Friday, May 27, 2016

Preschool Graduation

Preschool graduations always seemed a little silly to me. The kids aren't actually getting a degree. In fact, we are celebrating the kids entering kindergarten with the event that follows finishing high school. It's this weird, circular, backwards tradition that makes me feel dizzy. Really, though, I'm probably the only one who overthinks it.

Anyway. Eliot had his preschool graduation this past weekend. He still had two more days of school left, though. It was nice to have an end-of-the-year program and recognize how far he has come since I wrote my blog entry two years ago about enrolling him in preK-3. And then I look back at the photos of him on his first day, and, man, he is like a different kid. Truly, in two years, they grow so much.

I remember being so nervous about him starting school when he was three. I felt a bit guilty too, always second-guessing if it was the right choice. He cried when I dropped him off for the first couple of months. Looking back, I know it was worth it. These past two years have helped him to grow socially, get used to school structure, and learn a TON. Now he loves school and walks down the hall by himself. He is excited to start kindergarten and got tour a school bus. I am not worried about him moving on to kindergarten at all--he is ready.

Friday, May 20, 2016

You Can't Be Anything You Want When You Grow Up: Cultivating an Interest in Science

People complain about how millenials all think they are special rainbow butterfly snowflakes, and part of that is we were all told that we could be anything we wanted to be when we grew up. That is a nice thought, but it isn't necessarily true and can be damaging. We can't all be the President. I probably couldn't have been a mathematician. Everyone has limitations, whether it is intellectual, financial, physical, and so on. With enough will power, I believe people can overcome many obstacles, but I try to be more helpful in a practical sense as my boys grow up.

I don't tell my sons they can be anything when they grow up. I tell them that they will have to work very hard and I will do my very best to help them achieve their dreams.

Growing up, my parents always took a great interest in my passions. I loved to write and draw. They would read my stories, tell me how great they were, and also give me suggestions for revisions. Their praise didn't end with saying, "You're such a special, unique snow flake." Instead, they tried to help me grow. When I was 10, I took an interest in computers and developing websites. This was 1995, so the internet was quite new. I watched part of some documentary on O.J. Simpson in which the narrator said O.J. was following in his father's footsteps. One night while I was loading the dishwasher, I borrowed the phrase and told my dad that I was following his footsteps by hoping to work with computers when I grew up. I expected him to be happy, but he replied with an abrupt, "No." His career centered on computers, which we all benefited from financially, but he knew that wasn't me. My parents always told me that I was either going to go to college or had to have a clear, specific alternative plan for a career.

Obviously, I didn't go into the tech field. Instead, I continued writing and reading. I majored in English at a small liberal arts college, earned my M.A. in English, and then also my doctorate in Education. Now I am an English professor by day and a writer and doodler by night.

Like my dad, I want my boys to find their own passions. I read to them, write stories with Eliot, and we love to draw together. However, Eliot says he wants to be a Paleontologist. I don't just say, "You can be whatever you want to be." Instead, I tell him, "That's really great. If you truly want to be a Paleontologist, go to school, and work hard, I believe you can. And I'll do whatever I can to support you."

It doesn't stop there, though. I have been working on teaching Eliot to read over the past few months. As an English professor, I can teach him all about literature and writing, but I hope to inspire in my weaker areas as well. I honestly did not excel at math in school. I found zoology and marine biology to be incredibly inspiring, but most other sciences bored me. Give me the animals, please. If Eliot is going to be a Paleontologist, he will need to double major in both Geology and Biology. He will need to have an understanding of computers and statistics. I can read to him, help him draw, write stories together, and even explain statistics, but there is much more to learn in other fields. And I'm not trying to fully invest in this one career idea--didn't we all want to be Paleontologists?--but I think it is important for me to try to help inspire an interest and understanding outside of my own comforts.

While school is out this summer, I'm trying to give him some scientific experiences. I'd love to send him to a dino day camp, but the only local one I found is for eight-year-olds--and it is full anyway. Eliot and I went to the planetarium this week and learned all about Mars. I'm not too concerned with him retaining all of the information--it's a lot! More than anything, I want him to have positive engagements with science to spark his interest. My hope is that if I can ignite a passion for learning in him, he can use that to intrinsically motivate himself when school gets difficult. So, here are just some of the science-y summer activities I have looked into.

The planetarium
In our area, we are very lucky to have a planetarium open to the public. Each month has a different "show," so I plan to take Eliot once a month.

Netflix documentaries
Netflix has a ton of documentaries, especially animal ones. We usually end up watching a few a week in the evenings after dinner.

Day camp at the Virginia Aquarium
We are members of the aquarium and go quite a bit. They have three-hour "day camps" for five-year-olds for only $30 a day. I plan to sign Eliot up for at least one session.

Day camp at the Virginia Zoo
We are also members of the zoo. For kindergarten students, they have a couple of three-hour, week-long day camps to explore various aspects of animals and the zoo. This is $180 for members, so I'm not sure if I am going to sign him up, especially since it is a week long. Maybe I can find a different "behind the scenes" option for him because he just loves animals.

First Landing State Park
At the bay, the state park has lots of small educational activities for kids. In the summer, there is something going on almost every day. They even cast nets in the bay to see what they can catch (and of course release again).

NASA Kids Club
NASA has some supplemental material for kids as well to work through:

Our own nature walks
Of course, we don't necessarily need a "guide" to engage with science and nature. We can do it on our own as well. We go for walks in the woods and try to make observations. I tell the boys everything I know from identifying trees, how trees reproduce, what kinds of animals could live there, and so on. We've had a good time catching critters in our little nets at the Narrows and learning about crabs, mollusks, jelly fish, and more. When we go kayaking, I give the boys binoculars and tell them to keep an eye out for wildlife. We often see osprey, sparrows, cranes, and all kinds of birds. I tell them that they are being like Wild Kratts.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Walking into 30

The past couple of months have been a swirl of changes. I will turn 30 in July. I haven't felt too bothered by the number, really, but lately I have watched the symbols of my youth fade away much earlier than I expected.

It started with a car. My car. 2003 Volkwagen Golf. I bought my first car in high school. I worked at a Fuddruckers to make my car payment and pay car insurance. One day on my way to work, the Golf sputtered and the engine light started flashing. It actually would cost more to fix than the car was worth. We traded it in and bought a Tacoma. It seemed so odd because the Golf was only about 12 years old. It had low mileage. I thought it would last much longer.

Losing my car wasn't necessarily an emotional event. It was just a car. It stood for a lot more to me, but it was just an object. I just didn't realize that my car had gotten old on me. And that kind of meant that I was getting old too.

And then there was Bendy. Our dog. I got Abed-nego as I was entering my senior year of undergrad. He was my and Chris's first "baby" before we had babies. We took Bendy with us everywhere. We went on hikes, camping, and trips to the beach. Since he was a dachshund, we knew we needed to keep him thin and fit to avoid back injuries. We did not allow him to go down stairs or jump off furniture. Chris and my dad even made a ramp for him to get on our bed. The dog was so feisty and stubborn, but he loved us fiercely. He accepted our babies as our family grew. Then again, out of nowhere, he showed signs of a back injury. We tried everything, but he had nerve damage, affecting his right hind leg. The vet said all we could do was try to manage his pain. We gave him four different medications, but the damage kept spreading. He was constantly crying. We fought to get him to drink and eat. He quickly lost all use of his back leg. He couldn't even stand, let alone walk. He started losing control of his bowels. So, just one month before his tenth birthday, we said good bye. I thought he would have lived much longer.

I didn't know how to not cry all the time, so I started renovating our kitchen. I painted all of our kitchen cabinets, the doors, and the trim. I sat in the garage painting cabinet doors while the boys slept in their beds. I thought of our Abed-nego as a puppy and also in our last days together. I gritted my teeth and wanted to ask him why he had to go and get hurt. Why did he have to end this way so soon, so fast? So early. Ten years is OK, I guess, but I really thought we'd have more time. And then I looked at my hands and wondered how I got here. So much of who I was has gone. My car. My dog. My roles. What is left of me as a "twenty-something"? I am nearly thirty. I am stepping into a new chapter. It isn't a bad thing, but I had hoped to bring some things with me. Like my dog...

This point in life is so full of joy and also so hard. I'll just keep doing my best.