Monday, January 28, 2013

The Great Kindergarten Search: School Visit 1 of 3

Back in October, I blogged about the Dreaded School Choice first world Problem my family is currently experiencing. As the public school choice decision deadline looms, we're doing school and classroom visits to help us finally come to a decision.

Our first visit was to the Away District Bilingual school. Here's The Good and The Bad points that we had identified about this school prior to our visit (I've blogged about this before - so skip my next 2 paragraphs if you've already read my old post linked to above):

The Good = "Since none of the schools in this district are winning any awards, we figure at least our kids will come out knowing Spanish."[Also, we think a lot of the families there would be a great fit for us socially, i.e. a lot of former big city liberals now living in Podunkville send their kids there. "If this school were in a big city, there'd be a lottery for it and we'd never get in."] From the daughter of a bilingual teacher: "I'm amazed at how beautifully her accent is coming along when she speaks Spanish. The opportunities to learn Spanish are awesome."

The Bad = "It all depends on which teacher team your kid gets assigned to - there are some great teachers you will want to request, and then pray your kid doesn't end up with one of the crappy ones. The principal is a nice guy but he's not a good leader and there's no cooperation between the Bilingual teacher teams and the English-only teacher teams." Also - "My son acts out because he's bored. His teacher says he's so gifted it's like he's special needs, but instead of challenging him more in school they encourage him to attend a half hour math enrichment after school as if that solves the problem - so, what's the point of him sitting in class all day? We have to do a lot of extra work at home to meet his needs." And "My daughter went there K through 5th and afterwards we took her to Mexico to visit her grandparents, and it turns out she does not even understand a word of Spanish. We should have never trusted that school." "We didn't know our son got in until my wife finally called the school 3 days before school started and demanded to know." "We didn't find out which teacher my daughter was assigned to until literally the day before school started - she had been asking us all summer long. Frustrating." [Also, due to budget cuts, in this district there is no school on Monday mornings, and that lost time is never made up.]

My perspective on this school has changed slightly, and in a good way, since visiting five Kindergarten and first grade classes there, and talking with the principal for half an hour. I also recently ran into a mom I know who actually teaches bilingual Kindergarten, and her son, who was at my kids' bilingual Montessori preschool last year, is enrolled in the Spanish immersion Kindergarten at this very school, and he is positively thriving there. Given her own profession, she's a tough critic, and I take her words as very high praise. The school started him out in the English immersion section, but once they realized he was already reading, they asked her if they could move him into Spanish immersion. That's great - I love it when I hear about a school proactively accelerating a kid when they've identified a need.

After the visit, I could now see sending my son to this school for Kindergarten - but he would need to be in the full Spanish immersion class, that is, the one that is intended for Native Spanish speaking kids.  He already understands Spanish (but is basically in silent mode still, refusing to speak it unless he can speak it perfectly - gah!), and so the language would not be a problem. If he were to be put in the English immersion class, however, it would be a complete, total, and unmitigated disaster. He already reads proficiently in English, but I worry about how he will actually test in reading - he is a perfectionist and will try to give up when he feels pressure.

We have two more visits in early Feb, so I will post about those in a few weeks.  As usual, your thoughts and perspective are always appreciated!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty's Real Message is Anti-Torture

Zero Dark Thirty is quite possibly one of the most misunderstood movies ever. I'm a huge fan. It's one of those movies people will watch in the future to get a sense of what the militarized American empire was like from 2001-2011. It is also one of the strongest feminist and anti-torture messages I have ever seen in a major Hollywood film. Yet people are accusing it of being the exact opposite.

There's been a lot of criticism from people on the left that makes me wonder, "Are we even talking about the same movie here?" The praise from certain people on the right also leaves me scratching my head.

So when I came across this HuffPost Live interview of filmmaker Michael Moore by Marc Lamont Hill, I said to myself - finally, someone gets it! Thank you, Michael Moore:

"Does the artist have a responsibility for the ignorance of the person watching the art? I don't want to have to dumb down my work for the people who won't get it.  I want to put it out there and the people who get it, get it."

I encourage you to watch Marc Lamont Hill's interviews of Michael Moore in their entirety. They're posted in 4-6 minute increments with a short commercial in-between. Don't miss the part where Michael Moore calls out the workplace sexism in the CIA. Fantastic.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Sex Before Dinner

I'm the friend that people call up to ask for "married people" sex advice. I'll take that as a compliment. (I think?)

One of the biggest sexual roadblocks I'm hearing from married people has to do with being too tired at night for the mood to strike: "Help, we have amazing little kids, but they are cramping our sex lives because we're never alone!" Yes, that was me when my 2nd baby was under a year old, and not coincidentally, my marriage was at its lowest point ever. I learned that The Sex is very, very important to me. I start feeling irritable when I don't have The Sex regularly -- I start hating my DH and probably vice versa.

(Yes, folks, this is reason #1925 why I don't blog under my real name!)

Did I also mention we are crazy enough to co-sleep with our kids-- in separate beds, on separate floors of our house? This fact makes it difficult to ever have The Sex in our own bed late at night. That, and we all go to bed ridiculously early by American standards. (I judge this so-called US standard by the number of texts I get from local girlfriends after 10pm at night when my phone is turned off -- y'all Amurrikans definitely need to go to sleep earlier).

So how do we prioritize The Sex, you ask? It's as simple as making Sex Before Dinner part of the weeknight routine:

#1. We plan to have sex early in the evening, 3 nights a week, as soon as we're both home for the night (it usually happens somewhere between 5:30-6:15pm-ish). We say hello to each other and the kids, talk briefly about our days, then put on some Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood or Dinosaur Train for the kids, and set them up with a beverage and some fruit. DH and I sneak off to a room in the house with a lockable door and a box of tissues. The TV distraction for the kids only works if we don't let them watch TV at any other time, which is hard because educational-ish TV is quite possibly the world's best babysitter ever.

#2. Twenty minutes later... done! DH starts getting dinner ready (he plans all dinners a few days in advance to free up more time), and afterwards the kids and I clean up, and eventually we're all asleep by 9:30pm (unless the 3-year-old has napped that day at preschool, grrr.....).

By having sex before dinner, DH and I are never "too tired" for sex. I've found that it's like sex begets more sex - and planned sex on weeknights often leads to more spontaneous sex on the weekends. I have no idea why on earth that is - it just is.

Try it, you'll like it!

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Unvaccinated Child with Pertussis in My Kids' Preschool

Last week, I got a mass email from the Board of my kids' preschool that hit me like a ton of bricks.

The email from the school informed us that there is a child in my kids' class who has been sick for the last two weeks with Pertussis (aka Whooping Cough). The email shared the child's name.

Given that this is such a tiny community, and a school of < 20 kids, we all know of the little girl and her parents, and word about these matters spreads so quickly (even when you've given up gossip entirely) so I don't see the sharing of her name as the privacy violation I would have seen it as when I used to live in a large city. But still.

Coincidentally, our DD had experienced some severe unexplained coughing symptoms recently, so we had a bit of a freak out once we heard the dreaded word "pertussis." You may have heard there was a pertussis outbreak in my state (WA) last year, due to vaccine-denier parents who had refused to get their children vaccinated.

The pediatrician thinks she has the asthma that runs in DH's family, and possibly some allergies. Anyway, the nebulizer he prescribed seems to be working. All is well for now.

This whole episode really has me thinking. While on the one hand, I'm not terribly sympathetic to parents who by choice have never had their children vaccinated against the preventable, devastating diseases of childhood - to be honest, I really question their intelligence, on the other hand, I tend to see this as one of the costs of living in a free society. Maybe there's a benefit to living amongst the occasional free rider in our democracy.

Your thoughts?

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Film Review: This is 40... (see it)

Hollywood comedies are not usually super feminist-friendly undertakings, with the notable recent exception of the excellent Bridesmaids. Which is why This is 40, starring Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd, came as such an unexpected surprise to me. It's the sort-of sequel to Knocked Up (which was a decidedly un-feminist movie), however the world of This is 40 really has nothing to do with the sad sacks we met in Knocked Up. It explores totally new, refreshing, even possibly sexist stereotype-breaking territory. Here's a full review I liked.

I want to be perfectly clear: this is not some full-on feminist comedy. There are several problems with it, mainly having to do with class and privilege, dissected very nicely here. However, I can't help but feel hopeful about it. I'm taking it as a sign that the American film industry might be making some small progress.

For starters, the depictions of working women in heterosexual relationships in this movie won't piss you off as much as they did in the recent comedy The Five Year Engagement (the one where the guy goes batshit crazy after he gives up his career because his fiancee pursues the job opportunity of her life). I'm sick and tired of countless shows featuring working mothers as these unfortunate, hot messes who can't get it together and who Hurt the Kids because they work outside the home, while the fathers take no responsibility at all. This is 40 offers a welcome reprieve from all of that.

There are many beautiful little things to appreciate about the complications of the extremely privileged LA family headed by Debbie and Pete, a married, dual income couple who are both turning 40. They are something of a paradox: at times so much fun to watch, and at other times the very definition of the word eye roll. At times they are vulnerable and real, and their tenderness gave me hope in my own marriage (don't gag), other times they are total, unmitigated jerks in need of a serious call out -- {SPOILER}

... make sure you stick around for the ending credits to watch comedic genius Melissa McCarthy do just that.

The subtle, pitch-perfect stereotype-bending this movie does sends a unique feminist message. Debbie's a working mom who has not let herself go. She runs her own business, and her family needs her income (more on their financial situation after the jump). She has her own hobbies. She has her own interests. She goes clubbing and in one scene could go to bed with an attractive young professional hockey player if she wanted to. We get to see the imperfectly perfect Debbie in all of her complexity. And she's legitimately, hilariously funny.

Pete is a dad who also works at his own business and actually parents his own kids - I know, what a revolutionary idea. We see him happily handling the kids' morning routine. We see him physically present and engaged at his daughters' school. We see him monitoring his tween daughter's online presence. We see him disagreeing with Debbie about how to best parent their kids. We see them arguing about money. We also see him defending Debbie when another mother threatens her, even though Debbie is Wrong with a capital W. It just felt honest, as in a true version of equally shared parenting many of us aspire to but that is very rarely seen in movies or in life.

I also loved the fact that both Debbie and Pete suffer from daddy issues from their own families of origin, and that those issues are explored and compared. How wonderful to see depictions of family dysfunction that are not mother-blaming for a change.

One interesting criticism I'm hearing everywhere has to do with Debbie and Pete's imagined financial situation. They are so "rich" in the sense they conspicuously consume: they live in a fabulous mansion with a backyard pool, throw lavish parties, dress and decorate with style, have a personal trainer, an expensive bike, they vacation at a fancy resort, and their children have all matter of electronic gadgets.

But they've missed a mortgage payment. Their accountant says they're beyond help and now they need to sell the house - primarily because Pete has poor judgment both personally with his father and because he has been running his business into the ground (the $30k indoor neon sign was a spot-on example). They suddenly find they need that $12k someone has stolen from Debbie's business. They need back the $80k Pete loaned to his mooching father without Debbie's permission. So the criticism is: that these rich, overprivileged people honestly feel like they are strapped for cash seems laughable. Wrong. Not at all. It's an economic fact these days. Hello, ever hear of the Overspent American phenomenon? Loads of people look rich while having a negative net worth and zero cash flow (See The Millionaire Next Door). Yours truly even blogged about that recently, when my rich friend confessed to me she could not afford a cup of coffee. So I find their economic situation 100% believable.

That's the thing about this movie. It makes you ask: can this be real? It made me reflect, and made me laugh so hard I had trouble breathing. It encouraged DH and I to have a great conversation about aging, the way we parent, the way we problem-solve in our own marriage. See it. It's not perfect, and you'll cringe at a few things, but see it anyway.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

What I Resolve Not To Do In 2013

Obligatory New Year's resolutions post. I'm framing it in the negative this year. Sometimes I find it easier to achieve a goal whenever I'm able to frame it as "I will NOT do X" and opposed to "I will do X."

In 2013, I resolve NOT to....

1. Gossip. In 2012, I noticed I had some really uncharitable thoughts about a couple of local people who have nasty gossip habits. I resolve to do exactly the opposite: no more shit talking; only kind speech about others. I will also be brave enough to announce my discomfort with gossip. (Or framed in the negative: I will not be silent about my true opinion whenever someone is foolish enough to share mean gossip with me.) Instead of icy silence and a cold hard stare, followed by an abrupt subject change, I'll try something like: "You know, if she could hear you right now, it would really hurt her feelings to know you feel that way about her, so that's why this is just not an appropriate topic for me."

2. Allow my blood pressure get over 120/80. The way I choose to see it, my prehypertension diagnosis at age 34 was a real gift. It forces me to prioritize my heart health. In 2012, no longer did my cardio workout take a back seat to the rest of my life. Thanks to my blood pressure readings, my heart health went straight to the top of my priority list. And there it shall stay.

3. Avoid revealing my truest self to the people with whom I want to have deeper relationships. For years I've been saying I wish I had deeper friendships with local people. Well, if that is to be, then my high agreeableness, high conscientiousness, INFJ-self needs to do a lot more of the talking, and a lot less of the active listening. (Yes, that would be the exact opposite of what pretty much everyone else needs to do.) I've already gotten started on this resolution - I told a close local friend with whom I'd like to be much closer how I really felt about something, and she responded beautifully like I knew she would. Baby steps.

What do you resolve NOT to do in 2013?