On Giving

M and I have been struggling with how we want to frame Christmas for Laurel.

At Halloween time, the candy became a very secondary focus, next to the snake costume. And while Laurel enjoyed trick or treating so much she pretended to do it in our house for weeks, I just discovered an uneaten bag of candy hanging in the closet. She never asked for it.

We're hoping to achieve that kind of balance for Christmas. How can we make it about people and celebration, without sounding like Bah Humbug Grinches that want to keep her from receiving gifts of any kind?

Well,this post pretty much sums up what we've been thinking.


Happy Buy Nothing Day!

Today, I will Buy Nothing.

I don't feel good about buying items unless I know how and where they were produced. Owning that item or giving it to somebody I care about will not feel good if it was made by some mistreated, underpaid worker from across the world. Or if the company that made it dumps gazillions of pounds of waste into the environment.

My guess is that if you are getting a bargain on something today, it probably came from a sweat shop. Merry Christmas.

It's a beautiful day in Pittsburgh today. Why not take a hike and enjoy some sunshine? Invite your neighbor over for some coffee and leftover pie? Break out the art supplies and get started on some homemade holiday cards?

All of this sounds much more relaxing, fun and sustainable than sitting in traffic and getting trampled by rapid shoppers.


Raindrops on roses, and....

....whiskers on kittens, bright yellow flowers....

I tried to remember the rest of the words, as rain beat down on the car and I squinted to see out through the windshield. "Sing it again, mommy!" Laurel shouted and kicked her feet with excitement. We had been in the car for about five minutes, and already she was not wearing shoes. She had somehow rolled her pants legs up to her thighs and one of her socks was on her head. Goldfish cracker crumbs covered the floor of the backseat.

It was a good day. I gave a test and my students impressed me with what they remembered. I had a meeting with a parent that I thought would be terrible, but turned out ok. I finished all my planning for December and sent off the materials to be photocopied. Laurel was sick, but my mom was able to take care of her. I remembered to fill up the gas tank when the empty light first turned on, instead of waiting until I-can't-remember-how-long-the-light-has-been-on-panic.

And now Laurel and I were on our way to pick up M from work, singing in the car and "talking animals".

I tuck these moments into my memory for safe-keeping. Someday it will seem like it was a very long time ago that Laurel was a little girl. Will we still sing together? Will I be happier without the goldfish cracker crumbs?


She can...

...put on her socks and shoes by herself.

...listen to us read the Lorax, all the way through.

...tell us what she wants to eat for dinner.

...and tell us why she doesn't want what we cooked (too spicy!).


...recognize her name.

...somehow take over our whole, king-size bed on the nights she sleeps with us.

...start a dinner table conversation by saying "Let's talk animals"...and then we do.

...count to three.

...spot letters and numbers in the world (street signs, house numbers).

...talk on the phone (somewhat, mostly only to my mom so far).

...operate the self check out machine at the library with minimal assistance. (Don't let that girl near an ATM!)

Two is great.


Talking About Difficult Subjects With (Little) Kids

It's tempting for us to water down what we say to young children. As a high school math teacher, my pet peeve is all the elementary teachers who tell kids "the bigger number goes first in a subtraction problem."

Well, no it doesn't, and the federal government is a prime example, as well as many of us regular folks who use debt to pay for roof repairs and college educations. I have to spend a lot of time helping kids to unlearn generalizations about how numbers work because nobody saw fit to offer them a clear and complete explanation from the beginning. I've noticed this getting worse since elementary teachers have been encouraged to teach math in a conceptual manner instead of the old-fashioned rote memorization of procedures way. In my opinion, if you want to talk about math concepts, even with first graders, you need to have a pretty strong concept of math yourself. Otherwise, it may be best to stick to worksheets.

We do this with all kinds of things. We talk about Santa but gloss over the inequity our kids surely notice when Santa seems to treat the children of wealthier parents so much better. We tell them that police officers are there to protect us, but then how do we explain the excessive force by the police against peaceful protesters that is being captured on video all around the country? (Not to mention the more serious police brutality in Egypt and Syria.)

Since moving to my neighborhood, I've been to public safety meetings and have gotten to know several detectives over coffee and bagels on Saturday mornings in cramped board rooms. We know the officers who patrol our neighborhood. Some of them will come to our neighborhood holiday party.

I can say with confidence, that the police officers I know as fellow citizens would not be able to look me in the face and discharge pepper spray at point blank range...even if I were engaged in peaceful civil disobedience in front of them. Clashes occur between protesters and police when one side or the other stops thinking of each other as fellow human beings.

M and I catch ourselves sometimes, offering explanations to Laurel's questions that are not really well thought out, or accurate.

Sometimes, I don't know might be the best answer.


What do you use the internet for?

And will you be able to continue using it for that purpose?

PROTECT IP Act Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.


Happy Birthday, Laurel


Barefoot College

What is learning and what is teaching? I spend a lot of time thinking about my role in these processes. What knowledge do I have to impart, and what could be learned from my students? What can students learn from each other? What can students teach themselves.

I really like watching television, but I'm alternately bored and outraged at the swill that is on both cable and network channels (Seriously, Anderson Cooper, why are you talking about Kim Kardashian? And what is up with all the murders on tv?).

So, I've become a fan of TED, where over 900 talks are available on incredibly diverse topics. I can't even describe it, you have to just go and look. The best thing is, they are all 18 minutes or less. Sitcom length! Tonight I watched this amazing artist who creates art through paper cutting. Her work is visually stunning, and she has a cute French accent.

However, what is really lingering with me, is the talk I saw on the "barefoot college"...it really challenges the stereotypes we have about who "should" be educated, and maybe even the definition of education itself.


Sick Kids and Gratitude

Laurel has been sick this week. She's not really eating anything because her throat is so sore. We even let her dig into her Halloween candy, but one bite made her cry out in pain and she abandoned the mini Hershey bar. The only thing I can get into her is chopped up bits of a popsicle, fed one at a time with a spoon. She spent the better part of Monday and Tuesday crying inconsolably. She'll only nap if we're holding her.

When I wasn't wallowing in self-pity (I have been battling my own health problems over the last two months, so just getting through the day without caring for other sick people has been a challenge), I had a flash of solidarity with mothers around the world. And my empathy immediately morphed into gratitude. Gratitude that Laurel has access to a pediatrician and antibiotics and that we don't worry about her actually having most of the serious childhood diseases, because she's been vaccinated. Gratitude that we can be reasonably assured that our drinking water is clean, and that I have the money to go to the drug store on our block and spend $6.00 on a bottle of pain reliever, to ease her symptoms. Gratitude that we are indoors and even when teenage trouble makers are roaming the streets slashing tires (they got our car), we are without the worries of those living in active war zones.

It's really terrible to watch your child cry, and not be able to do much to relieve their discomfort. How much more terrible would it be to know the solution was in something simple, like food or water or a mosquito net or an antibiotic? What if instead of knowing this is a simple infection or virus that we have to weather for a week, I had real doubts that Laurel would even survive?

The 7 billionth baby was born this week. Check out these graphics that I used to discuss ratio and proportions with my math students.