now officially a Grown Up Old Fuddy-Duddy.


I hoped vaguely that Sam had broken the drama curse. "Maybe this baby, too, will come without major incident," I thought hopefully. (This time it is the universe's turn to cackle maniacally. What was that about karma...?)

Saturday, September 10, 2011


After exhaustive research, I have concluded the following:

1. Yes, sleep deprivation is a form of torture.
2. It can't be very effective, since it renders the subject incoherent.

Once upon a time, during dead week, I went most of a night, and then a day and a night and a day, without sleep. During that time, I wrote a huge research paper, rushed it to my professor's box minutes before the English office closed, rushed back to the Institute, and then composed an eight-page political science opinion paper in less than two hours. I even managed to drive home without incident before collapsing. (The papers both got an A.)

A dozen-odd years later, three nights of minimal sleep (plus childbirth) rendered me completely non-functional. I wasn't quite hallucinating, but I was in bad shape. My apologies to anyone I may have accidentally offended in the last week due to my sheer spaciness.

I had an almost-but-not-quite boyfriend in high school who liked to tease me. "She's a national merit scholar," he intoned, "But she can't tie her own shoes."

I have been imagining what he would say in this situation. "She's an English major and a prolific creator of bedtime stories, but she can't fill out a simple birth certificate form." (Or problem-solve an easy carpool issue. Or even write a blog entry.)

Well, rejoice! Last night I actually got some sleep. Even better, I got a long nap today. (Thanks, Jon!!!) I am feeling vaguely human again, and mostly unzombified.

It is my hope that I can begin chronicling the exciting events of the last week...starting tomorrow.

Alas, so much has happened, I will need to take it in parts. That means you have to hear about the unimportant details (like wildfires and home evacuation) before you get to the good stuff (like notes on young Master Geoffrey).

Speaking of sleep, let's check in on other family members. Daddy has been slightly less of a zombie than Mommy, but he's still been exhausted with compromised efficiency. Sam's schedule has been upended and he has been cranky. Eric and Danny have still not settled into their school routine, and keep trying to stay up late at night. Jon has hit on a marvelous solution to this problem: push-ups. Also sit-ups. If they're being too boisterous, he makes 'em do calisthenics in sets until they're too exhausted to party. Brilliant idea!

Jeff has been snoozing just fine. No all-night marathons for him; in fact, he won't even stay awake enough to eat. He's Sleeping Baby and we're the marginalized magic fairies. If sleep deprivation is the universal intellectual handicap, young master Geoffrey is the smartest person in the room.

As proof of his somnolence, I include a video clip of him snoring. This serves both to prove that I wasn't hallucinating when I claimed that he could, and to assuage my conscience for not providing more baby-themed content.

More tomorrow. After another night's sleep.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Best #^@)! Attendance Excuse Note, Ever.

The title may be an over-reach.

But can you blame me for hoping it's the best note I'll ever write? I shudder to think of the confluence of circumstances which could inspire me to a better one.

I quote my recent email to Meridian Charter School:

Daniel Berry was absent Tuesday, September 6th because of family drama: first our house almost burned down, and then I had a baby.

I didn't write his excuse note sooner because I was dealing with aforesaid drama: first managing a mandatory evacuation (and the threat of my house burning down); then going into labor at a friend's house, more than two weeks early, in the middle of the night; and then "artfully navigating" the insane hospital bureaucracy which a) lectures a new mom about getting uninterrupted sleep to avoid post-partum depression, then b) invades her room at 4 a.m. to draw her blood, and then c) sends in a social worker to screen for post-partum depression when d) she's caught napping indolently a few hours later.

The house and the entire family are fine, but I bet you will rarely receive a better absence excuse note.


Gail Homer Berry

I hope that the school staff will be merciful. If not, I will explain that in the 60 hours prior to composing that note, I had slept a fragmented aggregate of perhaps 8, besides giving birth and exercising marvelous self-restraint at the legions of hospital staff who had impinged upon my privacy at regular half-hour intervals.

For more rantings about insane hospital procedures, read this entry about trying to escape with Sammy.

For people wishing more details, I can only say I'm working on a much longer blog post, but, alas, I keep getting interrupted by over-zealous hospital staff.

I'll write my blog-posting excuse note tomorrow. Assuming I'm coherent tomorrow, and not experiencing sleep deprivation-induced hallucinations.

A final note: I'm sure there are better excuse notes out there. I will give a prize to the person who sends me the best one. But: It has to be true. I could write a perfectly lovely fictionalized note, but that would be cheating. (I may have exaggerated slightly, but the substance was real.)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Stupid Weepy Pregnancy Hormones!

As an adolescent, I grew to hate hormones.

Annoying. Distracting. Inconvenient. Indulgent. Ick.

After a few instances of thoroughly embarrassing myself with emotional outbursts (age thirteen-fourteenish), I started analyzing social dynamics. What was actually going on? How ought everyone to behave? And, most important, how could I, at least, avoid further humiliation?

I observed variations of a few basic scenarios played out, over and over again.

Tell me if any of these sound familiar from middle and high school years:

1) Three guys and a girl, all eighth graders, are assigned to a group project. They meet to discuss division of labor. The girl tries repeatedly to impose some sense of order upon the proceedings, but is ignored while the boys engage in belching contests and discuss the latest basketball brackets. Finally, she gives up in disgust, yells at them, and storms off to do the entire project herself. They all look at each other and shrug. "What's with her?" one asks, and another says "Somebody has PMS." (Naturally, she couldn't have a legitimate grievance.)

2) Ten minutes before morning bell, several friends are clustered around their lockers, chatting. A girl in their group stomps in, glares at everyone equally, and announces, shrilly, "I have PMS and I'm not responsible for anything nasty I say in the next forty-eight hours so stay out of my way!!!" She slams her locker and stalks off again. The boys stare after her and tremble.

3) A seventeen-year-old boy cracks a very obscene joke. In mixed company. A girl winces, then pointedly walks away. The boy calls after her, "Hey--sorry--but you know, I'm a guy. I can't help it!"

4) An eleventh-grade couple are eating lunch:
Guy: ...happy they didn't raise taxes.
Girl: [horrified] But they're oppressing the poor who need those programs! The Republicans torture puppies for fun and now they've moved on to the American people!!!
Guy: [calmly] I would just rather see reduced spending than raised taxes.
Girl: [hysterically] I had no idea I was dating a FASCIST!!! [Wails] You don't love me! I have to [sob] break up with you!!! And right before the dance! How could you DO this to me??? [She rushes off to the bathroom to indulge her grief, and ends up missing half of her next class.]

Incidents like these, played out every day in American schools, lead to stereotypes about how "guys are jerks" and "girls are irrational airheads."

It's easy to criticize the teens, but then I look at their role models, like helicopter parents, evil bosses, and pandering politicians. In an ideal world, everyone would be calm, polite, and balanced. They would engage in public discourse with dignity, decency, honesty, and a modicum of logic.

Since that's not going to happen, I suppose I'll just have to mock 'em all equally.

The problem, concluded my fifteen-year-old self, was that nobody wanted to take responsibility. In many cases, the kids weren't even aware of how much they were influenced by their own neurochemical state, and honestly thought their anxiety/crankiness/hysteria was warranted. For them I felt some sympathy. But people who used them as excuses, crutches, or weapons...the same did I most heartily wish to smack. Or smite, depending upon the severity of the offense.

"Maybe people can't control their hormones," I decided, "But they can always control their behavior." Thus, even if I was especially exhausted, or cranky, or frustrated, or twitterpated, I still made a real effort to act calm. Fake it 'till you make it. This was, I decided, the essence of true adulthood. (I do not claim I was perfect at this, merely much better than most of my age-mates.) People said I was unusually mature, or poised. I thought I just had a really smart, successful survival strategy. (And let me say, I avoided a great many humiliating mistakes by concealing my true feelings. I also got a lot of laughs by deliberately hamming up the melodrama.)

Now, I'm sure you're all thinking, "That's very nice. So what?"

Well, I must now confess that my smug sense of superiority over my adolescent classmates has evaporated. Here I am, twenty-nine plus or minus ahem-mumble years, mother of multiple kids, and I can't stop crying.

I'm not depressed. I'm not upset at anyone. I don't cry all the time. But when some minor thing sets me off, I start bawling uncontrollably. "I am a mature and rational adult," I tell myself, "And I will deal with this minor problem in a professional soon as I stop crying." An hour of crying later, I have serious doubts about the "rational" part of my self-message.

Poor Jon. For the last several months, he has suffered several iterations of me choking out, "And I KNOW I'm over-reacting and it's not actually a big deal, and I hate that I can't control myself, but I just can't stop crying...Waaaah!"

Now, I do make efforts to mitigate the damage. I try not to make any major decisions while super-hormonal. I try to acknowledge "I'm over-reacting; it's the pregnancy hormones," to anyone who crosses my path while I'm weeping copiously. I try to extricate myself from social situations and bawl in private. If a person has upset me, I try to wait until I am calm to confront the issue.

Nevertheless, this system is not perfect. For one thing, I keep crying at church. There is no good retreat at church, unless I want to go sit in my car in 105-degree heat. For another thing, not everyone believes me when I sob, "No, everything is fine, I'm just pregnant..." Many kind souls assume someone has seriously offended me. Finally, I may wait until I think I'm calm, but frequently I start crying all over again.


This is seriously annoying.

So, I have decided to take a break from personal responsibility. A few months ago, I got upset about something.
"Blame the baby," I told Jon.
"Which one?" he asked.
"I don't care!" I answered. "A baby, any baby!"
Babies make such convenient scapegoats. (I begin to regret our selection for U's first stuffed animal. He's a very masculine bull, with, I am certain, nary a taint of progesterone poisoning.)

As pregnancy symptoms go, this one isn't all that bad. It's better than nausea, vomiting, fatigue, interrupted sleep, and sciatic pain. I'm not sure if I'd choose weepiness over swollen feet or memory problems.

Hopefully U got some awesome build points for taking this quirk.

One month (give or take) to go. I can make it. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me!

(Except, of course, stop crying.)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

I Survived Schlitterbahn!

The summer I turned twelve, my dad and uncle took a combined eight or so children to Disney World. My mom and aunt stayed home with the babies.

I was appalled. "Can't we afford Mom's ticket?" I asked, concerned. And "Mom, you are welcome to come. We can have fun even if you're there."

I was convinced that Mom was abstaining for some ridiculous purpose, preferring to play the martyr for obscure psychological reasons. After all, who would voluntarily stay at home with a toddler when she could be traipsing all around the Magic Kingdom?

My concern was entirely altruistic, since I figured we'd have more fun without Mom around. (My belated apologies.) For one thing, she walked slowly and we wouldn't have covered as much ground with her in tow. For another, Dad was much more likely to spend profligately on incidentals (like souvenirs and ice cream) without Mom protesting every expenditure. 

Mom assured me, repeatedly, that she honestly preferred it this way. "I'll talk to your aunt," she said, "Inside. Sitting down. In the air conditioning. We will discuss her recent trip to Germany." (The iron curtain had fallen a few months before.) "I believe I will find it very restful."

I gave up, finally convinced of her sincerity if not her sanity. "I guess I'll never understand," I thought.

You see where this is heading, of course.

Twenty years of perspective later, I think, "Who would voluntarily spend an entire day outside, in scorching 102-degree heat, either immersed in unsanitary, bug-infested river water or limping after hyperactive progeny, when she could be resting her pregnant, swollen feet, tending a single napping toddler, inside the air conditioned comforts of her own home?"

I want you to know, I was a good sport about it. I even had a reasonably good time.

This excursion was a benefit generously provided by Intel. We got three free (and one vastly reduced) passes to the Schlitterbahn waterpark in Braunfels, TX, with a catered lunch included. Further, their timing was excellent: early in June, as soon as school got out. A chance for employees and their families to relax, bond, and enjoy the outdoors. It's not their fault that Texas is in the middle of a drought and heat wave. Or that I'm pregnant, or that I hate swimming. I am, in fact, very grateful for Intel's kindness.

Last year I managed to get out of it on the grounds that I had a brand-new baby, only two months old. Next year, I expect I'll get out of it by pointing out I have two babies. Granted U will be about eight months old by then, but I can use that leverage for all it's worth.

This year, though, I was stuck.

The major issue was that last year, Eric wanted to try the more adventurous rides and Danny didn't, leaving single-parent Jon to negotiate unhappy compromises. This year, they all argued, I could go too, and take Danny to the calmer attractions whilst Dad and Eric tubed happily through choppier waters.

Alas, their point was extremely logical. In fact, it's what we ended up doing. (We got a babysitter for Sammy.)

Now, a note about parenting.

One of the problems with parenting is choosing good consequences. A good negative consequence should be simple, easily enforced, and inconvenient to the child, not the parent. It's also nice if you can make it fairly logical, like, "If you hit me, then I refuse to play with you," as opposed to "No, you can't have a pony because you haven't practiced the piano for a month."

Thus, the Schlitterbahn expedition provided me with an absolutely perfect bargaining chip, since I honestly would have been happier not to go.

I made the kids clean the day before. "We can't have Sammy running around the house with an inexperienced sitter and a bunch of hazards," I explained. Alas, they ran out of time and were sent to bed.

I got up promptly in the morning, made sure Eric took his Ritalin, and assigned them their last chore.

It took the kids two hours to do ten minutes of cleaning. (I wanted all the trash and laundry in the upstairs hall cleaned up.)

Now, if I had really cared about the trip to the water park, or if we had paid full ticket price, I might have tried something radical, like going upstairs, sitting in the hall, and supervising.

Instead I yawned, sat in the rocking chair, and chatted politely with the babysitter.

Various arguments, drifting downstairs, indicated they had picked up perhaps five pieces of trash.

I got myself some cereal.

Every twenty minutes or so, I bestirred myself enough to point out that if they didn't hurry, we wouldn't be able to stop at IHOP (or Dennys) for a leisurely breakfast. That if they didn't care about arriving early, they also presumably didn't care about leaving early. That their indifference to my agenda meant my indifference to their agenda in picking rides. That we were still paying the sitter for his time, even though he didn't have anything to do yet, and that fee might come out of their point jars. That I was delighted our house was so much more fun than an amusement park! I must be doing a superlative job as a Mom if they preferred performing gravitic experiments with coat hangers to the over-stimulation of a crowded Schlitterbahn. (This supports the theory that cardboard boxes are far superior to loud, obnoxious, flashing toys.)

Jon, after waiting for an hour, started getting cranky. "I'm hungry," he complained. I offered to get him a snack.

He declined, then reminded the kids that from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m., the park would only be open to Intel employees, which meant virtually no lines on the most popular rides. I added that the later we arrived, the hotter it would be and the faster their dear, sweet Mama would wilt like a delicate flower in the hot, hot sun.

The babysitter played with Sammy and laughed at us. It was very pleasant, actually, that Sam had time to make friends with him. It meant there was less panic when we did eventually leave.

After ninety-plus minutes of listening to play punctuated by sporadic clean-up, I recommended that Jon impose a time limit. "Kids," he called upstairs, "If that hall does not pass inspection in the next five minutes--" (I waited breathlessly, hoping he would say "We won't go at all!") --"We won't get breakfast at all! You'll have to wait for lunch!"

Ah well.

Thirty seconds later, the kids announced they were done. (Miraculous. Predictable, though, which is why I didn't suggest the time limit earlier.) I inspected. I pointed out perhaps three items they'd overlooked, and then declared myself satisfied.

We decamped a few minutes later, a mere two hours behind schedule.

Between the late start, breakfast (at McDonald's), lunch, and my leverage to leave early, I spent a mere hour and a half at actual attractions. Plus a fair, but not excessive, amount of walking. I seized every reasonable opportunity to sit down in the shade. I kept my hand sanitizer close and dispensed it liberally.

I even unbent far enough to purchase a single memento: a cute little over-priced sand castle refrigerator magnet. I intend to display it prominently, as a trophy.

Despite the abbreviated adventure, the kids were both exhausted and fell asleep on the way home. Eric actually went to bed early.

The kids had fun, Jon got to spend some quality time with them, I got a clean house, Sammy did fine, and the babysitter got paid for eleven-odd hours of work, even if two of them involved sitting on the couch chatting and Sammy napped for a couple more.

Further, because of our liberal smearing of sunblock, nobody is even sporting a burn today.

The only drawback is that I don't have very many pictures, since there was no way we were taking our cellphones inner tubing on a river.

Overall, a definite success!

Still, I would rather have taken a nice, leisurely nap. I am remarkably sanguine about having joined the club of Old Geezers at the mere age of twenty-nine, v. 3.0. Do I hear an amen?

One final word of advice: Never, EVER, go shopping for swimwear while pregnant. Especially in the second trimester, when you're big enough to look fat, but not big enough to look pregnant. I was depressed for hours. In the end, I just wore opaque maternity clothes. (And, no, there are definitely no pictures of me.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Best Homeschool Lessons: Silly Sentences with Rigorous Research

I have a confession to make.

It was a sin. A wicked indulgence. I wish I had never seen that llama. But the illegal tweezer shipment was totally not my fault!

Actually, I never learned to diagram sentences.

I had a good grammar course in eighth grade. And it was at Pine View, which counts for much.

Still, though it emphasized recognizing parts of speech, it never covered graphical representations thereof.

Sad that I made from grade school through a decent university--with a BA in English!--without once diagramming a sentence in my native tongue.

This sad deficiency I have determined not to inflict upon my own children.

Today Eric wanted a "really tricksy" sentence. I decided to challenge both of us by writing the sentence first and figuring out how to diagram it later.

Part of the fun was that Eric got to make suggestions about words to add. In the end, I mostly wrote the subject and verb, while he constructed the rest of the predicate.

Left: A sentence growing progressively more complicated and silly. Right: the final result, "Mommy, who is very surprised, nevertheless placidly observes rogue undead arrows with tattoos attacking her."

We both learned a lot.

For my part, I learned how to show a relative clause. Also, I discovered some fantastic reference websites.

For Eric, it was doubtless salutary to watch Mom, who is supposed to be The Expert, saying things like "I think 'nevertheless' is a subordinating conjunction. But it's not acting like one here. 'However' can be both an adverb and a conjunction, right? Let me look it up....

It unsettled him a little, but he got through it. Aspie anxiety practice!

('However,' by the way, can, indeed, function as either an adverb or a conjunction. According to, though, 'nevertheless' is only ever an adverb. It seems like the sentence "I appreciate your concerns; nevertheless I must insist" uses it as a subordinating conjunction. Grandma Homer? Help?)

Speaking of Aspie anxiety, imagine how it will upset him tomorrow when I mention, "Oops. I just realized something. I think there should either be a comma between "rogue" and "undead," or we should have charted them differently. Sorry."

I also think a "sentence contest" would be fun. I write a hard sentence for Eric to diagram; he reciprocates. (*Shudder*) Grandma Homer could grade our results.

Or y'all could submit sentences which Eric and I could tackle together. Perhaps a complex/compound sentence full of silliness? Suggestions?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"This orange juice is REVOLTING!...More?"

Do you recall the Star Trek movie where Data finally turns on his emotion chip, tries a drink, makes a face, decides he HATES it, and then asks for more?

I have a rival clip!

Behold, Sammy trying orange juice for the first time:

Well, actually, this was his third or fourth time. Jon claims his first two faces were even better.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Best Homeschool Lessons: Repentance Tenses

Last week, I needed to run an errand. Loathe to lose homeschool time, I put Eric and Sammy in the car and taught a grammar lesson en route.

Before you remonstrate against my cruelty, let me point out that grammar lessons in our family are not tortuous. My children are spoiled by having a creative mom who invents interesting sentences to diagram. Of course, I am also spoiled by having superlatively intelligent children.

(When Ronald was in seventh grade, I recall explaining independent and dependent clauses to him by using Star Trek examples. Know your audience, I say. Ronald might now deny ever having liked Star Trek, but it worked at the time. Ah, nostalgia.)

In this case, I invented stories about Bear repenting. (He does that a lot, I note. I fear that, in a few months, both Daniel and Bear will need separate baptismal interviews with the Bishop. I also worry that Bear is so naughty, he might not get a recommend.)

Present, past, and future tenses were easy review. Eric also quickly caught on to the idea of "progressive," or "ongoing" tenses, as when Bear stole Danny's screwdriver with the intention of replacing it later. "I will start repenting next week," Bear justified to himself. ("Future progressive!" said Eric. Smart lad.)

(Though tempted, I refrained from a discursive lecture about how that attitude made a mockery of the atonement, deeming it more important to stay focused on the lesson. This required great willpower on my part, as I am rather prone to digressive tangents.)

Eric, further, did fine with past, present, and future perfect, once I had explained them to him.

"Perfect" implies the action has been completed. For instance, ' "I had just repented for the candy when I fell to the fish's blandishments!" wailed Bear.'

With minimal practice, Eric could correctly identify examples such as the one above. (Past perfect, by the way.)

Once we hit the perfect progressives, though, we had a problem.

It had never struck me before that there is a potential conflict between the perfect (i.e., completed) and progressive (i.e., ongoing) tenses. "But by the time I hit college," protested Bear, "I will have already been repenting for a decade! I SAID I was sorry for wrecking the van!!!" The previous sentence is an admirable example of the future perfect progressive, or an action which 1) begins in the future, 2) takes place over time and, 3) finishes in the future.

The problem came when we hit the present perfect progressive. With most actions, the "end" is easy to define. "We have been swimming for an hour," argued Char (who, as a fire-breathing dragon, naturally preferred non-water-based activities), "Now let's do something else." Even if the group consensus is to remain in the water another hour before breaking for lunch, you can argue that the swimming before Char's protest and after are two separate actions. Perhaps the poor dragon, bedraggled and disgruntled, leaves the pool early even if his friends remain. If nothing else, his sentence references the past and brings us up to the present moment.

The difficulty arose when Bear appeared before the Bishop, tearful and penitent, and gave a full confession of all his misdeeds over the past week. "I have been repenting for days," he sobbed, "But I'm not certain whether or not I'm done!"

Now, grammatically, this qualifies as the present perfect progressive. But the uncertainty of the situation struck me at once. "What if," I wondered, "Bishop Loderup counseled him to refrain from taking the Sacrament for two more weeks, read his scriptures, and then report for a follow-up interview?"

--(Of course, I doubt that an unbaptized child under the age of eight is even eligible to be disciplined in that way. Let alone a talking stuffed animal of indeterminate spiritual status. Yet another problem to consider. Or punt to my own mom. But I digress, again.)--

Repentance is a long process, and it can be a bit ambiguous. Sometimes people honestly think they're done, but a wise bishop says "I don't think you have fully forgiven your partner in crime yet." Or, sometimes people continue to beat themselves up unnecessarily, only to be told "You are fully forgiven. Let it go now."

I understand the Protestant reluctance to have a priest intercede between the individual and God. I also know that people are frequently not objective and do, sometimes, need an outside perspective in figuring out exactly how much is enough.

But philosophical questions of clergy aside, some actions really are vague in their completion. "I'm in love?" she asked herself. "But...when did that happen? I don't even remember starting to fall for him..."

To solve this dilemma, I have decided to invent, not a new creative sentence, but a brand-new tense. Thus, Bear's despondent cry, "I have been repenting for days" is an example of the Present Probably-Perfect Progressive.

In situations of more ambiguity, you could have the Past Possibly-Perfect Progressive. As in Bear's confession at a recent Addicts Anonymous meeting, "I had been repenting for weeks and thought I had conquered my problem, but then I almost succumbed to the temptation of a Studebaker..."

"Ambiguous Perfect Progressive" is more pronounceable, but not as much fun.

(In another random aside -- I've got to stop doing that -- this reminds me of my eighth-grade masterpiece "A Pathetically Perfect Parody of Pointless Perverse Poetry." Ah, those were the days...)

Now, you may claim this exercise was silly, or pointless, or was tortuous after all, either to Eric or to the hapless English language.

Any or all of those may be true.

Nothing I do could possibly be worse than Douglas Adams' "Future semi-conditionally modified sub-inverted plagal past subjunctive."

Still, I will-on have been likely starts repenting sometime by next Tuesday ago.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sammy's Cheyenne Star Gate Escapade

I did, indeed, run a three-part series about Berry's Brave Band of Babies infiltrating Cheyenne Mountain. Using one baby as a diversion, Sam and another little girl penetrated deep into the bowels of the base, hid themselves in the backpacks of an SG team, were carried through the Star Gate and onto an alien planet (where babies were not allowed because they could do magic), used their new powers to play with an alien airship (and thus save the SG team), and were evacuated back through the Star Gate. Back on Earth, they were interrogated (unsuccessfully) by military intelligence, then eventually remanded to the custody of their parents.

Sammy calculated he had circumvented at least ten layers of security and was thrilled about having set the new world record. ("This totally beats that toddler who snuck onto a nuclear submarine!" he gloated.) Alas, he then realized that this was all so top-secret classified, his feat would never be made public. Even his parents were told only "Your baby was caught trying to sneak into Cheyenne Mountain," with no mention of how far he'd actually gotten.

Mommy, tired of her little Houdini's antics, announced that from now on, he would sleep in a padlocked steel cage rather than a crib. (She charitably supplied a mattress.) "If you're a really good boy," Mommy told him, "We will re-evaluate your status in a year."

Not my best bedtime story, but I thought it very sweet how Eric insisted that we leave the door to Sammy's room open so his little brother could hear the story. I was afraid this would give Sam ideas, or, worse, keep him awake at night, but I complied.

--[Naturally we would not use a prison cage crib in real life, but the policy is tempting because then we, his beleaguered parents, would no longer be required to pick up his toys several times a day.

Jon's theory is that Sammy falls asleep with his mongoose. When he wakes up in the morning, he plays with Mr. Mongoose for a while, then, despairing about parents coming to rescue him in the next three minutes, cries  "Save yourself!" or  "Get help!" and jettisons the animal overboard. He then does target practice with any other toys still in the crib, trying for a symmetrical distribution of scattered plastic.

My theory is that Sam throws his toys overboard to punish us for not getting him within twenty seconds of his first piteous mewling. Fortunately, his terrorist policy of tossing one toy per minute has minimal effect, since we don't let him sleep with more than two in the first place.]

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Youse boy!

For each of our babies, Jon and I have chosen a letter to represent the unborn child.

Back when I was pregnant with Eric, I hated calling my pregnancy "it". "The baby has a gender," I argued, "We just don't yet know which."

We decided to call the baby "B" (for Baby) in the interim. As with many of my linguistic ideas, this quickly morphed into its own jargon, with pronouns and puns. "He, him, his" became "be/bee, bit, bits". Even after we knew the gender, we still didn't have a name and continued using them for fun. Examples:
  • "B, baby, be!" [A growth mantra.]
  • "If B would let me eat a byte, be would get a bit. But NO, bee's making me queasy. Never did like honey, anyway...and there's the fear of botulism..."
  • "B has been hyperactive all day. Busy as a swarm of bees. It's like be's banging on a professional drumset in there. Tell me this isn't a prophecy...?" (Note: It was. I wonder what would happen if a pregnant lady took Ritalin...?)

Daniel was "C" for "Child." Pronouns: see/cee/sea, sit, and sits.
  • "Peekaboo! I see you, C!" [when we could see him kicking]
  • "C! Sit!" [When he was too active]
  • "When this is over, I will need a Sitz bath..." [That was also prophetic, given the involuntary natural childbirth.]
  • "See C sit! Sit, C, sit! Is C a she? Soon we'll see.."
  • "C likes to swim in the amniotic sea. I wonder what degree cee is?"
Naturally, outsiders were utterly confused when they heard sentences like "It's not sit's fault!"

Marian was "I" for "Infant." Pronouns: eye/aye, ite, and ites. Or sometimes eye's or aye's. Whatever made the pun work best.

It was fun saying stuff like
  • "Threw up AGAIN. I is mad at me."
  • "Aye, aye, I!" 
  • "I can't see eye's eyes. Aye, I think eye's playing boo times 10 to the negative twelfth." (Picaboo.)

My favorite pun there was "There were no -ites among them," but that, too, proved sadly prophetic.

Sammy was "Q" for "Query" or "Question". Pronouns: cue/queue, quit/quite, and quit's/cue's. Again, whatever worked best.
  • "Q, quit being impatient. Back to the end of the queue for you."
  • "Quit it, Q! I've had quite enough!" [When he, too, was kicking me in super-hyperactive mode.]
  • "I wish cue'd give me a cue. A clue. Anything!"
It was further inevitable that we would make comparisons to Q, the mostly-omnipotent but highly immature being from Star Trek.

Well, this pregnancy, we held a family council to decide on a letter. Eventually we came up with "U" for "Unknown." Pronouns: you/yew, and some barbaric, unpredictable mixture of "you" "you's" "use" and "youse" for the objective and possessive case.

Daniel took particular delight in making sentences which sounded ungrammatical but weren't, like "You is so cute!" Jon and I encouraged him to try some of them out on his first grade teacher. Cackle. Danny also deliberately misunderstood me when I said things like "You need to clear the table now." He would look blank and exclaim, innocently, "Huh? But how could U possibly clear the table?"

Note on Usage. (Heh, heh, couldn't help myself, sorry.) "Youse" can be used as possessive (like "Hey, that's you's/youse toy!" Or as a contraction for "you is" or "you is a" As in...

"Youse boy!"

Also, it helps to pretend you're a gangster. More fun in character.

Further, during one particularly boring church meeting, I set a horrible example for my children by playing with anagrams.
  • BQUIC (be quick) [Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack, jump over the candlestick...Jack, join your brothers abusing the couch with crazy gymnastics. At least you don't slouch...]
  • BUICQ (buick) [rather unoriginal, though]
  • CQUIB (squib) [from Harry Potter universe; means a non-magical child born to a magical family. OUR family would never produce a Mundane, though. OUR babies are all exceptional.]
  • CUBIQ (cubic) [Very mathematical]
  • IQ CUB (Smart baby) [my favorite]

Now, I am not promising anything. But, theoretically, if --IF-- there were any more babies, I am leaning toward the letter "L" for "Lottery." After which I could make the word QUIBLC, or "quibbles." Then maybe "R" for "arcane" or "recondite," from which we could form "QUIBLRC" (quibblers) or CQUIBLR (squibbler). That it is a nonsense word does not detract from it's charm, I think. We could invent a definition, like children who post ninety-five scribbles on the church door and set off huge, lawyerly debates. (The more I think about it, the more I love the image of my children all having deep philosophical debates in shaky crayon drawings.)

As for U (still no name, sorry), I'm just glad to have a final answer. All the physical evidence -- a new over-the-counter gender predictor test, lack of nausea, and a fourteen-week ultrasound where the doctor said "I wouldn't go shopping yet, but that looks like a boy to me" -- pointed to a boy. After some particularly awful nightmares, which I'm delighted were not prophetic, I'm happy that everything looks normal developmentally.

My friend Mark pointed out I wouldn't have to pay for weddings. I responded with the approximate cost of four missions. (Probably over $50,000, depending on inflation.)

I have seen the future, and it is full of Ramen noodles and dormitory-style bunkbeds, even before Eric leaves for college.

I'm particularly looking forward to the day I tell him, "Hey, you! Quit trespassing!" Similar to when I poked baby B (on my due date) and said "That's it. Move out, or start paying rent."

Had U been a girl, we could have made more puns about "the wee ewe lamb," but one can't have everything.

Every baby is a blessing. I'll be thrilled if this one turns out as cute, sweet, and smart as his brothers. I'll settle for "Not a gansta'."

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Cat and Mouse War

Eric likes epic, multi-part bedtime stories.

He provides me with a prompt, and then I resist his efforts to micromanage the details.

This month has been pleasant because he has let me go my own way with minimal interference. Artistic control!

The prompt was "I want a story about some mice and cats having a war and there's an arms race where each side keeps getting more complicated."

"Ah," I said. "A war of escalation. Yes, I could manage that..."

I won't inflict all the details on you, but I do have some favorite excerpts from the fifteen-night story:

[Plot summary: a colony of mice who live in the exterior wall of an old farmhouse, realizing the kitchen cat is about to give birth to a new kitten, decide to better organize their food acquisition. Some strategic household raids yield a pile of paperclips, string, yarn, cloth, sewing needles, popsicle sticks, and other paraphernalia. Engineers work to design innovative technologies which will be tested while the cat is most exhausted in the immediate post-partum phase. They hope to become so expert at scavenging that they will continue to thrive even after two adult cats are on patrol. Finally, the kitten is born and they launch the second phase of their cunning plan...]

"Ladies and gentlemice, welcome to this historic event. The cat is asleep and it's a beautiful afternoon for a raid on the pantry. Our team look fresh and organized in their new gear, but will this innovative "paperclip armor" really work? The engineers swear -- Oh, and they're off! I must say, I had my doubts about those rag "sock skates," but they really seem to be working! The mice have reached the cheese and -- Oh no! The cat's awake! She's chasing after number three, but he passes the cheese to number five. It looks like the carpenters may need to adjust the stick shape; the shot looked wide and number five is having trouble handling the cheese. The cat sees his difficulty and is pursuing! Number five is concentrating too hard to notice the danger...The captain calls out an order...Aha! Numbers two and three are teasing the cat. Great interference there by number three, I love the faces he's making...and it looks like number five has things back under control and is heading for the mousehole...the cat realizes her mistake and sprints after him...number five lines up his shot and...score!!! The cheese is in the goal! I repeat, the cheese is in the goal!!! [The mouse spectators erupt in cheers.]

"What a success that was, ladies and gentlemen, enough food for two days, by the looks of it, but it remains to be seen how our brave team will fare...the team captain has called the evacuation order, but the cat is blocking the hole...And the Team Captain sacrifices himself to let his men escape! He's running in circles...he's taunting the cat like crazy! What courage! What skill! He takes off running...will the cat...yes, she does! She's chasing him across the kitchen!!! Oh MY, those skates are fast on the polished hardwood floor! But the cat's legs are longer...she's gaining on him...the rest of the team are home free!...[The crowd cheers again]...and now the cat has pounced the captain! [Gasps] She takes a bite...[Breathless silence]...I can't see much...and SHE SPITS HIM OUT!! He's moving! He's ALIVE!!!! The armor worked!! [Cat calls] Let's hear it for our dedicated engineers and craftsmice! [Applause] He'll have a nasty bruise...hopefully nothing is broken...the cat looks furious, but is holding her mouth. Could one of her teeth have broken?...She's still distracted...he's limping away...and our captain is home! A TOTAL SUCCESS!!! DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES...???" [The mice roar.]

[Soon the cat retaliates with a large magnet and captures a hostage. The mice stage a daring raid wherein they rescue the hostage and capture the kitten instead. The exchange of ransom notes is complicated by the lack of a shared language. The mouse linguist does her best to translate, but her limited data set led to numorous errors in the subsequent negotiations...]

#1 Mice to cat, actual message:
"During communion argue beneath a flag of truancy, zombify the suitcase shall."

Intended message: "While we're debating your conditions of surrender, we'd like to come under a flag of truce to feed the hostage."

#2 Mice to cat, actual message:
"We plinkle your vocabulary! Craven flea-vermin books! Was undead vampire cargo resussitated! Sock, sock. Small boy goddess former cash time very fat annoying we crooked ate."

Intended message: We reject your terms. Mouse liberty! We rescued our hostage. (Taunt, taunt, mock, mock.) If you want to see your kitten alive again, you must agree to allow us perpetual access to the larder."

#4 Mouse linguist to cat, actual message:
"You-pejorative goddess, bad sin possess. I your network-count learn lightning. More romantic courtship-outings assist it I. Send us dictators! We your Tom own. Dance/assumption prey we always and it back you purchase. Empty it."

Intended message: You, cat, have a bad temper. I am trying to learn your language as quickly as possible. It would help if I had more data. Could you send us a dictionary? We have your small boy cat/Tom/Rice wine. Promise us food forever and then you can have him back. He's getting hungry.

[Alas, the linguist was reasonably competent. As her data set grew, she made fewer errors. The final peace treaty was mostly readable. To give you an idea of how she suffered, though, I share her raw translation notes from a reply message the cat sent...]

#3 Mouse linguist's very raw notes:
"You-form mod'd mice are modifier(?) very(?) bad. I-form mod'd hate [three emphasis modifiers] you(?)! [Untranslateable cat onamotopeia.] You(?) are so hunchbacked(?) [idiom evil?] I-form owe(?) you future form fair/equitable two paw beneath. [Idiom??? Work on this.] Conj.(?)/but(?) I-form mod'd own try conj(?)  for ??? [suffix] rice wine?? You-form mod'd possessive final messy? Create-past no smell. Try again to insult. [Primitive anthropological territorial marking.]"

Cat's actual message: "You (pejorative, plural) craven flea-vermin are very, very bad. I HATE you! Hiss! You are so stupid, I doubt you will even understand this, but I have to try for Tom's sake. Your last message made no sense. Try again, idiots." [Smelly urine stain/signature marking]

[The council of elders, who had been breathing down her neck demanding real-time translation, glared at her, appalled when she tried reading her first-pass notes aloud to them. (Bad as it is to read them, imagine only hearing "You form modded mice are modifier.") "That's complete gibberish!" they complained, after which she snapped. "Yes! I know! Go away and let me do some real translation in peace!" Subsequent attempts to nag her resulted in her meeowing fiercely at them, apparently so absorbed in "cat" she didn't realize she was speaking it. Taken aback, they decided to give her some space and wait patiently, lest she start clawing at them as well...]

Other highlights from the epic conflict:

*The mice had a "Ransom of Redchief" moment when they realized the kitten would only drink milk and also needed his diapers changed frequently. Rather dangerous when the "baby" is larger than you are, hungry, tired, cranky, yowling so loudly no one can hear, and keeps trying to disembowl his caregivers.

*A bunch of mice tried desperately (and unsuccessfully) to milk a cow. Part of the problem was they approached her from the right, not left, side. A lashing tail, well-aimed kick, and strategic stomp dislodged the mice, knocked over the stool, and broke the milk bottle. The children loved the image of a mouse hanging on the cow's teat for dear life, first trying to squeeze milk out frantically, and then slipping inexorably to his doom...(the other mice broke his fall before they all scrambled away)...

*A three-person mouse commando team raided the garage, hoping to steal back the magnet which had rendered their armor unusable. The farmer's wife, who had a phobia for mice, saw them and attacked them insanely with a live chainsaw. In the subsequent melee, she scratched the hood of her car, hacked the leg off the workbench, shattered the overhead light, knocked over a can of bright green paint (which covered and temporarily blinded her), chopped down an overhead storage shelf, and did a few thousand dollars worth of damage to the tractor.

--This inspired the mice to write a war ditty called "Three Commando Mice," in which they terrorize the poor blind farmer's wife. Hardly great poetry, but the kids loved the parody.

The final peace treaty was signed a few nights ago. Eric keeps asking for sequel "hockey games," but I insist that a wise author knows when to let the story end.

He has accepted that and moved on. Last night he asked for a story about Sammy leading a bunch of babies on a daring raid to sneak inside an unspecified but secure facility. I had Sammy and two other Leander Ward babies infiltrate the Library of Congress.

When Brother Woodbury heard this, he asked first if Sammy had gotten in trouble. ("Of course not," I answered. "He flirted with the librarian who found him and she melted completely, then reluctantly remanded him to the custody of his concerned mama.") Then he said, very generously, that he would bail Sammy out of jail any time.

For tonight, Eric is muttering about having the same team get into a really top-secret secure facility. I foolishly suggested Cheyenne Mountain. Oy. How does a nice Mama like me end up in crazy situations like this? Still, I think bedtime stories are one of the very best parts of Mommyhood. I wouldn't trade it for anything. :)

*A minor linguistic note: Cat language has many minute gradations of importance. Imagine the subtleties of Japanese bows and you'll get the idea. The cat keeps using the most pejorative form of "you" while using a very superior form of "I" when writing to the mice. The distinction is much more obvious in spoken cat, where higher and lower pitches indicate the level of respect intended. Anyway, the mice, only seeing the "you" and "I" sent by the cat, have no way of knowing what other forms of the pronouns exist, so they keep sending back very insulting messages wherein they unintentionally claim status akin to godhood and address the cat as though she were the lowest possible life form on the pronoun ladder. This drives the cat CRAZY, since, to her, she honored the mice just by elevating them from "ignore completely" onto the pronoun ladder in the first place.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Silly Poems in Fifteen Minutes

Yesterday, I was in charge of Family Night.

Though I was sorely tempted to play a version of Simon Says called "Let's clean up the library!" I refrained.

Instead, I gave everyone fifteen minutes to write a silly poem. (One person claims he didn't hear the "silly" part of the assignment.)

And no, I did not cheat and plan my topic in advance. My original intent was for everyone to write a prompt and then exchange. That got voted down, so I picked my own subject, but without warning.

The kids wanted a reprise of a ditty I wrote last month while sick with, ah, digestive issues, but I pointed out that Grandma Homer might actually read this, so I'll be classy and not post it.

Bonus points if you can figure out who authored which verse.

And remember: this isn't Great Literature. We only had fifteen minutes!

Entry the First:

Sammy likes lots of spikes and as he chews he has some news "I am you you are me who wants to swich she and he"!? Gargleblaster at your serves sir and I am a pooper!

Entry the Second:

Pretty Mommy
How I love her
I want to be with her for eternity

Entry the Third:

I have a pet turtle,
A megaboss too,
The former is purple,
The latter is blue.

The turtle is sleeping
For nieghbors inside,
The megaboss wanted
Himself zombified.

A megaboss turtle
Is coming to you,
But I am now worried
Of megaboss flu.

Entry the Fourth:

We have a very messy house
'Cause no one likes to clean,
So on the floor stuff piles up
and stacks begin to lean.

It's getting hard to navigate;
I cannot see the floor;
Ahoy! Avast! I cannot see
the shore, nor find the door.

The other day, I dug around
and saw some lice, and scabies.
Tomorrow, I will mount a search
and try to find the babies.

If people don't start doing chores,
I'll do something extreme,
like leave and join a different team,
or -- Oh! 'Twas just a dream!

--[Editorial note: the house, while genuinely messy, is not bad enough to warrant calling child services.]

Monday, May 2, 2011

Notes and Commentary on the Meridian Charter School Meeting

Warning: Very dry content. If you don't have a personal interest in either the school or my beliefs about education, skip the whole thing. Trust me.

Several people asked me, “Are you going to that information session? I can't make it. Please, take good notes!” I took eight pages of handwritten scrawls. I'll do my best to translate them now, put into paragraph form and re-organized slightly by category.

I also try to make it clear what is mostly unfiltered fact, and what is my own opinionated commentary.

Some helpful acronyms:
PYP = primary years program. Refers to grades K-6.
MYP = middle years program. Refers to grades 6 or 7-10. (The website says 6-10; the sixth-graders, however, are being classed with the primary years in terms of schedule next year.)
UL = upper level. Refers to grades 11 & 12, when students work on acquiring an IB diploma and also, frequently, receiving college credit for their work. Similar to the AP program, which I always liked.

Parent Association Plea

So, first up, the board member in charge of the parent association gave a brief presentation.

She said the parent association needs to raise $100K for musical instruments, playground equipment, furniture, and other supplies. She recommended parents check to see if their employers offered matching fund donations. I know Intel does; Jon and I will look into that. She explained they received a federal grant of $450K for start up costs, but that's not enough for everything.

"If we could raise $150 per student," she added earnestly, "We would be set."

Principal's Presentation

Mr. Rick Fernandez, the new overall “Head of School” introduced himself.

He says he graduated from UT and did graduate work in gifted education and educational administration, also at UT. He has been an IB consultant for over a decade. (I assume that means he worked with schools to help them become IB-compliant and -certified.) He also has administrative experience. For a more detailed resume, see his page at the school website.

He has been working on preparing the application for IB PYP. This application means the elementary years ought to be official candidates for IB certification starting in the fall. From a previous information session, I interpret this to mean that starting this fall, they will be in the queue for recognition from a national or international IB governing body. It takes at least two years (as I recall) to get certified, so its good they are beginning the process now. Right now they cannot claim to be an official IB school, they can only say they are following an IB-style curriculum with the intention of receiving formal IB designation as soon as possible. They hope to have the PYP be a certified, recognized, licensed/bonded/insured, IB-accredited primary years program starting in the fall of 2013.

Their goal is that 8th-graders starting this year will be able to earn an official IB diploma when they graduate from 12th grade. I assume they are on currently on track for that.

Mr. Fernandez said he had hired about half the staff necessary for PYP and interviews are still ongoing. All teachers either have PYP experience or will get the training in July. He looked primarily, not for PYP/IB experience, but for teachers who are qualified, enthusiastic, and love kids.

They have hired a “Primary head of school” (which I take to mean a principal over the elementary portion, kind of a vice-principal), but won't announce his name until the end of May because s/he insists on finishing this school year without distracting his/her current community. Mr. Fernandez made a big point of saying this person would be g-r-r-eat!!! and that he would stake his professional reputation on it. I thought this a trifle overdone, but whatever.

There should be another information session in June or July in which parents should be able to meet this mystery person.

In terms of curriculum, he said that K-6 should not get additional stress, just more enrichment. Grades 7-8 will get a more challenging curriculum, and that the high-school-aged kids will have to choose to commit to very high, demanding standards.

Handbook Notes

Another board member – sorry, I didn't catch the names – then went over the handbook and code of conduct, which can be found here: and here:

I like the mission statement: "Meridian School’s mission is to provide an invigorating educational environment that develops responsible citizens who can artfully navigate our complex world and enjoy a good life with others. Each student will engage in diverse investigations, disciplined inquiry, and integrated service learning to cultivate intercultural awareness, creativity and mental acuity."

They want to teach students how to learn, how to teach themselves, how to re-tool in a changing world, and how to be open to new experiences and cultures. They believe progress reports should be regular and thorough. They will administer the TAKS test (in accordance with state law) and see it and other standardized tests as helpful tools, but will not let the test dictate their classroom time or curriculum. Homework should be thoughtful, age-appropriate, and purposeful, not merely busy work.

As with most things at this charter school, I love the philosophy, and hope that the implementation measures up.

Many things were already explained in the two documents above; I won't necessarily repeat all of them.

I do note they said that nine unexcused absences constitute a serious discipline offense, and students might be “sent back” to their regular campus after such an infraction. They also asked parents to try super hard to have students in class between 10:00 to 10:15, since that is when attendance is taken, and attendance determines the funds they get from the state. “Schedule the dentist appointment around that,” they pleaded.

Wednesdays have early release at 1:00 p.m. because that allows time for teacher training and collaboration. It makes sense that if they want a highly integrated curriculum, with history and English and math teachers all working together, inter- and even intra-grade, they would need time to plan together. Personally, I would rather see a regular half-day off than random teacher development days scattered through the calendar. Of course, I'm not employed. The school does have an after-school program for Wednesdays so that parents can pick the kids up later than 1:00. The few extra hours of supervision on Wednesday afternoons should cost only a modest fee.

The enrollment package is due May 9th. (I think that means it must be postmarked by then.)

They encourage parent involvement and hope each family will volunteer 20 hours per school year. (That's per family, not per student.)

After School, Interpreted. (I think...)

Their various after-school programs are very complicated. I think I understand everything they said, but they haven't worked out many details yet. In principle, though, I believe they are divided into these major categories:

  1. Early drop-off/late release is for students who have siblings on a different schedule. (Grades 7+ arrive and leave campus an hour later than K-6). It will probably consist of supervised study time, and should not cost extra money.
  2. The complete after-school package, which will cost approximately $200 per month per student, is for students whose parents must work and cannot pick them up earlier than around 6:00 p.m. Students of working parents will be given priority placement in this program, which will consist of a variety of extra-curricular classes (like group music lessons), clubs (like chess or robots), and sports (like soccer). Baseball and swimming would be off-site but transportation would be provided by the school.
  3. Any remaining availabilities (like a slot in a special Spanish class) may be filled by kids who could be picked up at the regular dismissal time but whose family decides to pursue extra-curriculars voluntarily. Thus, some kids might opt into one or two activities, staying after school only some days each week. The fees would adjust to a pay-per-activity accordingly.
  4. The school is also looking into offering some private lessons (like violin). Those would be much more expensive than group lessons, of course, and would also be a completely separate program.
  5. For children who can't leave at 1:00 on Wednesdays, there will be a modest fee for supervision until 3:00.

    Note: They still do not have a specific schedule worked out, so at this time, it's impossible for a parent to know if chess club will run from, say, 4:30 to 5:15 or from 5:15 to 6:00. Obviously, this has great impact on the stay-at-home moms most likely to be reading this.


They then opened the floor for questions. Behold my notes on the answers, in no particular order:

Foreign Language. Spanish will be taught at every grade level. Later on, they hope to add more language options.

Medical Staff. There will NOT be a registered nurse on-site. Office staff will be specially trained to dispense medications, but the principal said, quite honestly, that if there are students with particular health needs (life-threatening allergies, perhaps, or diabetes), this school might not be the best fit for them yet. They hope to hire a nurse in a few years.

Note: They hope to do a great many things “in a few years” “when they have more funding.” Though I believe they are sincere, I have no idea how long it might actually take to 1) become fully IB accredited, 2) create school-fielded baseball, basketball, swimming, or soccer teams, 3) form a band and orchestra, 4) hire a nurse, 5) expand the foreign language options, 6) guarantee uber-healthy cafeteria food, etc.

They have acquired a site in Round Rock which used to be a light-industrial building. It requires extensive renovation. The contractor's plan of work indicates it will be done by the middle of August; they are tentatively planning on a start date of Sept. 6, just in case things (*gasp*) run over. In a dire emergency, they could apply for a waiver from the state to start school even later, but hopefully that won't be necessary. There is no real back-up plan if a) the work isn't completed and b) the waiver is denied. (If that should happen, the local public schools would suddenly find themselves placing an extra 750 students. Imagine their joy.)

Because the building won't be ready, there won't be an open house on-site. They will try to have opportunities for children to meet the staff in a different venue over the summer.

They have allocated a classroom size of 700 square feet per 25 students. There will also be a science lab for MYP, and a library with limited selection at first, though they do have a small book-buying budget. They also solicited donations. There will be offices for extra staff and special education classrooms.

Recess. They agree that recess is important. Children need a break in which to exercise and wiggle. They promised not to cut into recess time for more instruction. (As, apparently, some public schools are doing due to test-score desperation.) Repeated plea for donations of money and manpower to build playground equipment.

Food. They have space in the building set aside for a cafeteria. They agree in principle that lunches should be healthy, and that cafeterias should not try to generate extra revenue by selling ice cream. The board member answering this question admitted that they've been focused on other things and hadn't really addressed the issue yet, but were planning to tackle that next, and invited concerned parents to join the committee on food services. They don't want a huge industrial catering service, but they don't have a specific contractor in mind, and, as always, they must bow to budget constraints. In theory, I'll try to have Danny bring a sack lunch. In practice, with two babies...well, it can't be any worse than Whitestone's cafeteria, right?

Technology. They would love to have a large computer lab, smart boards in every classroom, and ipads for each student; again, fiscal reality makes that unlikely. They do intend each teacher to have a laptop with projection capability.

Skipping grades. Students wishing to double-promote are out of luck for this coming school year, since all slots for each grade have been filled, plus waiting lists. They intend to implement a program wherein a student may take a test at the end of the school year for possible placement two grades higher the next.

In MYP and above, PE is a requirement.
There will be “specials” – music, art, PE, and Spanish – in the primary grades.

Special Education (NOT including gifted): They are required by law to provide special education, such as in cases of Autism or learning disabilities like dyslexia. They will also provide ELL (English Language Learning, i.e., special language instruction for non-native speakers), services for learning disabilities such as dyslexia, and ELL (English Language Learning). These services might include pull-out and group classes. If I were the parent of an autistic kid who required a full-time aide, though, I would hesitate for budget reasons. I find it quite likely the charter school will go to even greater lengths to avoid hiring a full-time assistant than the public schools regularly do.

When asked, the Meridian administration emphasize that they are required by law to provide those services; however, it does not seem truly intrinsic to their mission. The original vision of the school, as I interpolate it, is for involved, educated parents of above-average kids to find a challenging environment for their children which avoids many of the problems of the traditional schools. Thus, my prediction is that they will do the bare minimum necessary to avoid a lawsuit when it comes to children with learning disabilities and behavior problems. Though I am thrilled about the emphasis on giftedness and creativity, this is definitely an important point for people in other circumstances to consider.

Mr. Fernandez explicitly said “Special education will be limited for the first few years,” adding that it is his plan to hire a special education coordinator to help manage cases and train other staff.

Note: At a previous meeting, a board member said Meridian would likely join a special education co-op. For example, school A would employ a speech therapist, school B would employ an occupational therapist, and school C would employ a teacher with special dyslexia training. The schools would then pool their resources, with each person rotating among the campuses, spending one or two days per week at each. I heard no mention of this idea Sunday night. Perhaps it has been scrapped; perhaps they're planning simply to contract the requisite specialists as needed; probably they are hoping they'll be able to have a special education coordinator handle everything in house but don't know for certain yet if that will be feasible. I don't know. Each parent only got one question, and I spent mine elsewhere.

A Charitable Explanation

Many people have been frustrated by the lack of specificity. It does seem like they are making progress in deciding some issues, like uniforms. Other things, like the cafeteria, remain unaddressed. I worry about them getting everything sorted by the start of school. Again, they are making progress, but they still seem disorganized in many ways.

On issues regarding special services (like dyslexia, gifted differentiation, and academic advancement), they have some excuse for lacking specifics: they don't have student profiles yet. Part of the paperwork parents must file by May 9th includes a description of each child's strengths, weaknesses, and special needs. It is reasonable for them to make a decision like “We'll offer a pull-out dyslexia class” or “We'll train a few individual teachers” or “We'll hire an extra Special Education Coordinator” based on whether they have thirty LD kids or three.

Understanding their reasons for vagueness does not make the immediate decision less frustrating. My personal prediction is that special ed will struggle the next two years, since they will be focusing primarily on the main IB curriculum and certification. Given budget constraints, it would be much easier for them to offer a few hours of training to some teachers and release 'em back into the wild to differentiate within the classroom. 

Regarding Gifted and Accelerated Differentiation 

“Differentiate in the classroom” seems their constant refrain. In response to questions about special education, giftedness, and, especially, academic acceleration like “My fourth-grader is doing algebra” or “My daughter is already fluent in Spanish,” the principal offered very vague reassurances that 1) they believe in gifted/advanced education, 2) they won't do any kind of gifted/advanced pull-out, 3) teachers will differentiate within the classroom, and 4) “Your kid will be taken care of.” While I believe the principal is sincere in his intentions, I cannot help but worry that the implementation will be uncertain.

I further agree that, in principle, IB integration would better meet the needs of gifted kids than a traditional classroom. Real-world applications, cross-disciplinary projects, and creativity are all much more engaging than rote drills. The board and Mr. Fernandez repeatedly stated that research shows IB is great for gifted kids. In theory, I agree.

Eric's Unique Issues

I'm not trying to brag obnoxiously about my kid, but people do keep asking about him. Feel free to skip this section if you think it does not pertain.

Other teachers have given lip service to classroom differentiation for Eric, but in practice it has been a disaster. Whitestone's solution to the problem was to send a high-school kid in to play Monopoly with him. They also tried PACE which meant he was doing third-grade math instead of second-grade. Woo woo. Another problem was that they insisted he had to do his regular work before he could do extras, like algebra worksheets or reading. This was before his ADD medication, and that policy was a nightmare. Plus he had to show his work to an insulting degree. I am all in favor of making kids show reasonable intermediate steps, but they took it to ridiculous extremes, mainly because it's important on the TAKS test. My reassurances that Eric would never, ever, fail the math section of a standardized test fell on the deaf ears of a lock-stepped administration.

(A friend in Raleigh once told me, regarding the administration at a public school, "It's like they want to care, but they can't." Yep.)

The problem, as I see it, is that most elementary school teachers probably don't know algebra themselves, let alone have certification to teach it. Here I will likely upset many people with my political incorrectness, but I tried taking some education classes in college, and I was appalled at my fellow students. Vapid airheads who “loved children,” but couldn't properly use “their” vs. “there” or “its” vs. “it's,” let alone grasp even the most rudimentary statistical concepts like “this is a standard deviation, and why it's important” or “it's much, much harder to move from the 97th percentile to the 98th percentile than from the 49th to the 50.” I walked out of there shaken to the core. “I never want her to teach my kid English,” I told Jon repeatedly, “Or him to teach my kids math, or her to teach my kids anything.”

Now, in fairness, there are some fine elementary school teachers out there. I am not trying to say they are all idiots. I do think it unlikely, though, that a person certified only to teach primary-level math (up to fractions and percentages) could possibly handle the differentiation requirements of algebra or above.

My mother had a very bad experience like that in eighth grade, where the school promised differentiation, but really only assigned her worksheets in a vacuum. Without any feedback, she never knew if she had gotten the answers correct, lacked confidence, and was upset when the “teacher” blindly gave her an A and passed her on to Algebra II. The school system then refused to allow her to repeat Algebra I because she was listed as having credit. She is super smart and would have done great with adequate instruction; sadly, this system failure meant she spent years feeling she'd never properly mastered the material.

It's all well and good for me to send in algebra worksheets for Eric, but if the teachers aren't qualified to assist him or to grade his work, what has it accomplished? Now, I would hopefully be more successful about negotiating with the charter school, some deal like “Fine, just don't assign him any math homework and I'll supplement at home,” but my question “Please walk me through the specifics of your IED/ARD* process – which typically involves a meeting of the parents, classroom teacher, special staff (like a school psychologist, speech therapist, social skills leader, special education coordinator) (or, in Eric's case, all of the above), plus a representative from the administration -- got only the repetitive refrain, “Your child will be taken care of.”

*IED stands for “individual education plan.” ARD is what they call the process in Texas. It stands for “admission, recovery, and dismissal,” but amounts to the same thing.

Mr. Fernandez did explain the reason they don't do gifted pull-out. Because IB is such an integrated curriculum, where a project might involve science, art, and foreign language, they can't swear a kid got the entire curriculum if the kid leaves his primary years classroom to attend 8th-grade math.

While I appreciated the blunt honesty of the explanation and the flat answer that they would “absolutely not” let kids go to a different grade for instruction, I am not convinced they can meet Eric's math needs in fourth grade.

Granted, we have only covered five chapters of Algebra I this year. At that rate, it will take him two years to complete the course instead of one. That will still put him well ahead of other fifth-graders.

I foresee a community college in his future...but not for a few more years. I also acknowledge that it will be difficult for me to teach him algebra at home next year when I have two babies. Still, two or three hours a week from me is still likely much better than what he'd be getting at the charter school, and definitely better than anything he'd get at Whitestone.

Another reason for not sending Eric next year is that he needs predictability and structure. Granted, a homeschool co-op is not the most rigid environment, but it's also small, and flexible enough to allow Eric to disappear into a corner for ten minutes if he becomes upset. From a social perspective, a group of eight to ten (most of whom he already knows from church) is much easier for him to navigate than twenty-five complete strangers.


I've already explained their approach to special needs and gifted education. It's worth noting, though, something that was mentioned casually towards the end of the meeting. A parent asked about “whole grade acceleration” (which I'm guessing means trying to get all the third-graders reading at fourth-grade level). They answered that they do not currently have any actual curricula. They have an IB framework, but they intend that the teachers will create a specific curriculum after they're hired.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. Sure, it's great to have the teachers involved in writing the curricula – but that's one more thing for them to iron out between now and September. Given that only half their staff is hired, and that many of them won't have any IB training until July, that makes me nervous. Again, a shakedown year or two might be in order.

They added that there is no specific IB method for acceleration; that's the school's responsibility.


One concern is that with each year, it will be harder to get a spot. I am finessing that one by sending Daniel this year, so that Eric will be given priority in later years if he applies. I gather the charter school expects to seat 750 students this year. Though they will add a grade each year until they reach 12th, the lower grades will already be mostly filled.

In Principle, in Practice

For me, so much of this comes down to a single problem. “I love their philosophy,” I told Jon repeatedly. “I love their attitude and their intentions. I worry, though, about the implementation of practical details.”

Joseph Smith was a visionary. He was rotten at specifics like money management. It took someone like Brigham Young to administer daily details.

I worry about this school transitioning to the nitty-gritty. Further, I worry about the example they will set for their students.

Gifted Philosophy: Balance Epiphanies with Tedium

Some people see Gifted education as elitist. When I attended a magnet school in the early nineties, people kept writing letters to the editor of the local newspaper. "Why are we wasting money on the smart kids," they asked, "When the smart kids are already doing fine? They should be in regular classes, helping to tutor the disadvantaged."

Asking "the smart kids" to help tutor struggling classmates is reasonable up to a very limited point, but it quickly becomes what I call "intellectual socialism." Don't get me started about the afterward of The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. Imagine Mozart, Isaac Newton, or Da Vinci beaten down to the lowest common denominator.

If you want the U.S. to stay ahead in technology, if you want us to produce scientists and engineers who solve the world's problems, you should support gifted education.

High-Q children do need to learn how to interact with more typical peers. But they also need to be around other smart kids. Everyone has gifts: some people are smarter, some are stronger, some are good at woodwork and others at being charming hostesses. I am rotten at athletics and drawing, but I have many other talents. A smart kid should not be taught that she is "better" or more important than anyone else. God loves everyone. It's wonderful to develop gifts; it's bad form to brag obnoxiously about them. A truly smart kid, however, cannot possibly help but notice that she is smarter than all the other kids in her class. (Plus, in all likelihood, her teacher. In fifth grade, my teacher was a very sweet idiot, and I learned to correct her gently by asking very tactful questions.) 

Being around other smart kids helps a child in several ways: one, he can find friends with common interests (like hacking into the FBI servers!), and two, it actually keeps him humble, since he is no longer a giant genius fish in an backwater intellectual pond.

Gifted kids, who frequently learn intuitively and by leaps, do, however, need a practical grounding in things like “basic study skills” and “daily homework.”

I had many friends in school who argued “I have a D in that class because its sooo boring. I'm so smart, I can't stand to pay attention.” That excuse never impressed me. “I get horribly bored, too,” I reminded them, “But I still get good grades because I know exactly how much effort is necessary. If you can sleep through class but ace the tests and maintain a B, I will accept your argument. Otherwise, grit your teeth and do your homework.” (I note that I ended up with an excellent scholarship, where they had to take out student loans. Go figure.)

--(Another side note. Jon actually did sleep through Calculus, but got an A. Plus a 5 on the AP. Disgusting man. He did do his homework, though. It still drove me crazy when I heard that his habit had been to meander into class, ask "Oh, do we have a test today?" quickly read the chapter summary, and then set the curve. [grrrr] When I think of the bullets I sweated in Calculus, and for a less favorable outcome...)--

Despite exceptions like above, ultimately, work ethic is a much better predictor of success than raw I.Q. So, how do we feed the intellect and instill values like self-discipline?

Part of educating a gifted kid is figuring out how much “boring effort” to require. Too much mindless repetition is torture. And inefficient, even futile. Too little makes them lazy. I hate mere “busy work,” but it is reasonable to expect them to practice conjugating verbs. That's something they really do need to drill--icky word, ugh!--until it becomes automatic.

Kids today expect to be entertained all the time, this induced ADD being one of the many side effects of constant TV and video game saturation. Even without the electronic bombardment, they still get easily alienated. Once, when I was ten or eleven, I whined to my mother that Primary was soooo excruciatingly boring, I couldn't stand it. “I wish I were in Relief Society,” I complained, “Where the lesson level would be more interesting.”

“Honey,” she answered, “You'll be bored in church for the rest of your life. Get used to it.”

Harsh, but true.

--(As an aside, I noticed during the royal wedding that Prince William twiddled his thumbs, stared vacantly at the ceiling, and even whispered to Kate during the Bishop of London's excellent sermon. I know Christianity is mostly dead in Europe, but surely a protocol-trained prince ought to know better than to tune out so obviously in front of sixty world-wide television cameras. Ten minutes is a reasonable length of time to expect someone, especially an adult, to behave.)--

In other words, smart children, like everyone else in the world, need to self-manage. They need to learn how to be bored graciously for short periods. They need to do homework, even if it isn't always fun. When they join the adult workforce, they won't be able to tell their new employers, “Oh, the daily reports are grunt work. I'll just work on strategic vision.”

I think housework is inane, but I still force myself to do it. Sometimes. (Okay, not nearly often enough, but at least the house functions at a basic level, even if it's never immaculate. I suspect I have some ADD which never manifested in school since I actually liked school. But I digress.)

If the people at Meridian are all visionaries who are weak on details, what will that teach the gifted kids who need structure?

My sister Cheryl says presidential candidates often run excellent campaigns and then have trouble transitioning to the white house. “The skill set necessary to get your candidate elected,” she says “Has very little to do with actual governance.” That's why presidents tend to appoint their top campaign aides as chiefs of staff, only to fire them one to two years later.

I'm curious to see what Meridian will look like in two years.

I suspect they will weather the start-up problems, work out the kinks, and settle into a routine. They are dedicated, sincere people who believe in their vision. Inevitably, there will be political backstabbing at some point, but I'm not concerned about that right now.


I attended a magnet school for grades 6-9. It was fantastic in many ways; in particular, I loved having smart friends, and only 100 kids in the entire grade. Everyone knew everyone else. The competition was tight, but the friendships were tighter. (The clique politics were complicated, but that's just middle school for you.) I remain in contact with many of my buddies from that time.

One especially nice thing was the lack of turnover. The school ran from grades 2-12, and many kids stayed there a decade. I attended three different high schools. My little brother and sister changed schools almost every year between K and 6th grades. (There was a move, and a very rapidly growing school district.) Such disruptions are really hard on small people. I love the idea that Danny can get to know the same kids for ten years. Talk about a community.

One reason I hesitate to put Eric in this coming year is the fear that I'd have to pull him out again. If I'm going to put him in, I want a reasonable assurance that he'll manage, not just to stay, but to flourish.


For parents making this difficult decision, I can only suggest you research and pray about it.

Last night, the family decided that Daniel would attend the charter school in the fall, and Eric would join a co-op.

I think Daniel, who is highly creative, both at applied engineering and imaginative writing, will fit in beautifully. He is also much better at starting and finishing independent projects. Hopefully this will be a perfect fit for him.

Juggling two different school situations, plus two babies, plus Jon finishing his last semester of his Master's degree, will be brutal. (Forget what I said about cleaning the house; I resign myself to its being a complete disaster September through December.) Still, anything we tried would be grueling, and I really think this will be the best thing for the kids. We'll revisit Meridian for Eric in a year or two.

I'm eager to hear what other parents decide. And, if you decide to enroll your kids, let's talk about carpooling.

I hope you found my notes helpful.

Gail Homer Berry