Trying to raise my kids the best I can

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Brandon's teacher continued

My husband and I had a very good meeting with Brandon's teacher today. We got to express our concerns. She got to show us her curriculum and some of his work. We were able to "compare notes" on him.

The problem seems to lie in the curriculum. So there doesn't seem to be much that she can do, and sending him to the fourth grade math class won't help (because they use the same thing).

I believe in the educational theory of the trivium. To summarize this: a child passes through three stages of learning as he grows. The first stage is gathering and receiving "knowledge". This is where Brandon is. It lasts generally up to age 12. The second stage is connecting the information in logical order - "understanding" (ages 13-15). And the final stage is the "wisdom" level (ages 16-18) in which understanding continues but the capacity for communication and application peaks.

So that being said, the math curriculum they are teaching my son is much more heavily into "understanding" than it is into "knowledge". For instance they are working a lot with the hundreds charts and asking the kids to notice patterns, form conclusions and come up with theories about it. I think this time would be much better spent memorizing the multiplication tables. When they hit the understanding stage it would be a great time to pull out those hundreds charts and ask them to interpret them.

So I am left with no choice but to teach him math myself. I am frustrated. Any suggestions out there?

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Still a little sensitive and naive

It's true. I've been through a LOT in my short life. I am a little calloused and knowledgeable about this world.

HOWEVER, deep down inside I'm still an innocent little girl and here are two examples from this week.

Naive Deena: Up until this week I thought that strippers in strip clubs took off everything down to their lingerie bra and underwear. But then my husband and I were flipping channels late at night when some of the naughty stuff comes on and we flipped by a stripper taking it ALL off. I was shocked and that's when my husband explained that that's what happens in a strip clubs. Ha Ha. Silly me.

Sensitive Deena: At work this week my boss, who is an X-marine, has not been happy with some of my walls of boxes. So yesterday I was determined to build the prettiest walls possible. Which I did and I even told my boss that he should check out my beautiful wall. But unfortunately it was not a secure, "locked in" wall. As I continued to build, the whole thing started to crumble. I'm talking hundreds of boxes. Falling everywhere. Just then my boss walks in the truck. He said, "Do I need to ask what happened here?" And I said, very embarrassed, "Have you ever heard the expression 'Pride goeth before a fall?'" And he said "Have you ever heard of locking in boxes?'" He told me to let go of the last wall I was holding up and so I did and it came crashing down. There was an awkward silence before he told me to start a new wall right there and then how we lost 15% of the space because of this and how all of the boxes had better fit by the end of the night. I was left to rebuild and meanwhile I'm thinking how absolutely horrible this is and how I'm not unionized yet, so maybe they'll just fire me while they can and what will I do without my tuition payments from UPS and the health insurance?

So I'm all worked up by the time it's break. I walk down to get my food but my eyes start tearing up because I'm so upset so I lean over the drinking fountain to try to compose myself before anyone sees me. Then I run into my boss again who begins to tell me that if we need to send the boxes in an extra truck it will cost $35 an hour times the five hours it takes to get to Connecticut. I immediately burst out crying. He felt so bad. He handed me a tissue and changed his tone, telling me it happens to everybody, it's no big deal, don't worry about it, stop crying. It was perhaps the best thing I could have done in that situation, although I certainly wasn't faking it.

Some of the truck drivers and managers were around. They looked so scared - you
know how some men just don't know how to handle a crying woman. My break-buddy Mo was so cute. He let me sit down for a minute before he casually asked "so how's your night going?" (My eyes are all red and puffy and tears are still running down my cheeks). But it was a happy ending because my boss understood that I take my job very seriously and I wasn't just messing around. He even said, "it shows you care," in reference to the tears.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Brandon's teacher

I met with Brandon's teacher a few days after school started. I summed up what he learned in homeschool and gave her some work samples. She seemed skeptical of homeschooling like many public school teachers I know. My favorite part of the conversation was when she asked how Chelmsford Schools decided when he was ready to go on to the next level. Her question revealed her complete lack of knowledge in this area. I told her, "They have no say in the matter".

At that meeting I said that I was looking to see him work on his multiplication, division, and subtracting using borrowing, this year. Several weeks later, he was still bringing home the same 1st grade level work, which is addition and subtraction (no borrowing), even the hundreds chart!!

I wrote her a note asking if she could supplement the math work and that I would like to replace some of the homework she sent home with something more challenging for him. In her written reply, she blew me off! And I quote... "It is fine if you would like to supplement the assignments but I would ask that he also complete the class assignments. This will match the activities we are doing in the classroom and will be aligned with the state standards. This is important for his success on the MCAS testing that he will take in the spring."

I roll my eyes at the "educationese". Teacher's love using that, especially when dealing with homeschoolers. "aligned with the state standards". Puh-lease. Need I remind her that this school itself is not up to state standards, with a majority of the children "needing improvement" in math MCAS testing.

Last night Brandon's homework was to find and record items that come in groups. How cute. Wolfie probably would have gotten more from that assignment. Brandon already knows what a group is. And perhaps it's their precursor to multiplication, but as I said before, Brandon knows most of his times tables AND he understands them too; so once again, it was a pointless activity.

My friend pointed out that I was doing the entire class a favor by asking her to raise her standards. But unfortunately, I can see that I am getting no where with her and I was thinking that the most fair way of handling this would be for him to go to a fourth grade classroom for math. After all, we can't expect him to teach himself fourth grade math through worksheets. And we can't expect the teacher to teach two different math lessons.

So I will discuss this with her, but I am not expecting a warm response.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Improving our healthcare system

The state of health care in America is one that needs to be addressed. The lack of health coverage is a problem that is only worsening. Health expenses are growing due to new (expensive) medical discoveries, aging population, a boom in type II diabetes, and not enough medical personnel to go around.

Health insurance is getting more and more expensive. Companies are passing on the expense to their employees or sometimes cutting benefits altogether. My husband’s company had an inadequate health plan. Recently they announced that the first $2500 in medical expenses will not be covered. When I complained to a coworker, he said that it is an industry-wide problem. Meaning that, my husband probably couldn’t find a better deal elsewhere.

There needs to be health insurance coverage available to the growing uncovered population, just above the poverty line. The poorest in our society are covered by Medicaid. Unfortunately, those just barely making it are often not covered. If they could get a similar amount of insurance for a small amount of money, that would eradicate one of the biggest health care problems facing our society today (-similar to the children’s coverage which does exist, only available for adults too). Of course it would have to be subsidized by the government, an idea I am slow to endorse. There is a lot of pork funded by the government. Health for our citizens, however, is a worthy endeavor of public dollars.

One of the lures of public welfare is not the small amount of income it provides, but rather the security of the Medicaid that comes with it. I won’t get into the welfare debate here, but I will say that welfare would be less enticing if there were other health care options for the poor.

The one medical expense that is going to be hard to keep down is the expense for all the new innovations in the health care industry. I myself am on a medicine that wasn’t even invented a decade ago. My life is better because of it. However, I have to shell out $20 a month for the medicine – plus the expense my insurance company has to pay. The same story could be said of many, many other health innovations. I believe that drug companies deserve the prices they charge, since they are funding past and future research with their earnings. I am happy to see that some drug companies are starting to help their poorest patients pay for their medicine.

One of the most unfair billing practices is that insurance carriers are given discounts on services – leaving the uninsured to pay hefty, inflated prices. The uninsured are generally the least able to do this. This practice needs to stop immediately, and I am pleased to hear that the issue is being addressed in some circles.

There is a continuous nursing shortage, as well as a shortage of other specialist and doctors, contributing to the health care crisis. There are not enough schools to provide for the societal need. I believe there are enough people interested in health care careers. The problem lies in educating them. The government needs to encourage more schools to open to provide for this need. They could easily do this by giving tax breaks for colleges with a certain number of students of the in-demand-professions.

Finally there is the issue of type II diabetes- an expensive but preventable disease. It will take many different avenues to address this issue. For instance, school lunches need to be overhauled. Corn farmer subsidies must end (other than for fuel purposes). Fruit and vegetable farmers need to be subsidized. Physical education must not get neglected in the race to educate our young. Newly built communities need to include sidewalks. The list could go on and on. It is a never ending battle, but one worth fighting.

The healthcare challenge is a daunting one. But it is one we must face, for the sake of our children.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Cheap Charity

The Katrina Disaster has brought to mind a pet peeve of mind. Before I get into that, I want to encourage people to donate to the red cross, as it will take a huge amount of money to house all those people over the coming months.

But about my pet peeve... It really irks me, the shallowness of many people's giving. They will give a little to feel good about themselves, but not so much that it actually cuts into their own pleasures or interrupts their life. For instance, the shelters have asked for toys and art supplies for the kids. So I imagine many people will go out and buy some toys to ship away and they'll feel real good about themselves as they have done their good deed for the year. Hear me out, I'm not knocking the sending of toys, that's great. What really bothers me is the removal of human contact from the charity.

When my husband was in jail and I was struggling to raise my two young boys, I was the recipient of occasional charity. At Christmas time, for instance, there were many different organizations who provided gifts for the children. This was really nice. At the same time, it was a little frustrating. As much as I appreciated the toys, what I really needed was... a shoulder to cry on, occasional babysitting, a bag of diapers when I was out of money, some food when the pantry was empty, a listening ear, a home when we didn't have one, a prayer partner. So instead of writing a check to Globe Santa, if that same person would have only befriended me, they would have helped me so much more. But of course that would involve giving so much more. They would have to (gasp) open their home to me. Or (horrors) share some money. Or (god forbid) invite two rambunctious boys into their home for the afternoon while I get my hair cut. [Note, to this day I am still loyal to my hairdresser who used to do my hair with my kids at my feet because I couldn't get a babysitter].

Christians in particular have a problem with this. They compartmentalize charity by labeling it "ministry". EVERYTHING you do is a ministry for the Lord. I like to mock this labeling when I give my neighbor a ride. I call it my "handicap ministry". (She's in a wheelchair).

I learned in psychology class about Maslow's hierarchy of needs. At the bottom of this pyramid is your basic physiological needs like food water, air. The next level is safety needs, followed by love and acceptance. The next level is esteem needs like the need for acceptance, education, respect. The highest level on this pyramid is the need for self actualization. The need to give to charity, to feel like you've contributed to society falls under this category. When people give shallowly they are really only fulfilling their own selfish needs and not helping their fellow man much at all.

I would encourage you to look at your own giving. Does it all fall under labels ("volunteer work") or a charitable organization (Salvation army). I would encourage you to give to the same cause, but on a personal level. Do you want to help the poor? Befriend a single mom. Do you feel called to work with prisoners? Make one inmate friend. Do you like to buy Christmas gifts for others? Don't give anonymously - make some friends with kids in foster care. Want to join Meals on Wheels? Why not make a friend in a nursing home. Do you want to help Katrina victims? Then connect with a family that needs help and meet their needs as they arise.

Of course there are some things that large organizations do better then individuals (like research cancer). But often we can contribute even better to society on our own.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

My first day of freedom

Yesterday was my first day of freedom as it was the first day both (older) boys were in school. Since it was Wolfie's first day of kindergarten, the walk to school was a family affair. Timmy and I got to meet his teacher, Mrs. White, who looks just like you'd imagine a kindergarten teacher should look like: pretty, older, blonde, sweet.

Wolfie's teachers aide is Mrs. Desousa, who I vaguely knew from church years ago. Ironicly, you could say that Wolfie exists because of her. If you read my journal from around when he was conceived you would find statements like: "I'm not ready for another one yet" and "I think we should wait a little more before we have another baby". Then I was assigned to bring her dinner through the meals ministry because she just had a baby girl. I got to hold the baby and... well... the rest is history.

So it's my big first day of freedom. But I blew it! When I got home I put in a load of laundry and read a few minutes of my Bible. Then the school nurse called to ask me to bring in a change of clothes because Wolfie spilled milk all over himself. She could have been a little more tactful about the way she said it though. She called me and said, "Mrs. Sao? This is the school nurse. Wolfie had a little accident." HELLO! That's not how you introduce yourself to a mother! I'm imagining large amounts of blood.

Ok, back to the part where I blow my first day of freedom. So I get home from changing Wolfie's clothes. By now Dimitri is very tired, so I lay with him to breastfeed him and put him to sleep, and when I wake up it was time to get the kids from school!!! Ha Ha. I still need to get used to this schedule. Better luck today I hope.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Katrina coverage

I've been watching a lot of coverage of Katrina. It's one of the most unbelievable scenes I've ever seen. My brother is in the National Guard and he was deployed to New Orleans today. I'm very proud of him and so thankful that he can go down there to help. I called Governor Romney and put our name on a list of possible housing for the evacuees. Timmy still isn't interested in the idea, but I thought I would at least leave the option open. If I got a call and couldn't help, I bet I could find a church friend who would do it in my place.

As for some of the media coverage, I've been watching CNN, which I rarely ever do. The liberal bias from it is disgusting. CNN spent the entire day on Thursday Bush bashing. For instance: It did this entire piece about how the victims are not "looting" but instead are just looking for for food and water to survive. At the end of that piece it cut to Bush saying that we will not tolerate looting. It made him look like a very heartless, racist leader. But let's look at the other side of that argument. First of all, no one thinks that people should be prosecuted for taking food, water, medicine, etc. But the reality is that there was some major lawlessness going on this past week. There were rapes, open firing of guns, hospitals being raided for their oxycontin, intimidation, and yes, just plain old looting. I agree with the president that order should be maintained. This is America. We are not a lawless land. We will enforce order as soon as we can.

I also have been watching Fox News - a more conservative news cast whose motto is: "We report, you decide". They also wanted to find out what went wrong. Don't we all want to know that? And it seemed pretty clear that the problem fell in the preparation. That made sense to me. This area of the country had five days to prepare for the storm. Obviously it wasn't taken seriously enough and more planning needed to be done. The governor of Louisiana should have had the area declared a disaster before-hand and had much more troops on hand to handle the city. There also didn't seem to be any decent disaster plans. NYC handled Sept. 11th well because of their preparation, and if you think about it, there were no disaster plans for collapsing buildings. Louisiana leaders have no excuses. They KNEW a hurricane would someday hit their land hard.

All that being said, we can all agree that our efforts need to be focused on getting to work, not bickering.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Hurricane Katrina

I've been watching all the coverage of Hurricane Katrina. I am angry. I am furious at the slow response to the crisis. WHY is it taking so long to respond to these people??? Heads need to roll! I'm talking about heads at FEMA, Red Cross, government relief agencies. They were obviously not prepared for a worst case scenario.

Before the hurricane struck my husband was intently watching the news coverage of it. It was eerie the way he sensed the impending doom. I kept teasing him: "why do you care so much about a dumb storm?" But he saw it coming. And he was right. It was worse than even he could imagine.

We have a big empty room on the first floor that we were going to rent out. Our intended renter had to back out. So it's been empty for a few weeks and we've been unable to decide if we should rent it or use it. So it has housed our bunny. We joke that the bunny has the biggest room in the house. Anyway, I've been thinking that we should put up a displaced family in the room. I mentioned it to my husband and he said he had thought of that and decided no. I was surprised that he thought of it first. Anyway, I'll have to talk to him later to find out his thoughts. If I can't convince him otherwise, I guess I'll have to submit to his decision. But I think it would be our Christian duty to step up to the plate at this time. I don't know how we would connect with a needy family. Obviously the relief effort isn't coordinated well. I don't trust the organizations to put out a call for homes. I almost think we may have to find a connection ourselves. We will see.
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