This is me...

This is me...
I'm having a mom moment....

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas from Our Home to Yours

Well, it's Christmas and I have been incredibly busy.  I'm always pretty busy but this year Christmas has kicked my butt.  Creating Christmas magic and keeping it alive for 4 kids is exhausting and I have failed more than once this season.  My daughters wrote letters to Santa and he never answered them, even though our Elf on the Shelf told them that he would.  My oldest wrote a very passive aggressive letter -- she asked for something that we can not afford and then said "...but since I know that it is really expensive, I guess I'll just take some books."  My youngest daughter didn't ask for anything -- she sent Santa a picture of puppies, kitties, rainbows, and unicorns and she enclosed $1.06, presumably to help cover the cost of what she wants for Christmas.

We are not rich -- well, we are by many standards.  We do not lack money for basic living expenses like food, shelter, medical care, etc.  But we drive older cars, rarely splurge on frivolous things like eating out, and budget our money carefully because (as I have mentioned before) we do not do credit.  See, years ago, before the 4 little Caballeros came along, we spent money like we were a couple of Rockafellers.  We weren't.  We did fine, able to make all of our payments every month without much difficulty, but we were still robbing Peter to pay Paul.  When we accepted the job in Texas and moved from Georgia, we thought it was a wonderful opportunity to finally get ahead, but then we couldn't sell our house in Georgia.  We were no longer treading water, we were beginning to sink.  We cancelled all of our credit cards and I spent hours on the phone negotiating lower rates and payments.  We wanted to pay our debts, but we also had to be able to pay for our living expenses.  We were certain that the house in Georgia would sell or rent eventually, and we just needed to manage until we could remove that expense and begin to make real headway on our debts.  It didn't sell or rent, and the end result, after more than 20 months of struggle was bankruptcy.  I was so very ashamed.  Our house in Georgia ultimately sold at auction for about $28K less than what we owed on it and nearly $95K less than the appraised value.  We had whittled down our consumer debt from an all-time high of nearly $40K (the result of using credit cards for over a year to make ends meet on top of the accrued debt and interest from before moving), to less than $18K.  All told, we had owed approximately $45K that the courts had "forgiven" and released us from liability for.  After the bankruptcy was discharged and we got back on our feet, I made payments anyway until the debts were satisfied.

During all of this, my kids were watching.

They learned that being irresponsible with your money has consequences.  They learned that credit is dangerous.  They learned that fixing your mistakes takes hard work and dedication.  And they learned that getting what you need always comes before getting what you want.  There were many lean Christmases and birthdays during all of this -- where gifts were much needed clothes or shoes and not toys.  One might think that after seven or so years of struggle, we might celebrate by going overboard.  And I admit, it is tempting to do just that, but what lesson would that teach my kids?  I want them to enjoy life and have nice things, but I also want them to place value on family, love, charity, and NOT on things.

We started the following tradition a few years ago, and we still try to do this every year:
Something you want, (A big present that is something they asked for)
Something you need, (An item like socks, underwear, or a new backpack)
Something to share, (Probably a game or a movie)
Something to read." (Obviously, a book)
Something to eat (Candy, popcorn, etc.)
And a group activity, (A craft set, a board game, etc.)
Something that's neat (This is literal -- something to help them organize their crap)
And something for charity. (We are giving each child a small amount of money to either donate or buy something to donate.)
It keeps us from going overboard and it impresses on our kids the importance of sharing, family, and charity, as well as covers some of their needs while still letting them have that magic of Christmas.  (And I STILL get to give them awesome presents -- my favorite thing ever.)

The kids still say things like "I wish we were rich so that we could..." or "When we have the money, can we..." but so do I (even if it is only to myself).  I know that they have learned the impact that money can have on your life.  We all have because we have lived through the worst of it.  Despite that, we have come out wiser, more thankful, and generally happier to be free of it.  My oldest girl has learned the joy of giving and being frugal -- she made all of her Christmas gifts herself by spending a bit of her own money to buy the materials.  My oldest son usually points out that the things he wants can be bought second hand and that he's okay with that.  And my 2 youngest often offer me money of their own (even though it is usually loose change) to help pay for things.  And they have also come to appreciate simpler things -- dinner together as a family (even when we are eating Ramen), the rare one on one time that we get to spend with them, and an evening sharing a DVRed television show or movie.  They rarely ask for outlandish things, and even when they do they have learned to justify their requests with how it would benefit not just them, but the family.

The hard lessons that I did not learn until my thirties, my kids have learned before puberty.

It makes me both happy and sad that my kids are conscious about how much things cost.  I want them to be realistic, but I want them to still hope and dream.  I hope that when they rip open their presents this Christmas morning that they will have some dreams fulfilled, and that they appreciate what it took to make it all happen.  And I will be grateful that their dad and I made their Christmas special without going into debt.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Don't Mess With Mama Bear

Sooooo, if you have been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that I'm not big on coddling my kids.  I certainly support them, but I don't believe that putting them in some kind of protective bubble is doing them any favors.  We expect a lot of them -- they know that they are to be respectful of us and other adults and that we place a high value on education.  As a general rule, we side with the teachers when there are issues that arise at school.  But not always...

This is my youngest's first year of public school.  I was excited for him and was pleased to find out that the teacher that he was getting was apparently held in high regard.  Those feelings were short lived.

He has never been the kid that was excited about school -- when he was in preschool, he often tried to get out of going.  He'd rather stay home with me.  So when his attitude about going to school every day sort of sucked, I dismissed it.  Then there were days when he would cry to not go.  There were days he got off of the bus looking defeated.  And there were the papers that he was bringing home.  In the first few weeks of kindergarten, a class where numerical grades are not given, he was bringing home papers marked up with X's and "-3" or "-4" written in big bold red ink at the top.  His handwriting was atrocious because he had not decided if he was left or right handed and the teacher was correcting his spelling.  (HIS SPELLING! He's 5!)  So I emailed the teacher and asked about the handwriting, thinking that I could open a dialogue with her about that and ramp up to the other issues.  The response that I received from her indicated that she was worried about his abilities.  She said that there were other problems beyond his handwriting and that she would like for my husband and I to come in to have a conference with her.  She was vague, but seemed genuinely concerned, and the tone and language of her emails suggested that there were some serious problems and that they needed to be addressed as soon as possible.  This, of course, caused me to be concerned as well.

I was thinking "Did we miss something?  Does he have a learning disability? Are there behavior issues that we have been blind to?"  We'd always believed that he was a very bright child -- he was logical, sarcastic, and funny.  In preschool, when his teacher had tried to get him to write his whole name, he looked at her deadpan and said "Why?  It has a J on it, you know it's mine."  He has understood logical correlations since he was about 4, telling my husband once that he knew his big brother wore a size 12 shirt because he was 11 and he wore a size 5 shirt and he was 4.  But maybe we'd missed something.  Maybe there were problems that we'd missed the signs for.  I was very anxious to have the meeting.

My husband took off of work and we went to the school, preparing for the worst.

Now, let me just say, I had met the teacher before this, at the open house.  She struck me as"efficient."  I asked her that night if she needed all of the items included on the district-wide supply list since I had bought all of the stuff last year and the kids hadn't needed it.  Her response to my question was one of near shock -- well of course she needed them all!  If it is on that list then I need to buy it and send it in!  Okay, 4 packs of 24-count Crayola Crayons AND 3 packs of 8-count Crayola Crayons made no sense to me, but whatever.  And I warned her that night that my kid was rather stoic and sarcastic.  Her reaction to this news made it clear that sarcasm was not a trait that she valued.

So when we go to this meeting, we have to sit at the children's table in these little bitty chairs half the size of my butt and low enough that my knees are up by my chin.  She has a stack of papers and folders to review with us and I prepare for the worst.  She starts out by pulling his pre-kindergarten test scores.  We had not seen these, but this initial evaluation was done prior to the start of school, and is used as an indicator for strengths and weaknesses.  My kid scored just above average on this (like 608/1000).  Then she starts telling us that now that they were 4 weeks in, they re-evaluate the kids to see if progress is being made. I thought, here it is -- he's regressed or just not improved.  But that wasn't the case.  Not that you'd know it by the way that the teacher presented the information.  She said with a ton of sympathy in her voice, "You can see that your son has only gone up to 720/100."  I didn't say a word.  I was thinking "only"??!  It's been 4 weeks, lady!  You need to lighten up!

She said, "Of course I would never reveal how any other specific student scored, but on this scale of scores for this class, you can see that your son falls in the 70th percentile just barely."  I said "So he's above average?"  She sort of scoffed and said "You have to understand -- I have students in here that are reading at a second grade level."  I thought "Well, bully for them.  Send them to second grade so that you can help my kid" but I bit my tongue.

Then she said that my son was having "melt-downs".  I said, "Well, he gets frustrated when he can't do something and he sometimes cries out of frustration."  She pursed her lips and said, "He's the ONLY one of my kids that does this and the other children just look at him like 'What is wrong with this kid?' when it happens."  Seriously?  Out of 18 5 year olds, my kid is the ONLY one who ever cries?!  I am not sure that I believe that.  My husband asked her to give us an example and after we heard it, we knew that the issues between this teacher and our kid probably were not his fault.  Apparently, they go out to the playground right before lunch.  The door in and out of the school to the fenced in playground requires a magnetic key card to open.  When they got to the lunchroom, my son told his teacher that he'd forgotten his lunch outside.  She sent him to get it.  By himself.  He's 5 years old, been in this school for about 2 weeks at this point, and he didn't want to do this alone.  She told him that he'd have to go get it "if he wanted to eat lunch" and that he'd need to hurry.  (At this point, I am clenching my jaw).  Well, inevitably, he got locked out of the building.  When I said to her "But he had no way to get back inside, I imagine that he was pretty scared."  She said dismissively that there are always other teachers outside and I countered with "But he doesn't know them."  She clearly was not understanding my concerns but I was very careful not to explode.  We are only in our second year at this school and we have six more years to go before all 4 kids are out; I don't want to use up all of my crazy now when I might need it later.

My husband, who I could tell was pissed, then asked about any other instances or problems.  She said "He has meltdowns in the computer lab.  Do you not have a computer at home?"  I was becoming increasingly annoyed by her condescending tone so I said "Yes, we have a computer at home, but he is the youngest of 4 kids -- how much time do you think he gets on the computer before his siblings take over?"  She said that he started crying in the computer lab because he couldn't make the mouse do what he wanted it to and that all of the other kids were "very taken aback by his outburst."  My husband then asked, "Where are you when these things happen and how do you respond?"  She said that she was working one on one with other kids who needed special attention and that his outbursts caused her to have to stop and go over to see what was the matter and try to calm him down.  So my husband posed a follow-up question: "You say that you work one on one with students who need extra help.  Do you ever work one on one with our son?"  Her verbatim response "Well, these are kids that tested even lower than your son.  I mean, they really need specialized attention.  And then there are times that the students who are advanced require one on one time to remain challenged."  So, no.  Our kid is only slightly above average according to the testing, so he doesn't rank the one on one attention.

I asked her what she suggested that we do to try to help because I was about ready to punch her and I wanted to get out of there before that happened.  Her suggestion was that we should be reading to him for at least 30 minutes a day, going over the daily homework sheet (which takes about 15-20 minutes), make him practice writing his alphabet and numbers several times, and reviewing the sight words.  In other words, after he is in school for 7 hours, we should make him do a couple more hours of school work when he gets home.  Um, no.  He is 5.  He should go outside and play when he gets home.  The idea that I would make my 5 year old do 2 hours of homework when he is scoring above average (even for his class with the 2nd grade reading level kids) was ridiculous.

She then began to show us around the room at different things that they do in class during the day.  My husband, usually pretty stoic anyway, has grown coldly silent at this point.  I can tell by looking at him that he is done.  She is chattering on about white boards and centers and mentions that they are always in need of dry erase markers if we ever want to send something in, and then she stops and says "Oh, I forgot.  You're the one that doesn't like to buy school supplies."  EXCUSE ME??!  I know that my mouth fell open at this remark, but I think I recovered quickly and said "I don't mind buying the supplies that are needed, but no, I don't like to buy things because some bureaucrat in the central office thinks that kindergartners might need it."

She blathered on a little more and I finally said, "Look, I know that my son is smart.  He is logical and sarcastic and I think that the reason he hasn't excelled in here is because for whatever reason --" (yeah, I think I know the reason and it's you lady) "--he hasn't been motivated or encouraged to do so."  Her response caused my husband to step between me and her to prevent a knee-jerk reaction on my part: "Well, I know you BELIEVE that, but I have to go by what I see here at school."

After that we wrapped up the meeting and got out of there.  In the car, my husband said "We've got to get him away from that woman."  I agreed and called the school to request a meeting with the principle.

At dinner that night, I asked my son "Do you like your teacher?"  He didn't look up but said "No."  When I asked him why not he sounded so sad when he answered "Because she doesn't like me."  It was official.  I hated this woman.

It took a couple of weeks to get in to see the principle, but she was very understanding and listened to us and before we could bring it up, she suggested moving him to a different class.  We asked to meet the new teacher first (no use jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire, so to speak).  She arranged the meeting for early the following week with the move scheduled to happen the very next day as long as we didn't have any concerns.

When we told my son over that weekend that he was probably moving to a different teacher's classroom, he was very excited and we decided that the new teacher HAD to be better than where he was now, and we could not wait until Tuesday when we would meet the new teacher and Wednesday when our son would be moved.  And we were pleased with the new teacher when we met her -- she is calm, cheerful, and sweet but she is just firm enough for these kids who are getting used to full day school everyday.  The change in my son and his attitudes about school have been incredible.  He wants to learn.  He cares what this teacher thinks and tries hard to do what is asked of him.

The day of the move, his old teacher called me.  She kept saying over and over again that she "was just shocked that he was moving out of her class."  She told me that she had never had a parent request that their child be moved out of her room in all her years of teaching.  I bit holes in my tongue to keep from spewing all of the things that I was thinking.  Finally, the anger bubbling up inside me as she carried on like I must be crazy for depriving my child of her tutelage, burned its way through all of my verbal barriers and I said "We made what we feel was the best choice for our son.  He felt that you did not like him, and frankly, so did we.  You had us thinking that there was something wrong with our child and when we got to your classroom and saw his test scores, we see that he was just too average for you.  He wasn't reading at the 2nd grade level and he didn't score low enough for you to swoop in and play savior to.  My husband and I both wondered "Why are we here?"  And when we heard about how you sent our 5 year old out to the playground unaccompanied to retrieve his lunch on the second week of school and then acted as if his reaction to being locked outside with people he did not know around him and no way to get back inside was somehow unwarranted, we knew that you were not the teacher for him.  It is done.  We moved him to what we hope will be a more suitable environment.  Get over it."  And I hung up.

About a week later, we were at the school for a PTA meeting.  I ran into my daughter's kindergarten teacher from last year.  She asked how our son was doing in his new class.  I was a little surprised that she knew about it.  She said EVERYONE knew about it because the principle had announced it in a staff meeting -- sort of  "Oh, and so-&-so will be moving from your class to your class."  I said "Oh dear.  How'd that go over?"  She told me that the old teacher was flabbergasted.  I thought "good."  She said that she had come up to her after the meeting knowing that she had had one of our other kids and asked about us.  She wanted to know if we were problem parents.  So, my kid's previous teacher told her that she had never had a problem with us and in fact found us to be very attentive, loving, but non-coddling parents.  I gave her a little run-down on the conference that we had had and some of the things our son had said and about the playground incident.  She said, "Listen, I have worked with that woman for 5 years and it has taken every day of it to not take everything that she says personally.  She is very competitive.  We (the other kindergarten teachers) always feel like she gets the cream of the crop and that we get the students that she did not want for one reason or another.  She is a cheerleader always clapping her hands at her kids and saying "Go, go, go!!  Let's get it done!!" and not every kid responds well to that kind of motivation."  No kidding.  My stoic son doesn't respond well to that at all.  I could just see her acting like some sort of infomercial host and my kid staring deadpan back at her not go-go-going at all.  I told her that the old teacher had called me after the move and she just shook her head and said "I told her that was NOT a good idea."  Too bad she didn't listen, don't mess with mama bear.

In the end, our kid is where he needs to be.  At his classroom Christmas party (which I did not get to attend since I had pink-eye) his new teacher told my husband how thrilled she was to have our son in her class.  She said that he was a great kid and that she wished that she had had him all year long.  My husband told her "We do too."   His new teacher is amazing and he is learning -- which is what kindergarten should be about.