Some thoughts about the state of education on the first day of school

Kellan & Liam

Today is Tuesday, the first day of school. The big kid has one hour of school. The little kid, going into Kindergarten, has no school. As a result, my wife took a vacation day from work.

Tomorrow, the little kid has one hour of school. This will slowly increase throughout this week and next until next Tuesday, when, if they deem him ready, he will get a full day of school. Which means my wife has taken the full week as vacation, and I’m going to take an additional day. (Or possibly two – I cannot even plan for this at this point) of vacation. Just so the boys can start school.

A full day of school is 9am – 3pm. My wife starts work before that, and finishes work after that. But. “Full day” is a lie. Because after-school care is not automatically provided to every child (it’s a lottery), my workday will suddenly shrink to roughly, 9:30 – 2:30pm, assuming no traffic and a hustle to get there and back. I’m extremely fortunate that I can easily do this.

Over the course of a school year, I’m losing, by my estimate, somewhere in the range of 600 (40 weeks of school x 5 days per week x 3 hours per day) hours of work in order to take care of my children.

Every year, in our school board, there’s a budget crisis, because our provincial government chronically underfunds public education (the argument of whether they’re last in the nation in per-child funding, or first, is moot, because even the most well-funded province is still systemically undermining public education through underfunding).

Every year, we don’t know which school programs will be cut. We’re lucky, in that our school isn’t one of the schools perennially on the chopping block to be closed, in order to force a seemingly arbitrary 95% full rate.

Our school is lucky, because we got funding to rebuild a new, earthquake-safe school, so we’re temporarily at a swing site. Our school is lucky, because we were the first school at this site, so it’s in fairly good condition – but 2 years in, the temporary buildings are showing wear-and-tear, and there’s supposedly another 10 years or so of use needed. My guess? There’ll still be students using this temporary structures in 15–20 years.

But there’s something like a 20-million operation shortfall just for needed infrastructure upgrades across the city. & I doubt that includes recommended infrastructure upgrades like better insulation, weatherproofing, and other “green” initiatives.

Governments, at every level, keep download problems to the next level down. The federal government says infrastructure costs are a provincial concern. The provincial government says budget shortfalls are a school board’s concern. And School boards say childcare is a parental concern. And it all sucks.

I have no idea what the monetary cost of the lack of provided childcare is. There’s lots of calls for the $5/day childcare – but they generally mean preschool care. What about for elementary kids – and even some high school kid, depending on their maturity? Millions of parents have to stress about finding childcare for both before and after school, because they work. Or they have to cut their own work hours, or not work. The school building exists. There’s enough room for all the kids from 9 to 3. I don’t understand how our government is allowed to get away with not providing care for allfamilies who request it, as part of every day schooling. I’ve no idea what the lost annual productivity at a national level is because of this failure of government, but it must be enormous – 10s of billions? Hundreds?

Of course, the school board can’t do this. They don’t have enough money to pay for the teachers and teachers’ assistants and resources our children need for the “in-class” portion of the day, let alone before and afterwards. It’s one of these situations where the conversation has been so controlled by the various levels of government, the bar has been pushed so low, that we’re not even having the right arguments with government anymore.

We’re desperately begging for scraps underneath the table, when we should be complaining that we’re not getting the meal we were promised.

Raising an Emotionally-aware child

Kellan Standing Tall

Kellan is most definitely in the throws of The Terrible Threes. I don’t know where this “terrible twos” business came from – because, for both my kids, age two was pretty wonderful. And speaking to other parents, two-year-olds are ok, but three-year-olds are hideous monsters who should all be locked up.

With Liam, I think Leah and I both thought that we were amazing parents because we never had any troubles – I’m not sure he ever had a time-out – maybe one or two, tops. And he was kind, and soft-spoken, and had great concentration. And hey, that’s totally because we’re awesome, right? No. It turns out, like we always thought, that Liam was an exceptional child. Kellan, whom I love dearly, is more like a textbook child. Those monthly “your child at this age” newsletters? yeah, he hits every one of those notes, both good and bad.

And right now, I have to say, is really hard. I’m sure that somewhere in the law is a rule that says murder most foul is completely justified after the 437,000th “why?” of the day, right? And along with the “why”s, there is a lot of yelling, shrieking, crying, laughing, running, babbling, talking, throwing, hitting, hugging, jumping, etc, etc, etc.

And these emotional outbursts are what are troubling me, and I’m not sure what is best to do.

  • I don’t want to teach my child to bottle up his emotions and not share what he’s feeling, BUT
  • I don’t want my child to scream and yell every time he’s angry AND
  • I don’t want my child to sob inconsolably every time he doesn’t get his way BUT
  • I do want my child to express his feelings AND
  • I do want to provide a safe, nurturing space for him to feel this feelings.

So. I do things like say “boys who yell don’t get what they want” and “I can’t understand you when you’re crying like that. Can you tell me with words what you want?” and “are you feeling sad/frustrated/angry/scared/etc?” and so on. And on one hand, I feel like this is good – because I’m trying to teach him to find other avenues to express his emotions, and give him the vocabulary to do this with. But on the other hand, every time I ask him to stop crying or yelling or whatever, or tell him that he doesn’t need to be scared, I worry that I’m just teaching him to be a stereotypical male who bottles up his emotions. And that if I say “dont’ X”, I’m invalidating his experience of feeling X, which, I really don’t want to do because it’s OK that he is feeling X – I just want to teach him to express that feeling more “appropriately”. And I quote that word because, really? more appropriately? Who am I to say what’s a more appropriate way? Because am I ever one of those males who doesn’t express emotion well. I’ve worked SO hard as an adult to be much more in tune with what I’m feeling, and how to express it because I didn’t know how as a child. And I want better for my kids. But…hard.

So, yeah – there’s no resolution to this post – mostly just a voicing of my concerns – putting out into the world what I’m feeling as a way of exploring it. Or, as Kellan might say “WHY is this hard? WHY don’t I know? WHY?”

Rethinking “Workaholism”

Working | Playing

Recently, Lauren wrote a really great piece on “The Balance Matrix” – a struggle many of us share, and something I’ve been working hard on my whole professional life. Reading it made me start to re-examine some of my childhood experience.

My parents were (are now really, despite being at least nominally semi-retired) workaholics – they worked, really, all the time. They got up early, went to work, came home, ate food, went back to work. I went to bed and still they’d work. They worked on weekends. They travelled for work. They worked when they travelled. Both my parents are phenomenally successful, and leaders in their respective fields – but boy did they ever work hard to get there.

At the back of our house was a sort of solarium, the sun room we called it. My dad, mostly, worked there. We had a glass-topped table and he would sit at, idly nibbling at the eraser of a yellow HB pencil or a gently pinching his lower lip between his thumb & fingers. He’d be hunched – either forwards, leaning over the table, or back, his right leg cross over his left. In either case, most of the time there’d be several piles of printed documents – journals, study results, his own data – spread over the table. To one side would be his dictaphone. But his focus was always on a lined yellow pad of paper. He’d furiously write away on that, turn a page. He never seemed to go back – he’d just write. I suspect he was constantly writing in his head prior. When he was satisfied, he’d dictate what he wanted to say and someone in the dictation pool at the hospital would later type it up. In more recent times, of course, much of  this would be replaced by his laptop. But not the yellow-lined pad of paper, nor the alternately leaning hunch.

My mother, by contrast, always hid herself away to work. Once my sister moved out, she took over her room and that became her office where she would while away the night, busy writing, researching, thinking, quietly muttering to herself. As a teenager, many a night would I carefully sneak home in the dead of night only to discover that my mum was still up working. Some of that may have been parental worry about her wayward young son, but she’d be up that late nights I was home too.

What’s curious is that although my father worked in a public spot, his work was much more mysterious to me than Mum’s – she would think out loud, talk about her work with us all – I suspect as much to help formulate her own thoughts as to share – while Dad was simply quietly efficient, back there in the sun room.

I swore, as I got older, that I would never be like them. I hated that they always worked, and I thought it a terrible life that I wanted nothing to do with. I loved the idea of indolent evenings spent with my family playing, sharing, living.

But a fun thing happened on the way to the coliseum….

I discovered that I have incredible work ethic – like my parents. I discovered that I too prefer to work in long, straight, deeply-focussed bouts – like my parents. I discovered that I too have immense ambition and drive to succeed – like my parents. I discovered that I too love what I do, and it’s not really work when you love it that much – like my parents.

But I still, even when I want to – try really hard to not bring work home, to not work evenings, to stop and truly experience my own children’s youth. And so I don’t work at home in the evenings. Liam, now in grade 3, is starting to have regular homework – somewhere between 30 & 60 minutes worth 3 days a week. And you know what? it’s a struggle to get him to do it. My sister, who shares many work traits with myself and my parents, doesn’t work at home either. And you know what? it’s a struggle for her to get her kids to do their homework. But, despite all my slacker tendencies at school (sat at the back, never took notes, etc), I always did my homework. It’s just what we did at home – we did our work.

And so, now, I look back at my parents long work hours and don’t just see workaholics chained to their desks. I see amazing parents who not only wanted to succeed, but wanted their children to succeed and modelled how to manage time, how to prioritize work – and most importantly, how to work. I see parents who showed their children how to have a career you love and children you love and work hard at both.

I don’t want to struggle to convince Liam to do his homework and whether he needs to do it – homework’s one of those stupid things that you have to do. But how fair is it, in his eyes, that he has to come home from a long, hard day at school and then do more work when both his parents are sitting on the couch, relaxing? He has no model to indicate that working at home is a normal part of life. And while yeah, I wish schools didn’t give homework and I doubt the utility of it, it happens. And so now, as we embark on this 8+year journey of nightly homework, I think back to how well my parents modelled getting stuff done at home and begin to think they weren’t, perhaps, just insane workaholics.

Perhaps, just maybe, they were teaching me something. And I could teach my children that too. And so, when my kids have homework, maybe I should have homework too. I’m a small business owner. There’s no shortage of things to do. I don’t want to spend my evening doing them, but then, Liam doesn’t want to spend his evening doing homework either. So maybe we should treat this as something of a team sport. We’re all in this together.

Miscellany: what’s up lately

Peekaboo Daddy!
Peekaboo Daddy!

I’ve been quiet around here of late, for a few reasons, only some of which are because I started to dick around with the design of the site, then got busy and so stopped and so now it sits in limbo, not yet finished. But some fun things from home:

  • Liam, who is dreaming of being a grown up, while everyday become more grown in my eyes as he plays chess and researches strategies and helps out with Kellan and generally shows signs of being a very interesting, if damnably distractable boy.
  • Liam recently wanted to be a detective when he grew up, and so magnifying glasses and forensic kits and books about detecting were bought, karate was taken, and everything we encountered was a clue to solving something else. It was a wonderful time that leant well to our mutual tendency to be lost in our heads dreaming of alternate futures.
  • Currently, Liam wants to be a bicycle-accessory inventor. He has described in such detail that I could never capture it his future shop, on Broadway, wherein the front of the shop people will buy bicycles and the accessories that he has made, such as an automatic rain-cover that detects the rain and creates mudflaps and booties for your feet; while in the back he and his team will work, in the open, so that everyone can see the craft that goes into his work
  • Craft & artisanship are a common theme with Liam. He’s very interested in the methods by which things are made, and cared for, and the seemingly inherent artistic-ness of watching something be made. He loves YouTube how-to videos, and he’s dead into arts & crafts and crafting, and dreaming of how things are made: not at a large-scale industrial way that you see on DiscoveryTV, but Brooklyn-hipster style, small-scale, hand-crafted. It is unfortunate that neither Leah nor I are crafty, at all, and I wish I knew of ways to let him explore this more. I wonder if I could get him involved in VanHackSpace, or carpentry camps, or cooking, or gardening in a way that is beyond my ken.
  • Kellan, in the last few days, has started addressing me as ‘Dadda/Daddy’ to get my attention, not just as a sound in the middle of a river of sounds. He’ll say DaddaDaddaDaddaDadda in the car, and when I look back, he’ll grin and  squawk “hi!”. He’s been pretty sick lately, and I’m so happy to have my crazy-non-stop-on-the-go-little-guy back again.

 

To Kellan, On Occasion of your First Birthday

Dear Kellan,

Kellan, a few minutes old
When you were just a few minutes old

Shortly after your brother was born, I wrote his birth story – but I haven’t written much about yours. Your arrival was … unexpected: It was the day after your Mamma’s last day of work – she was taking the last month of her pregnancy off to enjoy herself  and prepare us for your arrival, a good five weeks before your supposed birthday. Your Mamma and I were out on a date to celebrate her last day. Liam was staying over at his friend Luke’s place. We had a really nice dinner at l’Abattoir, then came home. In the middle of the night, Your Mamma woke me  up because her water had broken – this was very unexpected because you weren’t due for another 5 weeks or so. On the flip-side, you couldn’t have picked a better night: Liam was taken care of so we didn’t have to wake him up to go to the hospital.

We went to St. Paul’s hospital, where your Mamma works, and then waited. And waited. The doctors decided to induce labour, as it wasn’t starting on its own. But the first time they hooked up the IV, it wasn’t working, so none of the drugs were actually being used, which caused some additional delay – by this time it was coming to be mid-day on May 14th, many, many hours after we first arrived. Finally, they fixed the IV, and labour began. It only took a couple of hours until you arrived:

We were very excited to meet you – but it was clear that you were having troubles breathing. Mamma, after a few quick cuddles with you, handed you to the nurses and you were whisked away to the NICU. You had it extra good because that’s where your Mamma works, so everyone knew her, and knew how to take really good care of you. The St. Paul’s NICU is a good place, but they didn’t have all the stuff you needed to help you breathe, and so after a few days, you were taken to the Children’s Hospital NICU.

Peeking out

There, you lived in an incubator for the next 12 days. Mamma spent virtually all day, every day with you. Your Nanna came out to meet you and help us get your brother to & from school. I came to visit after work every day. This was, I’m not kidding you, a really hard time. You seemed to be slowly getting better, but it was hard to tell and you were just so little, surrounded by such big, loud machines.

But your Mamma was a great advocate with you, and knew just what to ask for and when to push, so you got great care. And because your Mamma is literally a pro at taking care of little babies, you came home much earlier than you probably would have if you had different parents.

Much like when Liam was born, we weren’t fully prepared for your arrival – there was still lots of things to get and do and whatnot. But we were so happy you were home. You were so very, very tiny. And those first few months at home you were very very difficult. You weren’t a big fan of sleeping, and you were so tiny that you had trouble eating. I had taken to calling you some pretty unflattering nicknames in private because it was sometimes so hard. You would cry and cry and cry and we didn’t know why. We tried everything. I would hold you and rock you in my arms and sing every song I knew to get you to go to sleep. And your Mama, she deserves a medal because during the week, when I had to work, she tried so hard to let me sleep so that I could get up and go to work. Then on the weekends I’d try to let her sleep. But you know what Kellan? I think I failed more often than not at first. You were so different from your brother even then.

Then one day, things got a lot better. I’m not sure when, exactly, or how old you were – I think you were about 5 months (4 months, adjusted) when you started sleeping “through the night” (by which I mean you slept for more than 2-3 hours at a time). And napping. And generally being a much happier camper. And you started growing, and growing and growing. We went from being worried about how small you were to worried that you were too big! You had your first halloween. We dressed you as a little dragon, but you didn’t seem too impressed:

Our Sad Little Dragon
Our Sad Little Dragon

And then there was the helmet. Because you came so early, and spent so much time hooked up to machines, your head was a little misshapen. Not grotesque-gargoyle misshapen (although I did like to call you my little gargoyle), but enough that we decided to get you a helmet to help correct this. There was much deliberation about it, weighing the pros and cons. And then it came, and you wore it fore about 2 months until we couldn’t take it anymore: your head was so vastly better than before, it that short time; it made you so unhappy; and worse, there didn’t seem to be any real science backing the use of the helmet, or any long-term studies about potential side-effects.

Kellan in his helmet
You, wearing your head-shaping helmet

Since December, you’ve been growing like mad. Now at a year old, you’re happily crawling about in clothes labelled for 18months & 24-months: you’re big! And you’re happy. You love the cats, particularly Twitch, who is infinitely patient with you because you love to chase him and pet him and climb all over him:

Kellan Loves Twitch
You love the kitty so much!

What I think I love most about getting to know you is seeing just different you are from your older brother, and such a wonderful little boy all your own. Your eyes, which likely haven’t settled on a colour yet, seem to be headed into the hazel/green/grey palate, much like your Mamma’s, unlike Liam’s whose were as blue as the sky from day one. You’re not quick to smile or laugh, but when you do, they’re great big smiles and huge belly laughs. You are a baby on a mission! Sitting still and carefully examining things is for chumps! You learned to crawl for a reason and you like to crawl a lot. I suspect that one day, very soon, when you figure this whole walking thing out, it’ll be even more crazy trying to keep up with you. Your love your big brother and just want to follow him wherever he is. Fortunately, you have an amazing older brother who loves to play with you, and will look out for you. You are loud! You like to talk, a lot, and tell us in no uncertain terms when you’re unhappy. At home this is ok. But, little bear, you need to learn to travel better. See, we love to travel. And we got spoiled by Liam who was a great traveller from day one. But plane rides with you are much less fun so far. Because you can’t crawl wherever you like on a plane and darn it you just want to move! But we’ve still been places. You’ve been to LA already.

You, your big brother & your Dad in LA
You, your big brother & your Dad in LA

My first year with you has been so amazing, little bear! I can’t wait for us all to discover what comes next.

Parenting: Rewarding Recycling

Liam is a big fan of recycling. He also has a pretty good idea of what kinds of items are returnable vs recyclable in the blue bin. At home, we have 2 bins: 1 where we collect everything that has a deposit attached to it, and is thus returnable, and the standard blue bin for everything else.

About once every 6-8 weeks, when we’ve got enough returnables, Liam and I load up the car with shopping bags full of tetra-paks, booze-bottles, pop bottles & cans, and head down to our nearest return-it depot to return all our stuff. On the way there, we get to hang out, talk about whatever (this is always a dad-and-Liam trip). Once there, Liam helps me separate all the returnables as directed by the staff there. Now that he can do math, we’ve added an extra step: We add up how much money we’re going to get before the staff does the math for us. It’s amazing how good Liam is at adding things by $0.05 & $0.10 these days, and keeping the numbers in his head these days – and useful shorthand knowledge that there are 4 quarters in a dollar, 20 nickels, etc – so he’ll now do things like count 1-20 in nickels, and know that equals a dollar.

The best part then comes when the staff gives us the money: We go shopping. Generally we’ve earned $5-10. Which is the perfect amount of money to then go to the toy store and buy a small toy. Liam puts the money in his pocket and as we drive over to the toy store we talk about what sort of a toy he wants to buy, why, and best of all, what we’re going to do with it when we get home.

At the store, Liam carefully goes around  choosing a toy that costs less (pre-tax) than what he got from the recycling. At the cash, Liam pays – he figures out which bills & coins to give the cashier (if tax brings the total over, I always cover that). His clear pride at being able to spend his own money, that he earned and counted is awesome. The surprise and genuinely happy response from the cashiers watching my kid do all this himself is pretty great too. Only once have I ever had a curmudgeonly cashier ask if I could “hurry this up”.

So are our trip net-green? Probably not. All the gas used, and packaging on the toy aren’t so great. But I now have a 6-year-old who can already separate returnables from recyclables, is jazzed about recycling, can do all sorts of useful coin-and-bill math and at the least the beginnings of an understanding of the relative worth of things, not to mention a great couple of hours where we get to hang out, just him and I. It’s all win.

Kellan in the Jolly Jumper

I took a short video of Kellan bouncing in his Jolly Jumper the other day, and uploaded it to YouTube. Then I got all crazy with the cheese-whiz and tossed in a random audio track. I can’t decide which I prefer, but have a look:

Video 1 (with Baby Chatter):

Video 2 (with Music):

Things that Liam has said he’d like to be when he’s grown up

One of my favourite conversation threads with Liam is to talk about what he’d like to do when he grows up. I thought I’d share a few of the more recent ones with you (in no particular order other than my memory):

  • A Restaurant Firefighter
  • A Swimming Pool Firefighter
  • A Swimming Instructor
  • A Pop Star
  • A College Instructor – but only at a new college built just for him
  • A Transformer
  • A Speed Skater
  • A Nurse
  • A Soccer Player
  • added June 18th: One of Madonna’s Dancers

It should be noted that Liam’s new invisible friends, ‘Iron Boy’ & ‘Iron Girl’ also have aspirations, but slightly different: Iron Boy would like to be a “Super-bad-guy” and Iron Girl would like to be a “Super-good-guy”. However, they’ll still be friends even when one is a good guy and one is a bad guy.

Parenting & the ephemerality of possession

I struggle mightily with materialism. On one hand, I am an inveterate early-adopter gadget-hound. I want the latest, greatest, shiniest toy. On the other hand, I hate buying things. At some level I don’t even particularly like owning things. I’m all over eBooks for the same reason I very quickly embraced digital music (once I figured out I didn’t have to rip at 128k) – it reduces physical clutter, but allows me to still partake in a passion – discovering new music, new books.

aside: I’m not yet down with physical media-less video simply because the quality of a Blu-ray disc generally FAR exceeds anything I get online – sound, video, extra features. Give me all that in a digital-only download & I’ll switch in a heartbeat. Until then, I’ll keep renting & buying the physical media.

And so of course imparting this sort of internal struggle to Liam is important to me. I want him to cherish his possessions, recognize the value of them and derive happiness from receiving and interacting with them. At the same time, I don’t want to raise a hopeless materialist who only derives happiness from buying new things, and always wants new things. And I want him to understand how liberating and joyful it can be to get rid of possessions. I know some of this is just being a child, but a small part of me gets really unhappy that Liam looks longingly at the dollar toy-in-an-egg machines, that he’ll choose a kinder egg over other candy because it comes with a toy every time. And that if and when we get these toys, he’ll play with them for a little while – sometimes an hour, sometimes a day, and then they’re tossed in a toy-bucket never to be played with again. I feel very much to blame because we have been willing to buy him things if he asks for them.

aside #2: Liam has this thing which drives both Leah and I nuts where he’s incredibly passive about things and won’t come out and ask for them. He’ll say things like “I was thinking about a kinder egg” when what he means is “I would like a kinder egg”. It drives me up the wall. I’ve now taken to being flippant (if I’m in a good mood) or sarcastic (if not so much) in response to this. Liam doesn’t deal very well with rejection, it must be said, so I suspect that this is his defense mechanism – he’s not as disappointed if what he’s thinking about doesn’t happen compared to if what he’s asking for doesn’t happen.

So we’re working on the idea that a)we don’t buy everything we want just because we want it (about which I do admit to feeling quite hypocritical) b)that we cherish and value the things we have and take care of our possessions c)it’s a good thing to share with our friends and not be too possessive. So these are somewhat contradictory ideas that really, for the most part, Liam seems to be getting. I think. I’m not sure. He certainly gets the idea of delayed gratification, which is great. But I admit that we’re struggling with this and I do worry that I’m raising a materialist who always wants more stuff, regardless of if he actually wants the item, or just wants to satisfy the act of wanting….

Bleh. This post kind of went off in a different direction than I’d intended. Oh well.