A Very Proud Day

We picked up Anna at school yesterday, and the smile on her face couldn’t have gotten any bigger as she ran to our car.

She was beside herself in happiness, telling us all about her very first Track & Field race, in which she competed against 5th grade peers, and also all 6th graders.

She won second place!

We couldn’t believe it! I don’t think Stephen or I had even given this race much thought; if anything, I was proud of her for choosing to race in the first place, because participation was optional and many of her friends opted out.

She went on to give us all the details, including the disqualifications that occurred when kids tried to shove and trip each other. Apparently one girl tried to push Anna off the track and was immediately disqualified. I’m just glad Anna got to see first hand the consequences of cheating and poor sportsmanship.

And so my little bug described how the race began and all kids dashed off as fast as they could… and she just jogged. Then, halfway through, everyone was tired and walking, and she was able to pass them all except one. Her friend (a girl, too!) won first place, leaving Anna with a beautiful second place blue ribbon.

We took her out for dinner to celebrate, and that ribbon was worn and danced with all day.

She made sure everyone, even the neighbors’ cat, got a good look at it.

I hope throughout her life she’ll have many more days of feeling as proud of herself as she did yesterday. It sure was a joy to see her so happy with her accomplishment.

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Children ain’t stupid, y’all

Thanks to my savvy Facebook friends I found out about the free online screening of the movie Hungry for Change. (It’s available only until March 31st, watch it here!)

I invited Anna to watch it with me; it’s a documentary about our current food choices and how they affect our health. One could assume that the topic would be pretty boring for a 10 year-old, but that’s not our case.

Anna has sat with me through Earthlings (and yes, there was a lot of crying– from both of us. A lot.), Supersize Me, Food Inc., and Forks over knives. I keep telling her that it’s important to give her access to information so she can draw her own conclusions and make her own choices. It has worked wonders. Now don’t get me wrong, she’s still a kid and if she’s offered cake it’s very likely that she’ll take it, but at the same time she’s aware that she’s making a choice. She also consistently chooses to say “no thanks” to fizzy sodas when at friends’ homes because there’s knowledge of the havoc they create in the body. What I’m saying is, though we still have a way to go in the path of decision making there definitely have been changes already, and these changes I think have happened mostly because of the awareness she now has.

One thing I’ve worried about and have put emphasis on is the fact that we can’t go preaching our ways to others, assuming everyone should do what we do. Well, I guess technically we could, but to what point? I can’t imagine anyone welcoming a personal attack on their food choices, and it’s certainly not our place to tell them they’re doing it “wrong”. I believe in offering information and letting the chips fall where they may. Some people are perfectly comfortable in their patterns and have no desire to change, and that isn’t any less respectable than those who take the opportunity to learn and move beyond potentially harmful ways. It’s choice, and it’s a personal thing.

When we go grocery shopping there’s a game we play sometimes: When Anna asks for crackers, cookies, treats or anything like that we turn the package and read the ingredients. If there’s one single thing we don’t recognize, then buying that product is a no-go. The way I’ve explained this to her is, you know you wouldn’t take food from a stranger; the companies that make these products are strangers, so why would we eat something they offer us if we don’t even know what it is? It’s just as dangerous.

In the middle of the documentary Anna pressed pause to tell me the following story:
“The other day I was having lunch at school with my friend T and she pulled out some cup noodles. She was just breaking them off and eating them dry like that!”

(I began to fret)

“… then I told her we should read the ingredients!”

(I got really worried)

But what do you know, the girls took the package and made a game out of trying to pronounce the tongue twisting ingredients. They laughed hard at trying to say things like disodium guanylate, sodium alginate, tocopherols and maltodextrin. Anna’s friend T looked at her giggling and exclaimed “I don’t even know what these things are!”, to which Anna still laughing, responded with a Yeah, so why put it in your body? Good point, agreed T. She took her cup of noodles and dumped it in the trash.

I could hardly believe it. Leave it to kids to accidentally turn what could be a touchy subject into a game in which they’re willing to learn from each other. I was very humbled by both girls.

Children are more intelligent than we give them credit for, and they want information. They want to feel part of their everyday choices and they appreciate being seen as people who can understand and analyze by themselves. As a confirmation to this after the movie was over Anna turned and gave me a hug, “I’m so glad you let me watch stuff like this while I’m still a kid.”

You deserve nothing less, kiddo. You deserve nothing less.

 

 

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Like a duel at sunset, we finally met The Teacher

We had our very first Parent-Teacher interview for Anna. She’s been attending public school for one month now, her very first time in a Canadian school after having been homeschooled for almost three years.

We entered the room and the teacher was there to greet us “So,” she began, “it is my understanding that Anna hasn’t been in school for quite some time?” I nodded and she continued, “And you were homeschooling her?” I nodded again slowly, narrowing my eyes and not knowing what to expect. A million thoughts rushed through my head: Is she one of those teachers that disapproves of homeschooling? Does she think I ruined my kid? Has she been judging us since before we met her?

“Well, you’ve done a fantastic job!” she exclaimed. My shoulders immediately relaxed! “Her spelling is great, her use of the language is fantastic, she’s very social– very social;   she’s doing well.”

I laughed in relief and said how I felt like I was getting my very own passing grade right there. “If I had a star I would give it to you!” the teacher added with a smile.

I feel proud both for Anna and I. I feel happy that she was able to stay home with us for years and, a far cry from ‘ruining’ her or limiting her experiences– as some people erroneously assume happens with homeschooled kids– we were able to offer alternatives that in the end have worked wonders for her. I’m certain that homeschooling also helped solidify our family and gave us the opportunity to really get to know our daughter. I know it also gave me the chance to find myself as a mother, to parent in the manner I consider best.

I’ll always be grateful for our time as a homeschooling family. Anna wasn’t the only one doing all the learning.

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My kid is going to school…

…and I’m still deciding if this is one of the signs of an upcoming apocalypse. Because, after all, isn’t this possibility as unlikely as hell freezing over? Close.

I’m happy homeschooling; so is my husband and the child in question. The reality of our current situation is that my new job has a wonky and varying schedule, which makes it very hard for me to keep up with Anna’s school work and field trips with the homeschooling group.

Also, she has never tried school in Canada and I do want her to have that experience before deciding in the future what she’d rather do. Letting her know that she would be attending school went something like this:

Me: Anna, you’re going to school.

Anna: WHAT???!!??? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

Me: Yes. What’s the big deal, you know half the school already.

Anna: Oh. That’s true.

And with that her eyes lit up as she counted the number of neighbourhood friends who are her same age and grade, excitedly wondering in whose class she’d be. The end.

I don’t feel nostalgic or sad about sending her to school either. She may thrive there for all I know; she may have an amazing experience. And if she doesn’t we can always come back to homeschooling, especially now that I know it isn’t the difficult and intimidating thing I used to think it was.

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Fire safety

One thing that I have had a hard time getting used to is that here in Canada houses are built of wooden frames and all walls are made of sheet rock. I can quite literally punch the wall and break a hole into it. Good luck trying that in the typical block-and-concrete Mexican house.

Something that comes hand in hand with the choice of such building materials is the risk of fire. With this in mind my friend Angelina organized a fire safety talk, presented to us by a lovely member of our local Fire Department.

First, she showed us a video in which they recreated a fire as it would likely occur in the normal, furnished (obviously vacant) home. It was very impressive and rather shocking to see how fast the fire expanded, smoke soon filling the entire room. The scariest part was when, at only over two minutes of the fire beginning, the Fire Chief turned to us parents and said “At this point, not even us as firefighters can come in to save you.” I’m certain my jaw hit the floor.

Two and a half minutes? Is that all the time a family has before they’re on their own? That isn’t much time at all, and hence the Firefighter’s constant insistence at the need of having a plan.

I thought quickly about my house and potential escape routes; Anna’s room window is directly above our front lawn, and I’m sure that she’d be fine making a jump out of it, were it ever necessary. The thing is, does she know she’s supposed to jump and escape without waiting for us? She doesn’t, because we had never discussed it with her before.

The kids learned many safety tips, including Stop-Drop-Roll, which is basically what you should do if your clothes or hair are on fire. Stop running, Drop to the ground, and Roll around until the flames are consumed.

Rolling

Rolling.

A memory popped into my head: A few months ago Stephen came upstairs after working in his office, in our basement. A few minutes later our smoke detectors went off like crazy, and Stephen ran downstairs to find the basement filled with smoke, a lit cherry from his last cigarette had ignited the whole ashtray and had expanded to a few papers on his desk. We got everything under control but it still took some time to clear the air enough for the smoke detectors to stop wailing. This happened during the night; Anna did not wake up at all in the 10-13 minutes that the smoke alarms were going off.

I talked to the Fire Chief about this incident, and she said that it’s actually quite common in children: they’re simply not used to the sound, they don’t register it as a sign of alarm. It’s almost as if their brain doesn’t recognize the meaning of the sound, and so it doesn’t send alarm signals for the body to wake up. She recommended we randomly provoke the alarms to go off, and if she doesn’t react we should go in her room, use our ‘big parent voice’ and wake her up for a drill. Doing this sporadically will help her brain make the association of smoke alarm sound= wake up, get out.

Other safety precautions include not opening the door to your room if the doorknob is hot, because this means that the fire is close and the only thing protecting you is the door. Place a towel, bed sheet or any kind of fabric to cover the gap under the door to prevent smoke from coming in. If you are able to get out of your room but the house is filled in smoke, drop to the ground and crawl to the nearest exit.

Have a plan: Teach your children different escape routes, what to do, organize a strategy with your spouse (especially if there’s babies and toddlers who will need help), and define a meeting place, which is very important because you’ll be able to tell at a glance who is out and safe already.

We have a lot of practicing left to do!

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The fight

I feel very fortunate to be master of my time; I currently don’t have a 9 to 5 job (and I’m not sure I want one), and I get to pick and choose the homeschool activities in which we participate.

One of the things that I have chosen to do with my free time is volunteer at my city’s local food bank, where we provide groceries for families that for some reason don’t currently have the finances to afford them.

I have been working at the food bank for two years now, once a week. Yet, this past week was a first: my assignment for the day was to go grocery shopping with a man who wanted to give a food donation, but because of back problems he needed someone to come along and help him. So I was the muscle in this equation, ha!

He was an older man, maybe late sixties if not seventies. As imagined, small talk ensued. We talked about where I’m from and what brought me here (Facebook, obviously). He told me about his family and the places he’s traveled.

And then, the inevitable.

‘Your daughter, which school does she go to?’ the man asked. I smiled and said we homeschool. He scoffed. ‘Pffft. And you think that’s good?’

So many things went through my head, to the point I called this entry The fight because in a fraction of a second this man I and I had battled ferociously, barked aggressively at each other and fought to the death… except we didn’t really. The snark in me wanted a worthy comeback, maybe a sarcastic ‘Nah, I just really want to ruin her’, or a confrontational ‘What, you think I’d on purpose do something I think is bad for her?’  But then I caught myself.

I can’t expect everyone to understand my choices and why I do the things I do. I find that people in general tend to talk depending on their own perceptions or preconceived notions. I have no clue what this man’s idea is about homeschooling, but I sure know it’s different than mine.

I remembered that in acting defensive the only thing we achieve is demonstrate we are feeling attacked. This man wasn’t attacking me, or my ideas, or my parenting. He was simply asking a reasonable question, much in his own style. There’s no harm in that.

‘Actually I quite enjoy it’, I responded. ‘We don’t have problems such as peer pressure, and I feel like I know her better than ever before’. The man nodded in agreement, ‘That makes sense’.

He then  shared with me all reasons why he thinks the public school system is failing; as it turns out, our points of view on the educational system weren’t all that different. It was nice to find common ground.

We gathered and paid for all the items on our grocery list and loaded the things into the car. Just before he dropped me off he began telling me about one of his sons, who has quite age gap from the other two siblings. ‘He’s my youngest, and I have to say he’s been the challenging one. Currently he’s going to university’.

The mischievousness in me wanted to scoff  Pfft, and you think that’s good? but I didn’t; I just smiled at my thoughts.

In the end, as parents, we each do what we think is best.

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Exploring schmoring

You may remember several months ago when my friend Amy and her son came with us in an exploring adventure of the woods by my house.

Well, I thought it would be a fantastic idea to bring the kids again this time during the winter, so we could see the differences stations make in one same place. Which reminds me, Amy: please shake some sense into me next time I come up with one of these marvelous ideas, k? Thx.

Where to begin. Aye.

Getting to the actual woods was a merit all on its own. From the moment we stepped on the sidewalk hands went flying and nervous laughter ensued because everything was covered in ice and was super slippery.

Then, we had to walk through a small field in order to reach our exploring area. You know how you sometimes see snow and think it’s beautiful and fluffy? Well it’s not. The darn thing is deadly. Deadly I tell ye! It’ll suck you in and eat you alive if you’re not careful. I have proof:

Look ma, no legs.

Sheesh, I mean seriously, take one step and sink in to your knees. I don’t know how we managed to not lose a kid in there.

As you can see in the background, all trees have lost their foliage for the winter, which allowed us to see where we were going. We were, nonetheless, slapped more than once by ricocheting twigs and branches bouncing back from being pushed out of the way by the person walking in front. More than once it occurred to me that Mother Nature must have been pms’ing.

We stumbled down to the creek. Ok fine, everyone walked and I stumbled.

We took our time and allowed for the kids to climb trees, look around and ask questions.

The creek was mostly frozen and it looked beautiful.

Here is Amy being her daredevil self, challenging the strength of the ice:

Being foreign to these lands and weather conditions, my only option is to trust. I mean, if the Canadian goes and gets on the ice one can only trust that it’s because it’s safe, right?

Wrong.

I was standing by the edge of the creek talking to the kids when the ice under my left foot cracked and gave in, my leg dropping into the ice-cold water. So. Not. Fun.

That’s the hole my foot left, and you can’t really see it but that left boot –and my foot inside it– is soaked.

So, let me get this straight: it’s ok for my friend to go and parade around on the ice, but the moment I set foot on it it cracked? Like, Mother Nature, what are you trying to imply? Am I fat, is that what this is about?

So rude.

By the way, that picture was taken from Amy’s perspective as she was sitting on the snow almost rolling around in laughter. ‘Cause that’s what true friends do.

It was so scary getting off the ice after that! I knew I had to be slow and gentle, but I just wanted to bolt the heck out of there. Luckily no more ice cracked.

We followed the creek’s current and settled underneath a bridge, where the kids had a grand time throwing heavy rocks trying to get the ice to break.

We stayed there for quite a while, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that my wet foot wasn’t bothering me as much as I thought it would.

“That’s probably because it’s gone numb by now”, Amy pointed out. Gee, awesome.

On our way back the kids asked for a break because they were oh so tired.

Poor things, they don’t know that when you’re 9 you’re not allowed to be tired.

Miraculously, they found the strength for one more climb. With these two, there’s somehow enough energy left to climb one more tree.

As we made our way out of the woods and into the deeply-snowed field I shouted “Come on, I’ll race you!” and started running. To this day I don’t know what possessed me.

I say running, but really I’m using the term lightly. Surely you remember Baywatch? When they would run into the ocean to save the drowning victim, remember how they had to raise their legs in high strides to be able to move forward in the water? Well what I did was nothing like that. Imagine the less gracious and much more awkward version of that, and it’s close. Plus, it only took like five strides for me to be completely out of breath. Snow-running is hard.

Finally we arrived back at my place, only to discover I couldn’t take off my cold, wet boot. The zipper had frozen shut. Have you ever had that happen to you? Like, ‘Hey remember that day it was so cold the zipper froze shut’ I’m sure not, you know why? Because most of you live in normal parts of the world where things like this would never happen.

All in all it was a good day, with many lessons learned. Let’s recap.

1) Mother nature is a moody wench. She can hate you any day.

2) Buy boots bigger than necessary in case you have to pull them off unopened due to, you know, frozen zippers.

3) Skunks hibernate (I didn’t know this!) Though you may still smell one when trekking the woods with a pair of highly energetic and not very quiet kids.

 

*Thanks Amy, for the pics! And for being my partner in crime. Though you’re shaking me next time, remember?

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