23 January 2015

2014 Reading List

When I first started this blog, it was meant to be about books.  While I like what the space has become, and it has been so good for me to have this part of the world be just for me, I do want to get back into the books part.  In 2010, 2011 and 2012 I kept a running log of everything I read that year.  Mostly it was under the auspices of the "52 Books in 52 Weeks" challenge, but I found that it really encouraged me to keep reading and, perhaps more importantly, keep writing about what I was reading.  In 2013 and 2014 I didn't keep the list and really found that I also blogged a lot less. Coincidence? I think not.

This year I am pledging to keep the list (right here!) and write at least once a month about the books I have read.  So far I have read three books and I am working on my fourth! I even have a page in my new bullet journal for books I want to read.** Thanks to KO at Raveling Out for this post that got me started and Ginger at Ramble Ramble for creating the writing group that lead me there.**   That in turn inspired me to actually request said books from the library. So now I can read them, just that easy.

I have also started following and watching the Vaginal Fantasy book club.  For anyone unfamiliar, a group of self-proclaimed "geeky" types read a few books a month that fall somewhere in the Venn diagram of "romance," "supernatural," "sci-fi," "fantasy" and "historical" categories.  Some hits, some misses but always a great time when the group gets together and does the video of the book discussion.

This brings me to the first book I read this year: A Spear Of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn. This one falls under the "romance" and "historical fiction" sections (a good choice for those who are not int o the sci-fi/supernatural aspect).  A great story of a woman essentially banished to Africa after being too much a of a rebel for polite society in 1920s Paris. All the usual hilarity ensues, including romance and intrigue, upon her arrival.  In this manner, it is a fairly formulaic romance novel. The plot itself, and to some extent the archetypal characters, didn't light my world afire, but I would still recommend this one, and read it 100 times over.

What separates it from the herd is Raybourn's breathtaking prose.  The descriptions of Africa, and the hilariously sharp and honest words of the characters make this a highly engaging read.  You do have to slog though the usual romance-novel cliches and tropes, but it is absolutely worth it to enjoy the sensation of being completely immersed in the African wilds.  I would say read this one as an amazing example of how to paint a vivid picture of your setting, and as a cautionary tale about classic romance plots.  I could write forever about how the protagonist is a shell of unlikable "exceptional woman with a past" and how the romantic lead is completely devoid of character development beyond classic Harlequin "sensitive rebel with a past," but I would still not be deterred from how great the book was to read.  The sensation of being "right there" more than makes up for the issues of plot and character.

Put this one on your list for a lazy weekend by the fire.

20 January 2015

Food Glorious Food

Clean eating a trend now.  That is pretty good news I guess.  Sure, eating food made of actual food and not odd food by-product disguised as "diet" food, is a pretty good idea for most human bodies.  So sure, lets all "eat clean."  Now, I do eat this way (as much as our resources allow) and I completely understand that I am one of "those people."  That context should be held in consideration when discussing this.

First off, a hearty "well done" to whatever party got this trend going.  Way to capitalize on basic logic and then claim it is a revolutionary new diet system.  As always, the diet industry can be trusted to take the simple act of eating healthy and turn it into big business.  When "clean eating" fails to create weight loss, so much the better! Then a new system can be marketed, and so it goes.

Second, this movement, like all most nutrition movements, really is only for the affluent.  People don't eat poorly (as defined by nutrition standards, no one owes anyone else a diet arbitrarily deigned "healthy") because they don't know that broccoli is better than fruit snacks.  They eat poorly because dollars spent on broccoli don't stretch as far as dollars spent on fruit snacks.  Much like going paleo and stressing about organics, "clean eating" is the realm of the wealthy.

However, since I have been doing this here clean eating for a while, I will say it is pretty interesting what happens. The following is purely my experience, that I have had purely because I enjoy a well-acknowledged position of social/financial privilege.  My choice need not be your choice, my experience may not be yours.


  • I do feel better.  When I eat food that has not been processed, I feel good.  When I eat processed food or take-out, I feel less good.  I may still chose to indulge, but now it is a conscious choice. (This is an important part of eating in a Health at Every Size manner. Though this movement also ignores the "healthy food is expensive" issue, it makes this good point.) 
  • I don't want the processed stuff or take-out as much.  I just don't find that I crave it the way I used to. 
  • Food tastes different.  I now find that processed foods taste "off" to me.  Store bought bread has a funny after-taste.  Take out Chinese tastes very different from my homemade version, and I now prefer the latter.  
I do sometimes marvel though at how different my diet is now as compared to 3-4 years ago.  I was looking back on all my posts about doing Weight Watchers (still have mixed feelings about that phase of my life), cutting carbs and desperately trying to find the magic bullet to be thin.  Ironically, even though I am at my heaviest weight ever, I am probably the healthiest I have ever been in my adult life.  Why? Because I can indulge in middle-class luxuries like access to healthy food, access to safe activity and access to decent healthcare (as arduous as navigating that system may be). So sure, clean eating, I am on it. 

15 January 2015

Once You See it...

Basically the more I learn about feminism, or perhaps more specifically, the more I learn about the vernacular and mechanisms of feminism (I have always been a self-identified feminist) the more I see the anti-feminist rhetoric in every. damn. thing.   While this is a really good thing, the more I see it, the more I can work to break it down, even if only in my tiny little corner of the world, but green goddess on a pony, it is exhausting.  I just feel like I spend all day in a non-stop gale-force wind of anti-woman, anti-fat, anti-equality, anti-choice rhetoric.  Now I am seeing things that maybe I would have never noticed before.

Now, before I move onto today's example of my "Humorless Hysterical Feminism" (maybe that will be my new weekly installment) there are two things you need to know about me:

  1. Before being a SAHM and displaced military spouse, I was in grad school for epidemiology.  I am huge nerd, I know lots of generally useless stuff about diseases and I have a big,big love for statistics. I am my doctor's worst nightmare, I am not even a little bit apologetic about this fact.
  2. I have recently had to work my way through (soon to be completed!) treatment for uterine fibroids. This has just tossed me head first into the awful, murky and generally ineffective world of  "women's medicine." (Or "medicine" as it would be called if we didn't live in a health culture entirely defined by white-male-hetero-normativity.)
So today in my Twitter feed, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly (see fact #1) had a little gem about it being Folic Acid Awareness Week because it is National Birth Defects Prevention Month. Awesome.  I am 100% for good maternal and child health care.  I think we can be doing so much better by women and children.  An ounce of prevention sometimes really is worth a pound of cure.  Being 100% percent supportive of women having access to everything they need for healthy, wanted pregnancies is a pro-choice priority.

However, there is a slight tone to this type of public service announcement.  A tone that is also pervasive throughout any health care women may (try) to receive. That tone is one of "always being careful to ensure your position as an incubator is secure." 

The sentences:

CDC urges all women of childbearing age who can 
become pregnant to get 400 ยตg of folic acid every 
day to help reduce the risk for neural tube defects 
(major birth defects of the brain and spine).

and

Health care providers should also discuss with 
women any medications they might be taking, 
both prescription and over-the-counter, to 
ensure they are taking only what is necessary.

[emphasis mine]

 send a very clear message that all women who could possibly get pregnant (anyone from puberty to menopause presumably) should always treat their bodies as the perfect host for a pregnancy.  Even if pregnancy is in no way desired.  The second sentence is especially galling because I would like to believe that all doctors are only prescribing treatments that are strictly necessary regardless of that patient's gender or reproductive plans. The paternalistic overtone is that really, sweetie, let your doctor decide if  treating your problem is necessary as compared, of course, to being 100% primed for pregnancy at every second.  

Seeing this statement, and finally identifying what about it I find so problematic also really helped me identify my root frustration with getting treatment for my own gynecological issues (see fact #2).  No one seemed willing to believe me that I wanted to prioritize treating my symptoms over maintaining fertility that I have no plans to use.  I do not want to have more babies.  I do not want to preserve my uterus at all costs.  I do not want the option to "change my mind."  I want to not be running daily 50/50 odds of waking up in a pool of my own blood.  I want to not be house-bound because there has not yet been invented a feminine hygiene product that can staunch the deluge. I think I should be in charge of my life, not my uterus. Heaven forbid I escape diagnosis: FAT, I can just be lumped into diagnosis: baby factory.

You can imagine my relief, my feeling of overwhelming joy, when I saw my new gynecologist yesterday and had him respect these wishes.  When I said "I am not planning any more pregnancies" and he said "great, lets do this highly effective treatment because it is the best choice when fertility is not an issue"...well, I could have wept with joy. 

So yes, I am the most humorless feminist of all.  I am willing to critique the phrasing of well-intentioned public service announcements in the name of better health care for women. Having been up to my eyeballs in trying to get medical care in a culture that prioritizes fertility and treats women's health issues as secondary to men's health....well, something has to give.  

09 January 2015

Snow: We Have NEVER Done This Before!

So RI got some snow.  Only a few hours of steady snow and now it is sunny an beautiful out.  Going to be cold as all hell tomorrow on the ski hill, but hey, winter in New England, What ya gonna do?

Of course the snow does serve to highlight the not so great driving habits of The Great State of Rhode Island (the full, official name).  I know regional driving quirks, and mocking thereof, is not new or clever, but seriously? Since moving here I have really noticed that the "quirks" of RI drivers are a lot more like "wildly dangerous death wishes."

So, in no real order, here are the bits of Driving Safely 101 that 95% of RIers seem to have missed:

  • You put in your lights on when you are using you windshield wipers. Especially here where the rain is often joined by fog so dense you can swim to your mailbox. Just please for the love of all that is holy, make sure people can see you.
  • Stop signs mean STOP. Even on back roads, even if it looks like there is no one around, even at 3am. Always. I have seen people grind downtown traffic to halt in both directions so as to let someone do a left turn into the gridlock.  I have seen people come to a full stop on the goddamn highway because here those YIELD signs actually mean something. Yet somehow,  no one gives a care to the lowly stop sign. 
  • You turn off your high beams when approaching another car.  I know. The roads are dark and winding, ill-maintained and not at all lit.  I understand.  But you will be in a dark-windy-ill-maintained-ditch if you don't get your goddamn halogen stadium lights out of my eyeballs. 
  • Trucks are shitty snow vehicles.  Everyone here drives trucks, the bigger the better. Though very few seem aware that classic rear-wheel-drive trucks are super shitty on less than perfect roads. Hard rain, a single snowflake...trucks lining the sides of roads. Put some sandbags back there and slow down.
  • When you decide to pull out in front of the only car coming for miles, floor it.  Chris and I now refer to this as "The RI Merge" since the habit of waiting until just before a car reaches the intersection, then pulling out at a sedate 5 mph is so common.  If you really can't wait the ten seconds required for the single car (we don't have traffic here, it is not really a thing)to pass, then you better haul ass as you cut in front of me.  Combine this with the stop sign issue and well, you take your life in your hands every time you drive. 
  • Clear off your whole car.  Not just the front. Not just the "important" bits.  All of it. Clear your hood, lights, windshield, mirrors and roof.  This is so you can see, and so people driving near you don't get hit with giant junks of roof debris. Don't be an asshole, grab a broom and clear that snow. 
Now look, I am terrible driver.  I learned to drive in NY, the birthplace of horrible driving.  We tailgate (even if there are no other cars on the road, hell, especially if there are no other cars on the road!), we speed, we feel signals are optional and yield signs are for chumps. I get it. We all have our driving crosses to bear.  I just really want to drive to the library with less than five near misses from people shooting out of side roads and promptly slowing to 10mph as if I am deserving of some manner of punishment. I feel like that is not too much to ask. 

06 January 2015

But I Don't Want to Lose 30 Pounds in 30 Days!

I got a sweet set of weights for Christmas from my mother-in-law.  I have not even used them yet and I am already in love.  No more using two 5lb weights taped together and feeling like I am not even lifting anything when I do bicep curls. No more doing like 3 gbillion reps of every exercise because five pounds doesn't necessarily feel like "work" to anyone who carries a purse (or 50 pound kids, laundry baskets, grocery bags...you get the idea). It is going to be so nice!

Of course new gear means new workouts.  I spent yesterday evening looking for some good arm workouts and/or any good at home workouts done with free weights/kettle bells.  Now, I did find many great resources, but every single one was advertised using this format:

Lose [some number] pounds in only [some value of nanoseconds] with our easy [even fewer nanoseconds] workout. 

The basic gist of all the copy was that by doing this exercise for a mere 6 hours a day and eating only celery (make sure you get the low-fat kind!) you too might lose 3 ounces of body weight and finally be worthy of living again. Of course, if you fail, it is because you didn't want it enough! You have to want it! Do you EVEN WANT IT ENOUGH!?!?!

Nowhere in any of the text did anyone talk about health, or how strength training is good for bone density, or how fitness at any size is good.  Nope. Clearly, the only reason one would ever bother to ever workout is to get thin.  I mean, after all, if working out doesn't make you into a Victoria's Secret model, when even bother?

This didn't sit well with me. Apparently I am not alone in this.  No sooner had I had this thought, I saw this great post by Dances With Fat and though "well, yeah, that explains it."  Exercise culture is far too entwined with diet culture. Thanks to the "War on Obesity" the inherent value of fitness (and eating as well as possible within the parameters of your resources) has been completely lost to the endless quest for some number on a scale.  The "War on Obesity" is not about health at any level, it is war against fat people for merely having the audacity to exist in a body that fails to meet the ideal as defined by white-cis-hetero-men.

In short, I am just feeling pretty resentful that I only have these two choices for workout materials:




  1. The Weight Loss Workouts- all exercise only serves to make you look good, by certain definitions of good, as defined predominantly by white-cis-hetero men and as embraced by predominantly white-naturally-thin-conventionally-pretty women, no focus on health or room for people who fail to meet BMI requirements.
  2. The Muscle Crew- Mostly men who are focused on getting fit (with slightly less weight loss discussion as it is traded for endless winging about "bulking up"), but comes at the price of "do you even lift bro?" attitudes. Still not a ton of focus on health, some flexibility on the BMI thing, but only in the opposite direction because if you fail to get as big as a Volvo with only 1% body fat, you are not welcome here. 
Neither of these main groups have anything to offer me, nor am I likely to welcome within them. All I want is to keep getting fitter so I can keep up with my kids and live my life without my fitness being a limiting factor. (My goals, no one owes anyone fitness.)

The good news is that it is working.  I feel ready to try and make my body do things that are outside my comfort zone, or things that fat people "shouldn't" do.  I am taking my first ski lesson in 10+ years this weekend wearing 2X ski pants that I would never buy before because I didn't think I deserved them at this weight.  The proof was in the pudding today when I had to pick up said weights from the post office.  Having refused to deliver them (being too heavy and all) the thin (and therefore fit and healthy because thinness magically equals good health) postal worker dragged them out to me and watched in awe as I (fat and therefore unhealthy and unfit) lifted the box with one hand and carried it out to my car.  So no, I don't want to lose 30 pounds in 30 days, I want to be able to carry my own goddamn mail. That is really more than enough for me.

05 January 2015

New Year, New Morning Routine

So I finally managed, after many years of trying, to be a person who gets up and works out before the rest of the day begins.  When Chris got in the shower this morning, I went to the basement and did some hill repeats on the treadmill, day one of my 30 day squat challenge and a few yoga stretches so my body doesn't hate me later.  It took a mere 30 minutes and meant that by the time we went to the bus stop I was showered, dressed and even wearing some mascara.  Add in the load of laundry I managed to start and this day was a winner from minute one.

Now, sure, it has been exactly one day, but this is huge for me.  The biggest stumbling block to my sticking with working out is that there is never a good time for me to take a break from all my "work*" and get in that run.  When Liz is home, I hate to spend that time not with her. When Liz is at school I have all the life stuff to do. When both kids are home? Forget it.  Sure, I can run while any combo of them plays in the playroom, but the constant squabbling and interruptions are not exactly conductive to a good workout.  I could do it after bed-time, but then I am on the treadmill at 8pm, which makes bed-time much closer to midnight than is strictly a good idea for my already insomniac/night-owl self.  Basically, I can't be trusted to prioritize this self-care.

Additionally, previous attempts to do the morning workout plan have been diligently thwarted by my family members and the Great Goddess of Nope. I tried to do this when Chris was on the boat and Lizzie, being a classic toddler, somehow sensed my plans to steal 30 minutes for myself and went on a sleep strike of epic proportions.  Between the sleep deprivation and "before the kids get up" now meaning 4am, it was just not on.  Other times have featured major illness on my part (my plans to switch to morning workouts last January lead to a near-hospitalization worthy case of bronchitis that left me needing an inhaler) and other general malarkey like crazy weather requiring me to shovel instead of run, sick kids and or injuries (most often sustained from housework, oh the glamour).  My favorite is still the day I said  "I am going to try and get up and run the morning" which prompted Chris to instantly answer, in what I assume was a blind panic that his sacred morning routine might be compromised, "I think I need to start leaving to work earlier."  Oh really?  You just happen to need to leave earlier the very second I want to take 30 minutes for myself and maybe, just maybe, like 12% of a chance maybe, require you to deal with the kids before 6pm? Yeah, that's what I thought.

The point here is that the starts have finally aligned.  I might actually get a chance to do this, for real, and count on a few minutes of time to take care of myself everyday.  Now, if I can just get my fibroids (oh did I not mention the fibroids? Well, there is a tale of medical wonder for another day) under control I could be on my way to a nice healthy year.

So here's to 2015, you sexy beast, I already like you way more than 2014.

*By that I naturally mean TV and bonbons,  because SAH parenting is soooooooo easy, amirite?

24 November 2014

This Life Thing Is Super Time-Consuming

Back in September I was all excited about "having time to blog again." That was because I made the rookie mistake of not knowing that getting your second child in school doesn't free up time...it quadruples your workload.  Since then it has been a non-stop deluge of things to do.  Between homework, school projects, school runs, but stop runs, lunch making, laundry doing, fundraiser participating, box-top counting, LEGO club, story time...you get the idea, I have not had time to do anything of merit. Maybe more specifically I have not had time to do things I want to do, but you know how that goes when you are the default parent.

I have not been running, or reading , or knitting or blogging or anything really that might constitute progress toward some personal goals.  I have managed to get the house/kids/school nonsense pretty well streamlined, but systems that work require work and well, that work doesn't do itself. I guess I just feel like I am yet again trapped. If I work out, then I have to be folding laundry after the kids go to bed which also means I can't do this other thing until after that so now, by getting on the treadmill for 30 minutes and (gasp) taking a shower, I guarantee myself the honor of working until 10pm. Add in the vague notion that I should be going back to some kind of "real" employment (as opposed to life of luxury I am living now) and I am on the verge of an existential crisis.

Hopefully though December will see some turn around.  Chris will have some time off around Yule (good since his schedule has had him effectively on travel for the past three weeks with no end in sight...that is some BS) and we can have some kind of downtime by going to see relatives for a week.  At least there I am not 100% responsible for ever detail of everyone's lives. Additionally I am finally getting some treatment for all the crazy hormonal stuff that has been going on. Hopefully by the new year I can cross "avoiding my own body trying to kill me all the time" off my list of daily obligations, so that will be nice.  School settles down a bit in those months and maybe we can find some zen on all this nonsense.

Today I ran and blogged.  Sure it means I am behind on everything else, but I did it.  I took some time for me, and I am prepared to deal with the inevitably crippling fall-out.  It is not a lot of progress, but it is still progress.




25 September 2014

Issues of Confounding: Gluten-Free Edition

I read this neat article today that basically say (no shocker here) that many, if not most, people who are sure they have gluten sensitivity, really don't. (Obvious disclaimer that Celiac's and NCGS are real things, that some people DO have.) I feel like we maybe didn't need to fund a study proving that diet fads are diet fads, but that is not really my point here. My actual point about the whole thing is that this study may be 100% correct that most people don't have gluten sensitivity, but it may be 100% incorrect in the idea that the "feeling better" or "lack of symptoms" is "all in people's heads."

What the study may not have looked at, because this kind of data is really hard to collect and analyze, is what overall dietary changes people undertake when they go gluten-free.  In broad terms, eliminating gluten from your diet generally involves cutting out the fluffy white carbs like bread and pasta.  It also removes a lot of processed foods from your menu.  When faced with "having" to eat a diet of mostly fruits, veggies, protein, carefully selected carbs and very little processed food product...well, yeah, you are going to feel better.  This study may have looked at specific markers for gluten sensitivity, but its didn't look at these overall dietary trends, trends that may very well have a huge impact on people's health.

I absolutely believe people when they say that going gluten-free made them feel better, helped with digestive issues and cleared up some chronic conditions.  Eating healthy food made of actual food will do that to you.  Add in that the gluten-free movement often plays well with other healthy lifestyle choices (like workout trends that rhyme with "floss snit") and again, you are definitely going to get people who feel better.

Basically the gluten-free approach to eating may very well make people healthier, or at least feel healthier, but not because of the gluten itself.  When it comes to nutrition, there really never is just one thing at play, it is a holistic (in the actual definition of the word, not the medicinal style) system with roughly 56 bzillion factors at work, That is the tricky thing about research, especially research on the human body.  There is always more at play.  No two bodies are the same, everyone needs to see what works for them.  This study certainly indicates that having gluten sensitivity is more "mass psychosis" and less "an epidemic of digestive issue indicating we should all live in caves and eat only twigs like our ancestors,'' but it doesn't indicate that choosing to eat gluten-free is bad for you.

The take home lesson for non-research minded folks: never assume that a study's conclusions are the only possible answer.  Scientific research really only serves to systematically chug through everything we think we know about a topic and line out what is untrue.  Widespread gluten sensitivity may be an untruth, but widespread health improvements as a result of people eating fewer gluten bearing foods may be very real.

09 September 2014

School Means Other Parents

Apparently we need to riff on the second grade homework some more.  Here, as the school year is in its infancy, many a parental unit are stressed about the homework.  They all have Very Important Concerns about it.

Of course I, like an idiot, always think that when other parents ask about the homework they are also referencing the heinous hand-holding. I could not be more wrong.  Apparently that is all just fine for many, if not most.  I am in the minority when it comes to parents who don't sit down with all their kids so as to specifically tutor them through all the homework.  The idea that you would micromanage your kids time and progress that way is a-okay with these folks.  In fact, they feel very strongly that is is entirely necessary given how challenging the material seems to be.  As in, the parents, full-grown adults with proven records of being upstanding and productive American folks, are challenged by the problem solving material presented in second grade word problems.  The work is "too confusing" and there is "no way at all that someone could solve the problems with the information presented.*"

So I guess that answers like 98% of my questions re: what the hell is wrong with kids these days?  What is wrong with our kids is clearly us.  The Atlantic did an article about why parents shouldn't help kids with their homework.  I am going to go ahead and assume that, unlike the majority of commenters (this is like Lewis' Law, only with critical thinking skills) that we all understand the difference between "keeping your kids on track and checking that homework is actually getting done" and "helping your kids step-wise through every last activity the school sends home." While the article doesn't really pinpoint why this is true, I have a guess.

Maybe, just maybe, it is because when your parent is freaking out and hysterically e-mailing the teacher about a word problem that my 4.5 year old was able to complete, you are not exactly sending a clear message of working for academic success. Or rational stress response. Or academic accountability.  Or critical thinking skills.  What a shock! Watching your parents bitch and moan about how hard your work is doesn't improve academic performance.  Go figure!

Teaching kids to immediately demand external validation the very second they are challenged (you all remember wanting our kids to be "challenged" because they are all so bloody "gifted" right?) might not be the best approach for academic achievement.  The message "we" are all sending our kids is that the second the going gets rough, you look for someone else to blame. Or at least someone else to sooth your delicate sensibilities as they walk you though it.  Not to get all "boot-straps" on people here, but yeah. All together now: a little struggle never killed anyone's chances at an Ivy League**.

So my response? We switched to doing homework after dinner.  I said to Charlie "decide what you want to do each day and fill it in, then do it, let me know if you need help."  Her response (after checking the family calendar we had made) was "Can I use the timer on your phone, I can do all this tonight then have no homework for the rest of the week."  She did the work in about 15 minutes, she handed me the bits I had to correct or sign, she then packed it all up and went to brush her teeth for bed.  Well folks, my work here is done with nary a hysterical e-mail in sight.  Now I just need to never discuss this with any other parents, like ever, and we will be fine.

*Source: shamelessly eavesdropping on fellow parents in the preschool pick-up line while trying to suppress the impulse to smash my head repeatedly into the decorative columns in the pick-up bay. 

**With the disclaimer that as a mid-pack, culturally-white, middle-class school district in an education-loving blue state, "struggle" is a relative term.  Notably, my current peer group of families have it relatively easy in terms of "struggle." 

04 September 2014

School Means HW

Both girls now have a fairly rigorous homework schedule going on.  Now I will say that I fundamentally have no objections to homework.  I think that, at the grade school level, 15-20 minutes a night of review is a great idea.  As a parent I like that it gives me a chance to see what the kids are doing and how easy, or hard, they are finding the current material.  I also think that with the new Common Core focus on learning the concepts and strategies behind math and English Language Arts (ELA), practice applying those strategies has never been more important. This house is totally for (appropriate, non-busy-work) homework.

However, the homework is not just "here is your assignment, bring it back tomorrow with the occasional long-term project thrown in."  Nope. Liz's  preschool homework is doled out in the monthly newsletter with each week having a letter assigned so the kids can do "letter bags" every Thursday (except alternating third Thursdays due to early dismissals, so then they are due Wednesday), every fourth Thursday of the month is monthly color day (so wear the monthly color) and each month there is a long term family project with an (arbitrarily?) assigned due date.  Charlie gets all her work for the week on Monday with the folder due back on Friday, except the included daily reading log that is to be filled in and returned on the last Friday of the month. Also, in addition to the work in the folder, she is to be practicing her math facts to 20 for ten minutes and reading, independently or with a parent, for 20 minutes with that time recorded on the aforementioned log for her reading teacher.

In practice, this only takes Charlie 15 minutes a night and if Liz and I spend a cumulative hour on the "letter bags" and monthly project, it will be a lot. Of course we are basically ignoring the math facts practice ( I fundamentally don't believe in memorization as an educational tool) with the reading taking care of itself since Charlie reads an entire Daisy Meadows chapter book every night and we do a story in our bed-time routine. Sure, the material itself is great, The work is age appropriate while still being rigorous. I am very pleased with how the school district as a whole handles the curriculum. However, this all requires a lot of admin work on behalf of the parents.  I made a family calendar and had the girls help me fill in the important monthly and weekly dates so we can all keep an eye on it.  I had to show Charlie how to divide up her weekly work and mark down what she needs to do each day in her (school-provided) planner which I then have to sign every night verifying that I have checked the homework and seen any notes from her teachers. I have to sign her reading log every time she makes an entry and sign her math homework after I check her work and correct it using a special notation system so she can then fill in a "progress chart" which thus far is a solid block at 100% accuracy. Just so much busy work for us parents.

While I wholly support parents being involved with their kids schooling, this just feels like forced participation.  I have the luxury of being home and having the time support this, but many may not.  I am excited that Charlie is already being instructed in the kinds of time-management skills that will carry her through her entire educational career, but right now that buck is being passed directly on to me. The homework itself is a great tool for tracking the kids' progress, the recording metric serves only to test who is the "good" parent willing to do this whole song and dance. I generally float around making lunches and prepping dinner while the girls do their school-work, but I am not a huge proponent of  the "lets all sit down and make sure Charlie never struggles with her work" style of homework supervision.  Additionally, if this level of constant monitoring is considered the bare minimum expected of parents, is it any small wonder that kids now pack off to college completely incapable of handling their own lives without the parental units there to hand-hold?

 I feel like attempting to teach kids time and homework management skills only has a lasting impact if they actually have to be responsible for it.  As it stands in this system, Charlie knows I will keep up with it if only to save my own ass from the withering stares of her teachers on conference night.  In our case, I can do this and I certainly will, but I really think this is a total fandango for second grade homework.  Specifically it is a lot of hoopla for parents in system that does not, at its heart, teach the kids much about syllabus management. Unless, of course, said parents make the effort to foist the responsibility back on their kids, which adds another step to the nightly procedure and just dear goddess when will it end?  I guess I will be doing the double-time routine of  being a good mom by the books, and signing all those sheets, while also actually making Charlie responsible for the bulk of it. Again, I have the time to do this, but I can totally see why many won't bother...who really would in this system? In so many ways modern education encourages parents to do way too much for their kids due to rampant parent shaming that will certainly require its own post someday.

In short: great teachers, amazing curriculum, quality material, horrible recording system with way too much parental hand-holding forced into existence.  Skirting the fine line between helping your children get the most out of school and helicopter micro-managing was hard enough without being "volunteered" (or "voluntold" as they say in the Navy) for this new system.  It will be fine. I am thankful that this is my biggest educational challenge to date, but still...no I don't want to sign 11 sheets of paper and correct your math homework in three colors...I did my time as a TA dammit!
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