1/18/08

Tales from the Cryptic

Wow - mid January and here I am, still in recovery mode from a sinus infection that has freeloaded a tad too long. It snot any fun.

And it's been bloody cold here - minus temperatures every night - I'm a little fuzzy on any and all Fahrenheit temperatures that dip below 70, but I do know that 27 is below freezing. This I know. For my shivers they tell me so.

We had a nasty spell of snow then black ice this week, which made getting in and out of our neighborhood, which sits perched upon a "mountain," impossible. After one scary slide back down the hill into oncoming traffic on a busy road but thank God I had another guy direct traffic so I could do so escapade, I finally gave up and parked in a lot below our hill and hiked in and out that next morning. Cars were abandoned left, right and center everywhere. And there were accidents galore so traffic was snarled Tuesday. The city finally got around to sanding and clearing the roads - something they should have done Monday night.

I sometimes marvel at civic tax dollar priorities - this has got to be the darkest lit city in America - yes, I know, its oxymoronic but there you have it - archaic street lanterns from the turn of the century or some time close to that, which are now dwarfed and hidden by overgrown trees that might have been tiny when the streetlights were first installed but which now block and and all light. This.Drives.Me.Nuts.

I've asked locals about it because it baffles me, and one guy who hails from Santa Barbara claims it's actually a bit of an American aesthetic-sensibility issue. Most prefer to have more dimly-lit streets. To me, that's really dim and not so sensible. You literally need infrared lighting to navigate these streets at night and in the wee-hours of the morning.

Ah well, whatdaheck - that's OK. I sleep at night knowing that the city is spending oodles of dollars on new soccer fields and downtown arts events. Such prudent budget spending has me resting assured.

Reeding, Righting & Rithmatic
But what can I say? The wheels on the Schmidt bus still go round and round, or as Holy Daughter would say, the wheels on the rhombus. I had to google what the hell a rhombus is. Thank God for Google or I'd only be as smart as a first grader.

She's learning all about shapes in math and has, just this new year, gotten into reading in a big way. Her current favola? Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants. That's right - nothing but the best fiction for the children in this house.

Actually, this series received two thumbs up from my children's literature professor, who is, arguably, one of the world's foremost and top-ten kid-lit scholars. He hated the Harry Potter series and wouldn't even talk about Harry Potter in class, but Captain Underpants was A-OK. Go figure.

As one who has never touched the former but been read aloud most of the latter, I have to admit, Dav Pilkey was onto something. How do you foster a love a reading and help kids bridge that gap to early series books? Create a superfantastical protagonist and weave a never-ending spin of school escapades for kids to relate to. Of course it helps to fill it with potty-talk names, cook up endless pranks to play on the principal and teachers, and ensure that most of the words are spelled phonetically close but technically wrong, as would befit the spelling ability of the average 7 or 8 year old. If reading is for didactics and delight, then this series, albeit a bit crude, is formulaic fodder for the little farts. Literally.

Yes it's true - Captain Underpants literarily saved my butt and other exciting stories. While I was toiling away at university (ironically in this very same children's lit class), my son was one of those struggling emergent readers. This series really engaged him, and hooked him enough to get him progressing to other series such as Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Holy Son has skipped a grade in his language arts (the school raises the bar for all kids in his grade so there's more time within the curriculum for AP classes in high school) to 7th grade Honors Humanities, which means he's now reading "not to contradict and confute, not to believe and take for granted, not to find talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider" or thus spoke Sir Francis Bacon.

Get Smart
This critical thinking and reading thing is most difficult for him. Free translation: it sends him into hissy-fits. Previously guilty of whipping through a book with little or no consideration save having to deliver a 30 second oral account or draw a pretty poster for the wall, Holy Son is now having to stop, jot and droll and this pains him beyond all things.

It's a torturous process for him but probably more agonizing for me, because he makes me stay tethered within a 10 foot radius while he struggles through his humanities homework. I end up being a sounding board more than anything, which seems to work for him.

Holy Son: Mom, I have to ask an evaluative question after reading these two
chapters. How do I do that?


Holy Mom: (tired voice because it's almost 10 o'clock at night by this point) Well I don't know, hon. What's an evaluative question?(he proceeds to explain it to me)

HM: OK, so what transpired in that chapter that's so
pivotal that you're left with a burning question for one of the characters?


HS: What does pivotal mean?

HM: OK, what major event happened - like, did the main character make a big
decision, did something sad happen - that you're left wondering what if they had
made a different choice?


HS: Oh yeah! I get it! OK, I know one.

Sigh.

It's not always that simple. One night, Holy Hub was hard at work for 2-3 hours, helping Holy Son out with a math problem. Now here's the thing - Holy Hub is an aeronautical engineer - he kinda sorta does math for a living. This cracked me up.

Not that my plight is much better. With Holy Son snowboarding all day Wednesdays now, it's all but impossible for him to get any homework done that day so the 2-3 hours he normally has each night is now getting added to the other nights. Which has us all exhausted, as we have to ride his figurative board to get him to finish homework early. Not easy considering both the antagonist and protagonist in this non-fictional homework equation are both attention-deficit. Hence the 10 pm scenes.

And Venus Was Their Name
It wouldn't be so bad, but right now he's in the middle of a Venus Flytrap science fair experiment. Guess who's stuck keeping an eye on these carnivorous little buggers in the daytime to ensure a trap hasn't re-opened? And guess who's helping him feed the plants worms and slugs? It's amazing and creepy to watch the lengths crickets and earthworms will go to in order to escape once trapped.
And who's helping him stay on track with his research? Beats the heck out of snovelling snow outside, but still.

Thank God he's studying Canada right now (sad but true fact - this geography component is a repeat of his 3rd grade Canadian curriculum) so he can semi-coast through at least one course. He has the dubious honour of correcting his teacher whenever she pronounces Newfoundland as New-found-land instead of Newf'n lind, or when she bastardizes Saskatchewan by calling it Sask-catch-oh-wan instead of Sis'catch-ih-won, as Canadians tend to refer to it.

Or when she refers to First Nations people in Canada as American Indians or whenever she calls the Inuit peoples Eskimos. That sort of thing.
No schmidt shmerlock that his school is now able to brag about being the 5th ranked school in the country based on 100% college-readiness upon graduation - the work he's doing in 6th grade with essay preparation and science has me wondering if they could actually present a get into college free card in just a few years.

Maybe one day we'll say it was all worth it. Like when Holy Son is a poor, out-of-work cellist and Holy Daughter is a cruiseship performer or something.

To be fair, there is a silver lining in it for me, if I do manage to stick out this grueling schedule. I am getting pretty gosh darn smart as a middle schooler. I have re-learned what a mitochondrion is and I'm, once again, getting savvy to the ways of MLA citations.

And, to add masochistic insult to injury, I recently started tutoring a 10th grader (sophomore in American-speak) in humanities and international studies. Because apparently, three nights a week of 6th grade coursework isn't enough for me.

I take comfort in knowing that I only have to slog through another 3,000 days of this. And in knowing that pretty soon, at this rate, I'll be able to take my GRE exam. Don't laugh - that's my secret master plan - a graduate degree when my kids go off to college. I'll be so old, they'll have to drive me to school and then carry my books for me.

Yeah, like that'll happen. Never hurts to have a bucket list though. That way, if things don't turn out as planned, you can haul the bucket out back and dump it.

5 comments:

Natalie said...

"Home" work is the bane of my existence. Everyday math is such a crock-o-schlock and, I've had to re-learn everything just to keep up with our fourth and fifth grader's. Makes no damned sense...

Speaking of tales from the crypt-ick... Remember Adrian Barboa (or something like that), the bosomy woman from, hmmm, was it that movie? Anyway, she's like really old now but still has rock-hard bosoms. That defies any physics/math I know of... and keeps me on the straight and narrow course in knowing that all things are the same, whether everyday or simple math equations.

We've been cold-cold here, too. Yesterday it was 13 with a 3 degree wind chill factor. I left Chicago to get away from that kind of cold. And, I'm sure you can say the same thing about leaving Canada. Oh...Ca-nah-duh...

Glad you are feeling better even though the cold air will suck it right out of you.... again.

Cheerio!

Jeri said...

Glad you are feeling better! Sounds like life is back to normal in the Schmidt-house.

I hear you on the homework. My son has lots of writing and powerpoint presentations this year, and his writing has a great voice & conceptual framework, but lousy mechanics. He's master of the ten-line sentence with a dozen conjunctions. I want HIM to learn to edit and correct his own work.

I was proud of his honors English book list though - several books were on the banned book list - so he has a good teacher.

::Snort:: at the Canadian history instruction.

Tanya said...

Captain Underpants is a very popular sell at the bookstore.

We're sad old folks around here - we went to dinner and then home to watch a movie and ended up falling asleep around 11:30.

Lynn said...

Heh. You wanna talk about homework?
*THUD*

Jungle Mama said...

I have to agree that Seattle and surrounding are the worst lit places in America. Even I noticed that coming from MONTANA! As for the Captain Underpants, are you sure someone hasn't been listening to my husbands bedtime stories? Hope you're feeling better.