Wednesday, November 30, 2011

a random photo...

... because I'm trying to keep my posting momentum up in preparation for another attempt at "Daily December" and I don't have much time to post today.

The other day I found these two locked in battle over the remote...
The battle of the condiments... Mustard Man vs. Ketchup Man. Who will prevail??

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

this girl...

... makes me proud!

I have been struggling with this post for some time now, and I think I'm finally able to write it. I don't want it to come off as bragging, but I hope you'll see my point as you continue to read.

A little over a year ago, I got some flack about our decision to let Clara try school. This person was a "reading specialist" who had diagnosed Clara with severe learning disabilities related to reading just from seeing her play in the alley and hearing me talk about she just doesn't read like Alex. I knew in my heart she was wrong, but the seed of doubt was planted.

Letting Clara try school last year was a HUGE decision for us. For us, our homeschooling philosophy was all about finding the curriculum/experiences that would help them thrive academically. I totally believe that homeschooling can provide the best education for a child, BUT... there are a ton of factors involved. Clara was never one who thrived at home with homeschooling. She's such a social creature and pined for the school experience. She also struggled with being in Alex's shadow. I had a hard time with this as well. Certain things came very easy to Alex and I floundered when they didn't come as easily for Clara. I was constantly searching for the right approach for her, constantly doubting myself. Well, it turns out that school (and our neighborhood school in particular) was the right approach for her. She was out of Alex's shadow and was evaluated on just being Clara. Without that pressure, she flourished. She also has some anxiety issues which we worked on the year prior to her starting school. I feared school was make them worse, but to my surprise, school actually made them almost non-existent. We found out that Clara gets scattered when she doesn't know what's happening, when there's not a regular routine. With school, she knows exactly what to expect each and every day... her anxiety is so much lower now than it's ever been. We thought maybe she was just "growing out of it", but we saw it come back a bit again this summer when we had no routine. She has also found a wonderful bunch of friends at school. She has her fun friends that she likes to play with, but she's also attached herself to two girls who are the top students in her grade. She plays with them as well, but she also looks to them as her academic inspiration. She challenges herself to keep pace with these two and the three of them have been promoted up together to the next level in math! She also seems to thrive with outside motivation as well... school offers up all kinds of "prizes" for accomplishing different things and Clara is bound and determined to win all she can! She recently got to go to a special pizza party for earning over a certain number of AR points (they earn AR points by reading books and taking comprehension quizzes). She also did all of her summer reading for the library's program in just two weeks, because her school had an ice cream party for those who completed it. She loves having something to work toward... it's her "currency" as my one friend calls it.

So, all of this brings me to the parent-teacher conference we had a few weeks ago. We were getting her ISAT scores and I was dreading it a little. The "reading specialist" had expressed concern (that's putting it nicely) that Clara would fail the ISAT in reading and have to go to summer school, missing her camp. Well, given that you would have to score under the 30th percentile in order to have to go to summer school, I was more than a little offended by this. But, I still didn't know just how she would score... I thought she would do okay. But I was still comparing her to Alex (which is so not fair, but I still struggle with that) and figured that she wouldn't do great. Well... I was wrong! She received "exceeds standards" across the board!! She scored in the 85th percentile for math, and my little "struggling reader" scored in the NINETY-SEVENTH percentile for reading!! She scored high enough to qualify to take the test for some of the selective enrollment elementary schools (that is, if she wanted to - which she doesn't - and we wanted to mess with the good thing we've got going on - which we don't). Her STAR Reading report also put her well above grade level. I found out that Clara truly isn't a struggling reader, she's just different than Alex. And you know what... that's okay... in fact, it's great!

I'm not saying that everything is always going to be perfect and that school is the definitive answer on Clara getting a good education. But right now, with these teachers, in this school, with these classmates... it's the perfect place for her to be!

(And with this... I'm done with the wordy posts and back to more photos!) :-)

Monday, November 28, 2011

a farewell to acting...

... or at least a "see you later".

(Alex in his costume for Boris Godunov at the Lyric Opera)
After much back and forth, Alex has finally decided to take an extended break from acting. He really enjoyed acting, but I'm not sure he ever did it for the "right" reasons. He got into it when we homeschooled and I think it had more to do with him needing a place to belong and some recognition too. He really enjoyed the camaraderie with the other kids (and adults) in the shows he was in. He also enjoyed the recognition he got. I don't believe that he was ever really that into acting itself. Now, with school and his neighborhood friend, he doesn't need it in the same way. In fact, it gets in the way of the things he really wants to do. He's not a big fan of having to leave his friend's house early to go to the opera. He does it and really enjoys it once he's there, but he would much rather hang out with his friend. The really tough thing for him is school. He truly loves his school and hates having to miss. With this one opera alone, he had to miss three half days. He was not pleased... especially since so much of what they do in school are cool group projects. Missing those afternoons meant missing out on something cool. He needed to do this one last opera for it to hit home though. He didn't think it would bother him much, but it did. Because of that, he began to turn down parts and decided to not even audition for things that he normally would have jumped at. We had our final talk about this after he got a call from an agency about a shoot they wanted him for. He asked me about the commitment and I told him that he would miss 1 1/2 days of school (1/2 to get his work permit and at least one day for the shoot). He said no. We talked... now we no longer check audition listings, we've removed him from the agency's list, we're just living life! The one thing that he's still part of is the young ensemble group. But I think that's more than just "acting" to him... he has two friends from school in the group and two from youth group at church.

I'm very proud of the boy for maturely making this decision. He is the happiest now that I've seen him in a long time. He's getting the recognition he needed before, but now he's getting it for things that are really "him". Academics are his thing and that's where his affirmation is coming from now. He is thriving in his new school. Socially, he's made good friends at school and is no longer constantly looking for a group to belong to. He has his group that he sits with at lunch, plays games with at recess or works together with in class. And he has neighborhood friend that he spends hours with on the weekends. Life is good.

So, tomorrow night is the last of it (for a while at least)... perhaps we need to celebrate the end of an era and the beginning of a new one! :-)

Monday, November 07, 2011

10 things... Alex edition

Since the last 10 things list was all about Clara, I thought I would make this one about Alex :-)

1. The boy has been crazy busy lately! And it's been a good crazy busy... lots of activities with friends which has just been great!

2. Alex had his first official school dance the Friday before Halloween! He had a great time and came home exhausted from all of the dancing!

3. That Saturday night, Alex and Jeff went to the Chicago Wolves game with a friend from Alex's football team. The dad is the other coach with Jeff. They had a really good time together!

Alex and his friend from football...

4. Alex got his first round of testing back from school. Their school has an "advantage hour" each day. If you're having trouble in a subject, you get additional help during this time. If you tested above grade level in everything, you get to pick an elective. Alex got to pick an elective :-) Alex got his second choice for his elective... community service projects. His group is working in our church's community garden! It's funny how small Chicago can be at times!

5. Which brings me to my next photo....
Yes, another pair of uniform pants down, sigh. If you're keeping track, the count now stands at two socks, one uniform shirt and THREE pairs of khakis! I was so excited to see that when I picked him up early from school on Monday (he had piano run through at the opera). He had trashed them during their advantage hour trip to the garden.

6. This past week was dress rehearsal week at the lyric so Alex got to wear his costume. Here he is in the boys' dressing room....
7. That night was Halloween night. Alex had insisted all month that he was too old to trick-or-treat and he just wanted to stay home. That was until around 4:30 that afternoon. Alex got a text from his friend asking him if he wanted to go trick-or-treating in about forty minutes. Forty minutes... YIKES!! We had just walked out of the opera and he had NO costume. He initially wanted to say no since he had no costume, but I told him that he if wanted to go, we would make it work. So, after a quick stop at CVS, we were on the train home to come up with a costume!

8. We brainstormed on the way home and here he is...
Benny the (skeleton) cab driver from the movie Halloweentown! Alex came up with that on his own since I've never seen the movie.

Benny the texting skeleton...
Alex with his friend and his family passing out candy while waiting to go out trick-or-treating...
They ended up going to a neighborhood for a bit that passes out full sized candy bars. Alex was very excited about that! Clara was at ballet, so she didn't go out until much later.

Alex was very glad that he ended up going and had a great time with his friend.

9. Alex's flag football photos...
Flag football season is over. He had a really great time. They made it to the championship game, but lost. The team was made up of a bunch of really great boys and they're hoping to come back together as a team in the spring. Alex's friend (from trick-or-treating) ended up playing with the team their last two games after they lost a player due to an injury. They'd play football together for a couple of hours and then hang out at our house playing video games for a couple more afterward.

10. Alex ran the Hot Chocolate 5k again this year! I still have a hard time believing that he just gets out there and does it without training, but he does!

Well... I think that catches things up for Alex!

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

liar, liar

While perusing the "new books" shelf at the library a couple of weeks ago, I came across Liar, Liar by Gary Paulsen...

My first introduction to Paulsen was Hatchet a few years ago. It was my contribution to the book club Jeff and I have... I had heard good things about the book and wanted to share my love of juvenile fiction with Jeff. I figured the subject matter would at least intrigue him. We both really liked that book and last year we suggested it to Alex and he read it.

This past summer, I read several other Paulsen books. They were unlike Hatchet, and more along the lines of Liar, Liar. I read Lawnboy (suggested this one to Alex and he read it too), Lawnboy Returns and Notes from the Dog. Actually, I guess Notes from the Dog doesn't really fit into that group, but it is very different from Hatchet as well. Liar, Liar, Lawnboy and Lawnboy Returns all teach lessons in a humorous way. The Lawnboy books are about money and, of course, Liar, Liar is about lying.

I didn't love this book as much as I have some of Paulsen's other books, but I do think it's a valuable read. I like the lesson about lying and I like how things don't necessarily all come together neatly in the end when the main character comes clean about his lies. He learns that there are consequences to his actions and things aren't all set right with just an apology. Damage is done when you lie and it's better to not do it in the first place rather than think you can fix things if you're caught. And to be honest, you'll almost always get caught. That's a concept that escaped me in my youth... that even if someone doesn't directly call you out, chances are, that they still know that you were lying.

Alex and I have had some conversations about this lately. When he got the audition notice for the opera, the paperwork states that you "must be available for all rehearsals and performance to be considered" and it includes a list of all possible rehearsals and performances. The rehearsals started the very next day after the audition. Alex already had plans to go out of town with Jeff for the weekend (the MSU game). So, what do we do? Do we go on with the audition and spring this information on them after he's cast? Do we call in "sick" the next morning? Or, do we tell them up front, before the audition, that he has one conflict over the course of rehearsals and performances? The last option sounds easy, except for knowing that they may tell us that missing that one rehearsal is a dealbreaker (especially since it was the very first rehearsal) and he should, therefore, not audition. We decided that calling in sick the next morning would be the easiest answer, but was it the right answer? In the end, we decided that we should be upfront about his conflict and deal with whatever answer we got. Given that Alex has worked with them before on two other shows and has previously never missed a rehearsal or a performance, they said that it was okay for him to audition knowing that he would miss that one rehearsal. Alex felt good about the decision, knowing that he could be upfront about where he was that day instead of having to tell more lies to cover it. They also continue to know that Alex is a responsible kid who knows what he's committing to and follows through. I know this is easy to say since it all worked out, but I'm not sure how happy he would be knowing that he told a lie in order to be able to audition. He genuinely likes being part of the productions and cares about what they think of him there. Also, life is about making choices and you can't always have it all. With this situation, he had to decide about which was more important to him, going to the football game or being in the opera. To him, going to the game with his dad was most important. He really wanted to be part of the opera, but was willing to take the chance of not being able to be part of it in order to go to the game. It's a tough lesson for kids (and some!)... but it's a necessary one.

Anyway, back to the book, again, not my favorite Paulsen book... but one that's worth reading for the message it contains!