August 29, 2011

once more, with feeling; or, let me introduce you

to Holla', our new teenager from Holland. I can't really post a picture yet because I don't think I have one that fits my requirements of maintaining a little anonymity for him while at the same time giving you an idea of what he looks like. I'll tell you this, though--in seeing his picture, my co-worker remarked that we seem to get all the cute ones, and I think that's true indeed.

Holla' has been with us for about a week or so now, and things are settling in pretty well, I think. School started today, so now we're really off to something, and we'll see how that goes. This is our second year doing this, and last year, the school didn't have any other exchange students than CJ. So this year, Holla' has been hearing a lot about him, and that's got to be weird, especially since they don't know each other and all. This year, though, there are five exchange students at school, and that will be much nicer, I think.

At any rate, Holla' reaffirms my belief that teenagers are some of the best people around. Especially when they are mature for their age, funny, smart, clever (I forgot that the first time!) and curious. And, it probably doesn't hurt to be living with people other than your parents. At any rate, we are having a good time. So, stay tuned! I'm sure we're in for a totally awesome year!

Posted by chri1010 at 1:30 PM | Comments (2172) | Family Matters

August 28, 2011

this one's for you!

This post is for StallaMaƫstro. If you're not StallaMaƫstro, stop reading now. If you are, you can keep reading, except that there's nothing more to say.

Posted by chri1010 at 11:56 PM | Comments (1541) | Family Matters

June 28, 2011

Mixing it up a little

When we last met our heroine, she was wondering about her youngest child's health. It seems that not much has been resolved since then. S had an MRI, and it came back all fine. That's good--it means she doesn't have any brain damage or pockets of fluid anywhere bad, but it also means we still don't know why she walks funny and has stiff legs. We're working with a neurologist, and I think that we'll have some answers eventually, but we're in the "experimental" phase of things, and I'm trying to just "be" with the situation.

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In other news, CJ, our exchange student for the year, has returned home. It's quite an adjustment living with a (nice) teenager and then having them suddenly depart. We all certainly miss him, but S and I miss him most, I think.

I thought that over this last year, I might write a little here and there about what it was like to have an exchange student, but I didn't really do that so much. Frankly, I think I mostly enjoyed living it, and I didn't want to stop to reflect on things, like CJ's constant badgering about my not using the metric system, or the relative difference in how students in the US and students in Germany consider grades. Honestly, cooking with a recipe that uses the metric system really has a whole different way of measuring, and that might have been interesting, but mostly it just was. It was a negotiation that didn't seem blog-worthy at the time, and maybe will be some day, but not today.

Today I'm still reflecting on the quietness of a room left vacant, and silence on one end of a conversation about politics and culture and the success of the Euro (I still maintain it won't be strong forever). I'm waiting for an equilibrium that will take a long while to settle, I suspect.

Last time, I wrote about "per aspera ad astra," an idea shared with me by a true friend who helped me see the glimmer in every tough situation. Well, friend, this is a different type of aspera, and I'm hoping we can find some stars together.

Posted by chri1010 at 12:42 PM | Comments (2323) | Family Matters

June 2, 2011

per aspera ad astra

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This is S.

S has been "walking funny" ever since she started walking, and it hasn't gone away. She was a late walker, and being a vigilant mama, I took her to the doctor, who referred us to an orthopedic specialist, who told us she was "structurally sound" and I was probably just worrying for nothing and she would walk soon. When she started to walk, she remained tentative, and now she walks with her left foot turned inward. She complains that her legs hurt all the time. So, back to a (new) orthopedist, who told us she was "structurally sound" and suggested a neurologist. She added not to wait, and that she would help us get an appointment.

S saw the neurologist this week, and since this all started, I've heard things mentioned like cerebral palsy, fluid pockets in the brain or spinal cord, genetic disorder. S is having an MRI next week to figure out what this all could be. Right now, none of it sounds good, but I trust her neurologist to figure it out and do the right thing.

I'm sure we'll all be better on the other side of a diagnosis and treatment, but being in the right here, right now is a challenge. There's a little too much dust, and the stars feel too far away.

Posted by chri1010 at 11:18 PM | Comments (1889)

April 6, 2011

what it all means to me

I've never seen myself to be a flag-waving patriot, but then again, I don't put bumper stickers on my car, and I don't wear clothes with obvious logos. That doesn't mean I don't care about my country, and this week was certainly a reminder of that.

I've been in DC for the last four days for an Educational Policy Fellows seminar. If you're in education, it's worth looking into the EPFP program. We had some great speakers, met some incredible educators doing good work in other states, and spent a half day on Capitol Hill learning the workings of government.

One of our program leaders says something like this: "Knowledge is what remains when the experience is gone." I'm not sure how to make sense of what's left now that I'm at the airport waiting for my flight out, but I do have to say that I think it's our civic duty to visit our nation's capitol city and see all that it has to offer.

I have been to DC many times, but always for meetings that take up my day and leave me too tired to sightsee. I usually get to see a few things, but it's more like on the way to something and without deliberation or intention. This time was different:

I went to the Lincoln Memorial. It's a pretty incredible memorial to an important man. I have not much to say but to share a picture from my time with him:
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After I left the Lincoln Memorial, I walked through the Vietnam Memorial. I didn't take any pictures. It all felt a little to sacred, really, to photograph. I saw a woman rubbing the name of her classmate from the wall. "He was just a kid," she told a passerbyer who asked whose name she was rubbing onto paper. Just a kid. The whole wall is a massive reminder of what a waste that war was. I'm glad it's there, so that we never forget (although I think we have already, haven't we?).

I also saw something I'd been wanting to see forever, a lesser known statue. There were no lines to this one. There was one family stopping for a snapshot, and an Air Force officer hanging around, having a phone call with some loved one about why he is going to Kuwait right now. That was it. The family left, and then it was just me and Al. I took his picture. See?

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If you want to have some time with Einstein, he's hanging out these days at 2100 Constitution Avenue. He reminds us of his commitment to peace, his awareness of using science for good, and of the freedom we have had for so long in this country. He gives me hope. And, on the eve of a potential government shutdown and partisan bickering like never before, I need hope. So, I am forgetting about Michelle Bachman and debt ceilings and tea parties and budget deficits and all of that and choosing to let my knowledge linger on Einstein and this quote inscribed on the wall at the Library of Congress:

"Science is organized knowledge."

Posted by chri1010 at 4:15 PM | Comments (1040)

February 6, 2011

hello again: hello, my name is...

It's been awhile since I've written a blog entry, and it's not that I haven't been thinking about writing. It's just that I've had a lot of thoughts, and not sure how to channel them into a coherent thought, among other things.

We've been hosting an exchange student this year (hello, CJ--yep, that's your blog-o-nym--and I know you're reading this), and I've been enjoying the experience immensely, and wanting to post some thoughts about our exchange experience. Yet, it's taken me awhile to figure out how to do that while respecting CJ's privacy and my own, while also not coming across too trivial about any of our experiences.

CJ is from Germany, and NOT from Bavaria, so I'd say I've learned a little about that distinction and how there's a tendency here in the US to associate Bavarian elements of Germany with all of Germany. Part of my family comes from north of Hamburg, so I have to say that I appreciate having a better understanding of this distinction, and I'm really enjoying learning more about Germany and the EU and CJ's perspective on a host of topics, like politics, economics, technology, and education. I hope I'll write about a few of these things here in the next few posts.

One interesting little topic that has come up in a whole variety of ways for me during CJ's stay has been names. He and I talked about it a bit today, but we really just scratched the surface.

My own children's names, which are usually referred to around here as J and S are in fact, of German origin. J's name, when pronounced correctly, starts with a "y" sound, and S's name should start with more of a "z" sound (well not exactly, according to CJ), but we don't ever really say it that way. J gets his name mispronounced all the time, as do I, and he seems to handle it pretty well. S probably will have some trouble with her name too, but for now she's too young.

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CJ's name is also uncommon in Germany, but common here in the US. The pronounciation in German is different than it is in English, and I've gotten so used to saying his name the German way that to hear it in English doesn't sound right anymore. Yet, he goes by the English version at school here this year. His brother also has an uncommon name in Germany, and that name is also uncommon in the US. It's sort of neat to me that his parents chose interesting names for their kids, as we did too. We share some values across our cultures, and I like that this is one of them.

One difference, although slight, is that CJ calls his parents by their first names. It came as a bit of a surprise to me because I had asked him what he called his parents when he had first arrived, and he told me "mama and papa" which is also what we want our kids to call us. Of course, CJ calls us by our first names, but I wouldn't expect anything else. Nonetheless, I was surprised to hear him on Skype using his mother's first name. He also seemed a little upset or insistent in his tone with her, and maybe that added to my surprise because even as an adult, I don't call my mother by her first name, and even if I did, I wouldn't call her by her name in an argument. (Readers, do you call your parents by their first names? why or why not?)

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In the meantime, S has taken to calling me "mommy." Of all the possible ways of referring to me, this is absolutely my least favorite. Everyone around her tries to correct her with "mama" but she insists "mommy!" Right now, I've given up.

This name, to me, conveys a certain helpless dependence that I don't want to foster in my children. I've joked that if she's still calling me mommy when she's four, I'll insist on her just calling me by my first name instead.

This comes as a shock to a few people. This fall, J was calling C by his first name, which really irritated C. It was a passing phase, and J is back to calling C "Papa," but I know there'll come a day when J is going to ask not to use mama/papa anymore, and I'm feeling right now like it should be okay to call us by our first names, even in an argument. Even if they are exchange students talking with us via Skype from some other country. But right now, the whole idea feels a bit of a foreign concept that still takes some getting used to.

Posted by chri1010 at 12:50 AM | Comments (4043) | Family Matters

October 28, 2010

my little suffering

It's been awhile since I've posted anything here, and it's not because I don't have anything to say. My silence has been fueled largely by a lot of travel recently, and as much as I like to travel for work, it really does mess with a routine. Eventually, I find myself feeling a little run down, and now I've got a cough, and I'm tired and it's Halloween and I'm wishing I weren't feeling so tired and run down. So, I started this post wanting to complain about a few things, but as I was feeling that urge to complain, I was reminded by a recent reader comment asking about how I define compassion. So, let's start there.

I think compassion is partly about recognizing suffering in someone else. Suffering is such a buddhist word to me, and although I find myself drawn to buddhism, I sometimes question (in vain) whether suffering really conveys the right meaning of other people's pain and struggle. To me, suffering is a really strong feeling, like the agony of being in the last days of dying of cancer, not the pain of being surrounded by too many things. But when I reflect, I recognize that they are both a type of pain, one just being more profound than the other and that the degree of pain and how it inflicts itself depends on the person and their perceptions, so I think suffering IS a useful word in relation to compassion. So, in order to be compassionate, I think you have to recognize the suffering of others. And then, I think you have to respond to that suffering with love and kindness. That show of love and kindness might manifest itself differently depending on the person and what that person needs and appreciates, and maybe knowing how to respond lovingly is part of the challenge and the learning that comes with experience.

I think that people respond with anger, hurt, and thoughtlessness when they are so distracted by their own suffering that they are not able to respond with love. Our own suffering can sneak up on us--sometimes I think we don't even know we have a wound until something comes along and rips the scab right off.

This happened to me recently. I have struggled over the last several days because I have wanted to respond in kind (i.e., not with kindness). I have wanted to go looking for a wound that needs some salt rubbed in it because I have been suffering myself. In the process of talking with a few good friends, though, I have started to embrace my suffering, and am trying to take care of it. I have been working to recognize that thoughtlessness happened because of someone else's suffering, and it is better to take care of myself and be ready to respond with compassion than it is to point out the short comings in others. This is not easy, and I am working on it. I will let you know how it goes.

Posted by chri1010 at 10:41 PM | Comments (2841) | Buddhists and Futurists | Family Matters

August 12, 2010

winds of change

It's hot here in Minnesota, and humid beyond belief. It's probably not as humid as I hear it can get in the Carolinas, but my poor little window a/c units are taxed to the max,and it's still hot in my house. Heat and humidity gives way to thunderstorms at night--and a couple during the day too--and the kiddos don't sleep so well with all the excitement in the sky. But, I love this time of year! Summer giving way to fall is filled with renewal and opportunity for me, and I can't help but savor every day.

If you've been following my blog of late, most of my posts are about raising kids and finishing my PhD, and there might be a craft project or two thrown in. But, if you go back further in my archives, there's a few other topics that surface now and then, and I have written in the past about the Fighting Sioux logo/mascot issue that has been a major challenge for the University of North Dakota, my alma mater. With school starting in Grand Forks in a few weeks, I'm not surprised that my entries have resurfaced, and a few folks have asked for an update. Earlier this year, it was determined that the university will need to have a new mascot. The Englestad hockey arena, which has many built-in elements with the old logo, will likely remain the same.

The issue of this mascot has been a passionate one for people on both sides. Some have wanted to keep the mascot/logo for reasons of tradition and pride. Others, myself included, have wanted to change the mascot/logo for reasons of pride and respect for those native Americans who want the mascot/logo changed. Having not played sports at UND, I don't feel a strong connection to the mascot/logo, but I certainly understand how someone could feel that way, and I know that there are plenty of angry and disappointed alumni, students, and other supporters who will have a hard time making this change.

Other schools have made the change. UND has many exemplars out there to learn from, and I believe that the process of developing a new mascot/logo can be a healing process. I'm looking forward to following the process, and will post another update when there is something new to report.

. . .

This summer has been a lazy one for J, and it's taken me back to my own childhood, with unstructured hours of watching cartoons, reading books, and playing outside. Late this spring, I joined a health club with the primary purpose of taking J swimming, and we have done a lot of swimming, and now his only structured activity is swimming lessons. All of this has had the fore-hoped benefit of getting him relaxed and in a good place to start school this fall. He has even mentioned spontaneously things that he thinks will be true of his new school, like they will have good lunches. Not sure if that is true, but we'll find out soon enough. There's less than a month left before our new routine begins.

I have begun working out on a regular basis, and even after only a few weeks of this new routine, I am feeling addicted. I think my PE teachers in high school must not have been very good because I don't remember working up a sweat and feeling that great endorphin release that comes from a good workout. I've been going to the gym so much that C has decided to join me, and now it's truly a favorite part of our day together. We bring the kids to the gym's childcare center and spend an hour together. Well, half hour really because one half is spent on the bike (me) and the treadmill (C). But then we do strength training together, and that is fun!!

I've also been working on responding to C's anger and frustration with love and compassion. This takes practice. As you've read from other postings here, C has been suffering from an arthritic condition, and it has certainly taken its toll on him in many ways. The pain has made him angry, and most of the time his anger is not too far below the surgace, ready to pop up whenever it can. I have grown tired of resonding to anger with anger, and so I have decided to practice something different. I got a lot of guidance from Thich Naht Hanh's book, Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames. I'm still practicing--it's not easy.

And it's been a reminder that relationships, especially those with a spouse or a partner, take ongoing work. It's so easy to get into a habit of taking the other person for granted, and expecting that we don't have to exercise care and compassion with that person because they live with us, and they know us and love us anyway. But, in fact, I think knowing C and loving him is exactly why I want to not take him for granted and show him a little more love and compassion.

The winds of change are blowing my direction, and I am choosing to embrace this breeze.

Posted by chri1010 at 12:26 AM | Comments (1044) | Family Matters | Random Distractions

July 20, 2010

riding the waves

I think there comes a moment in every parent's journey with a child in which the child surprises the parent by doing something completely and totally unexpected. I think this probably happens rather often--maybe even every day--but there are those times in which the surprise is perhaps a little bigger than expected.

Recently, we took a family vacation to the Wisconsin Dells. If you haven't been, it's probably one of those places everyone should have to get to experience once in a lifetime. I think it's best to approach the whole enterprise with an open mind, ready to embrace the campiness of a place that has 5 times more tourists than residents. Maybe my estimate is too low?

Although Wisconsin Dells is named for the beautiful rock formations in the Wisconsin River, it's much better known for its waterparks. There's Noah's Ark, the largest waterpark in the U.S., and Mt.Olympus, the largest waterpark/resort in the U.S. There's no end to the number of waterslides, roller coasters, lazy rivers to tube down, and various wave pools to bump around in.

I'm not sure how the location of the Wisconsin Dells got picked for a family vacation destination. This was one of those big family reunion get-togethers, and I think the location was sort of chosen by committee. At any rate, we were looking forward to some rest and relaxation more than we were looking for thrills and spills of the wet variety.

But it so happened that toward the end of our week in the Dells, J decided that he really really really wanted to go to a water park. There had been some discussion of this earlier in the week by others, and I think some people thought that there would be better ways to spend our money than to take a child who is generally rather timid to a place that is better suited to teenaged thrill seeking. But, since he was asking, we slathered on some sunscreen and went.

At first, for a few moments anyway, the naysayers might have had their moment in the sun. The long walk into the park past the Hades rollercoaster (partly named due to its drop down into a tunnel and coming out on the other side of the street) caused an immediate ear covering by the young lad. But eventually we found our way into the indoor portion of the water park. We started out in something more like a regular pool, but quickly found our way into a lazy river (which we LOVED!!). We might have done that all day, but then there were the indoor water slides (which we LOVED!!). Again, again! Again, again! And then there was the outdoor lazy river with a little more current. J ditched his innertube and had fun swimming along, being pushed by the current.

At one point he turned to us and said, "That sign says 'Strong swimmers only.' Am I a strong swimmer?" "Of course you are," was our reply. This, after he had already shown his strong swimming skills with all the things he had done. He jumped back in and wound his way around all the adults and teens in their inner tubes on the fast-moving lazy river.

We continued on to a tide pool/beach area. This one had waves that started every 10 minutes or so, and then the waves would last awhile, rocking you back and forth in a tube. J thought this was fun--he wanted to be right up at the rope, pressing the limit to make sure to get as much out of the wave as possible. Where did our timid boy go?!

Finally, we checked out Poseidon's Rage. This was a bigger tidal wave pool--the waves can crest as high as 9 ft, and it's pretty much a body-surfing free for all. We would still be there right now if J had his way!! I think this was his all-time favorite. What surprised me most was that he didn't need to have us in the pool. He managed alone, in spite of the chaos of the wave and the people everywhere. My boy is growing up!

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Moments like these remind me it's good to take calculated risks, and to always be open for the moment when your kid will surprise you. This was a fun surprise. Seeing J beaming as he was recounting his adventures in the wave pool with his cousins that evening was the highlight of my trip.

Posted by chri1010 at 4:10 PM | Comments (811) | Family Matters

June 5, 2010

nearing the end...on the verge of a new beginning

In Minnesota, the school year doesn't start until after Labor Day. That means that in the spring, the days drag on and on. The weather gets nice and kids get restless and school still persists. This year has been unusually hard, and the end can't come quite fast enough for this household. Consider:

How many worksheets IS too many? a worksheet, in my opinion, should be a means of recording useful information. Drill and skill is not helpful, and ten worksheets in one day is really at least nine too many.

How would you respond when, in response to a rough day at school, your child turns to you and says, "They just don't understand me there."? What would you say?

How can a parent continue to send their child to a place in which an adult has called their child a brat? or told their child repeatedly that they are not special?

I am frankly too sad, discouraged, and worn out to continue this list, which could go on at length. Even more sad is that my sweet J has only been attending this school since March. So, it should be the case that we haven't had enough time to amass this list, but unfortunately, that is not the case.

We went to a bit of an effort to show our commitment to the school. We met with the teacher. We emailed. They don't email back--why commit to anything in writing after all? We raised money for the school carnival. We went to the carnival and had a reasonably good time. We diligently supported the completion of countless worksheets that were returned with a sticker saying "Very good!" or "Excellent!" and nothing more. I'm not sure any of these efforts really had any effect.

In the meantime--and for those of you not in Minnesota, it is a school choice state, which means that there are numerous options for public school--we have learned of a dream school in a neighboring suburb. Well, the neighboring suburb is actually a 30 minute drive away, but that seems immaterial, all things considered. This dream school is for kids like J. They do fun things like calculate bracket stats during March Madness. They dissect owl pellets and sheep's brains in 3rd grade, and make star charts, and read cool books. They understand the emotional issues of bright kids. They don't really use worksheets, and there's very little homework. And best of all, J has been eagerly accepted into the program for next year.

Once upon a time, I thought that we could always provide additional stimulation for our intellectually curious kid. And we do. Recently, we've grown, and killed, a couple of caterpillars. Before their death, we learned a lot about them, though. We have also been learning about Beatrix Potter's life and times (I recommend the movie Miss Potter). We have been swimming and learning ping pong. We've also started a collection of state quarters. But all these things aren't really enough to overcome the torture of worksheets.

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There's a documented condition called schooling resistance and to some degree we have experienced it in this house. I sometimes feel devastated to think that a child who was once so naturally curious about the world and who had so much faith in school has been so enormously let down.

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But J is resilient, and a carefree summer has the potential to be healing. When Labor Day rolls around this fall, I think that school will start for real, for the first time.

Posted by chri1010 at 10:50 PM | Comments (1025) | Family Matters