Seven Quick Takes: Welcome, instant homeschoolers

I started this post yesterday and was writing about how concerned I was that people weren’t taking the idea of social distancing seriously enough. But then my phone exploded with texts from worried friends and family wanting me to put my doctor hat on and tell them they really could still go on vacation/attend the concert/play that tournament, and I didn’t finish writing.

Now, twenty-four hours later, schools (and sports, club and the school play) are canceled, church is canceled, dance classes/recitals are canceled, and for some reason the entire US strategic stockpile of Charmin is gone. So now I’m writing a different post.

ONE: Are you a parent who is suddenly thrust into the world of schooling at home? WELCOME!

We’ve all been there. Even if homeschooling was our choice to begin with, please know that there have been days and weeks and months that we have not wanted to be at home with our children 24/7. You are not a bad parent for looking at the days ahead and wondering what on earth you’re going to do.


You too can have a house that looks like this!

Know that your child is likely just as freaked out about the situation as you are. I recommend trying to treat this time as a temporary normal as much as you can. Do not try to replicate in your living room the school experience your kids are used to. Instead, recognize that this disconnection from your/their normal life is hard, and offer lots of grace.

As much as you can, be patient with yourself. Offer yourself grace. All of the kindness you give yourself will spill over onto your nervous children. Likewise, all the ways that you beat yourself up because the house is a wreck and you ran out coffee (why did we spend all that time looking for toilet paper when what we really needed was COFFEE???) will spill over onto your family.

As my children remind me when I lose it and then they lose it, everything rolls downhill.


The medal ceremony from our 2010 LegOlympics.

TWO: Here are a few suggestions to keep from strangling each other while you’re at home. Whatever you do, don’t try to do them all.

(Studies show that accomplishing small goals actually gives us an endorphin boost (like a runner’s high), and couldn’t we all use that right now?)

  • play every board game in the house at least once
  • work through your puzzles
  • spring cleaning
  • NaPanNoWriMo (my own invention: National Pandemic Novel Writing Month): can you write an entire novel before we all go back to our regular programming?
  • let your kids write and film a movie
  • make a LEGO world
  • work your way through a cookbook together
  • build a Minecraft (or other computer game) world and all of you play it together (this is way more exciting if you, the adult, choose to participate and let your kids introduce you to their world)
  • paint a room together
  • choose a topic you know nothing about and learn everything you can together

Your kids may not be used to having unstructured time together. With all the scheduled activities we’ve given our kids over the years, some kids have never had an opportunity. They may need some modeling of what creative play looks like. The best way to teach them how to do it is to join them in it.

THREE: Welcome the spring. Depending on where you are in the country (world), spring may have already come and gone. But if the spring is headed your way, use this interruption in life to pay some attention to the renewing of nature that long predates both this pandemic and our society. Outdoors is likely the healthiest place for us, and the numerous studies show the link between time outdoors and decreased anxiety.

Do you have a garden? Start one. Do you have a landscaping project you want to take on? This is the hour!

FOUR: Support local businesses. Part of the reason many activities have been slow to cancel is because so many Americans live paycheck to paycheck. There is a role for social distancing, but there are ways to stay connected that don’t have to mean economic collapse for our neighbors’ businesses. For example, our dance studio is going to offer private classes. They’ll wipe down the ballet barre between students, and the teachers can effectively teach from six feet away. I want them to be in business at the end of the pandemic, so I’m going to support them. Ditto for our music teachers, whose other lives as teachers and performers have been canceled.

Maybe you have parents or grandparents who are also isolated right now. This is great time for your kids to start a project with them. Interview them about what school/childhood/early life/the war was like for them. Do they have a skill? Ask them to teach it to you!

Also, the US mail is still delivering letters. Kids love pen pals. Grandparents, aunts/uncles and cousins all make great pen pals.

Google and Zoom are making their services free, and this is a great time to find a neighbor/teacher/friend who has a skill your kid wants to learn and let them teach it. Hire a Skype Spanish/knitting/writing tutor for your child and let them learn something totally new.


Here we covered the table in big paper, pulled out the art supplies, and drew/read together.

FIVE: Y’all know I love books. This is a great time to discover books you’ve never read. While your library may be closed for business, their online catalog is open. Likewise, your local bookstore would probably appreciate your business. Some of our best memories as a family come from books we read aloud together.

Remember that time we were halfway through the Little House books and drove past Vinton, Iowa, and I said, “Look- there’s the school Mary went to after she went blind!” There was a moment of horrified silence, and then all my children howled from the back seat, “Mary goes BLIND???!!”

SIX: Do you have vulnerable neighbors? This is a great time to check in with your neighborhood. Perhaps your kids could take on the grocery shopping for them.

SEVEN: Your family may not have medically fragile or elderly members right now, but your community does. Our willingness to comply with social distancing is going to make the difference in how this pandemic plays out. Thank you for doing your part!

During the upcoming weeks I’ll be posting links here to online tutorials, activities and learning we can do at home during this unusual time. Feel free to share this blog with anyone you think might need a little extra support during their brand-new homeschooling adventure.

You must never so much think as whether you like it or not, whether it is bearable or not; you must never think of anything except the need, and how to meet it.

Clara Barton

Hang in there, friends!

Seven Quick Takes: May Madness

May Madness: it’s like March Madness, without a bracket.

One: Last year I made mental notes (and paper ones) about how crazy May was, so that we would never do it like that again. And now it’s May, and it’s just like last year, only worse.

May is when my head is full of “finishing well” and what that looks like, and instead of executing what’s in my imagination, I am usually swept away by the avalanche of recitals, school dances/concerts/plays, and award ceremonies.

Blurry photo of Annie, Jr., featuring Phoebe as the diminutive tycoon, Oliver Warbucks
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Piano recital
Spoiler alert: they played beautifully

Two: We haven’t quite recovered from April yet. Between robotics tournaments (including an amazing week with a trip to NASA), illness, swim meets, and piano recitals, we came into May pretty depleted.

I think the trip to Houston was worth it for the trip to NASA alone.

Three: So we’re focusing on good nutrition (read: Easter candy from the clearance aisle) and exercise.

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These are the disgusting jelly beans left over after my children picked out all the good ones. They weren’t quite as bad as Berty Botts Every Flavour Beans… but they were close. (Not that that stopped me from eating them.)

Four: Okay, we could do better on the nutrition. But exercise, yes.

I’ve been running and doing yoga. I bribed the children to ride bikes for ice cream. We’ve been playing Kinect Sports in the basement. (I’m filing virtual bowling under the heading of Something Is Better Than Nothing.)

Best part of bowling at home: bowling in bathrobes.

Five: Now we’re just trying to focus on finishing well. This year (as opposed to last year), that includes embracing the art and music and time outside that I so easily leave behind in the push to finish all.the.things.

Denver Art Museum (yet again) for the win: the printmaking studio open right now is so cool. (The DAM is kind of like Duke or UConn: almost always makes the Final Four.)

Six: Finishing well (for us) means saying Yes to Giant Jenga and ice cream.

Seven: Finishing well means leaving time for reflection in the midst of all the doing.

What does finishing well mean for you?

Be sure to check out This Ain’t the Lyceum for more Quick Takes.

Seven Quick Takes: Vacuuming the Couch Edition

Wow, it’s been busy around here. No one has been hospitalized, and we’re not moving, but it still feels like the gerbil wheel is spinning on high. There have been several triumphs recently, which I will share here in the spirit of telling you how low my standards have sunk.

(For more better and likely quicker takes, be sure to check out the link-up at Kelly’s blog.)

One: I just vacuumed out the couch. In addition to finding 756 pencils, crayons and crochet hooks (which we hadn’t actually noticed were missing), I found the cat’s favorite toy (a super ball with eyeballs on it), 432 Dove chocolate wrappers, a purple Barbie shoe, and three squeezable applesauce wrappers. (Are they wrappers or containers? Whatever they are, I’m not buying any more of them.) It was an error not to take a photo of the detritus before vacuuming it all away.

Two: Last week I got an email from an observant educator in West Virginia who wanted to know if we would be traveling to Charleston for my child’s AP exams in May, or if we had an alternate WV address other than the one I had put on the AP registration form.

That’s right. I registered my kid for AP exams at George Washington High School in Charleston, West Virginia. For those of you who are new here, we live in Denver. Colorado.

I contacted Total Registration to try to correct this error, but of course it was a holiday weekend. And I couldn’t register for the correct exam until the wrong one had been canceled. And the local AP coordinator had to sign off on any cancellation. And the all the teachers in the entire state of West Virginia went on strike. And the deadline to order exams looms, grand-piano style, over my head.

Three: I also missed the deadline to accept an invitation for my child (same kid, who could make a case for thinking I’m out to get him) to play a piece by Mozart in a concert next summer in Mozart’s house. That’s right: after I badgered my child into learning Sonata IX, I sent my confirmation email to the wrong address,it bounced, and I couldn’t find the right one. I missed the deadline, and it was a holiday weekend, and there was an old lady who swallowed a fly. Perhaps she’ll die.

Four: The reason all these things are happening is that I need an executive assistant. I have had a bunch of really sick patients who need a lot of medical coordination lately, and there is never time to do that while I’m in the office. So I’m left making call my calls to other doctors in the time I would normally be taking care of things around the house.

Wanted: organized, helpful daytime assistant willing to make phone calls, register children for activities, drive carpools, double-check locations and deadlines, go to the post office, find appropriate costume pieces for the school play, and complete home repairs.

Five: You heard that right. Home repairs. Our Wi-Fi and security system went out a few weeks ago. Being efficient, I ordered a new router and didn’t stress about the security system until I missed some deliveries that needed signatures because I couldn’t hear the doorbell. So I checked the basement, where I noticed that the plug that fed the router and the security system was dead. Turns out I didn’t need the router after all. Just an electrician. And someone to schedule the appointment. And someone to stand by the door so we can hear the the knock. And someone to drive to the post office to return the router I didn’t need.

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This cat is a terrible assistant.

Six: In other news, I did manage to wash my hair once this week. I didn’t find any Barbie shoes or cat toys in it. Just writing implements.

Seven: Yesterday morning I woke up to the email from the Mozart opportunity:

Dear Mrs Rodrigues, we received your email and have your son registered for the Mozart concert. We look forward to hearing him play in Vienna.

If I had an assistant, I might let him or her correct my name, but I’m just going to sit here by the door while I listen for the piano tuner and feel grateful that my kid gets to play Mozart in Vienna in August.

The West Virginia teachers are back in the classroom, and that observant educator in Charleston approved our cancellation. If you need me, I’ll be on the AP website trying to register my kid for some tests. There can’t be that many schools in the country named George Washington. I’m sure I’ll find the right one eventually.

Seven Quick Takes: College Application Edition

One: This is NOT the SQT where I will reveal where my oldest is going to go to college for the simple reason that he doesn’t know yet. So there. However, this IS the SQT where I will diss bitterly on all the ridiculousness that this process has entailed. You’re welcome.

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Two: Remember back in October when we visited my alma mater and a whole bunch of book stores? Well, that school and a whole bunch of the others filled more than 50% of their spots in “Early Decision” (aka in November). Consequently, there are very few spots open for everyone else later.

Three: There are three options for applying, and the process is different from back when I applied. Here’s my primer on applying to college.

One recruiter (I think she was from Duke) described Early Action as dating. You can date more than one person and you can apply early action at multiple schools, except when the schools specifically say they are serial monogamists and they don’t like you to do early action applications at more than one school. (Or, in case you’re my son, who took that analogy to heart and said, “I would never date more than one person at a time, so why would I do Early Action?”)

As a side note, I just read an article in the Wall Street Journal which says the DOJ is looking into whether Early Action violates anti-trust laws.

Four: Then there is Early Decision, which is like getting engaged. You only ask one school to marry you, and if they say Yes, you’re done in December as long as you can afford the school that you chose. If you can’t afford it, then you have to break that engagement and move back into the regular dating pool with everybody else.

Five: The rest of America’s 17 year-olds apply with Regular Decision in January and February. With great relief, they hit send on that last application and think they’re done until May 1, when they’ll have to make a decision. But they’re not actually done, because there are Intentional Learning Communities (I’m not making this up) and scholarships and dorms and research fellowships with their own applications and essays and deadlines that just keep coming. The students aren’t really done… and now they’re mad. They’re like the Bachelor who’s back on the show after an earlier stint as one of the many candidates hoping for a rose and then came back as the Bachelor but broke his last engagement and knows America hates him but is really sure he’s going to find love this time around.

Six: I think the nail in the coffin of this process for my son was a prestigious private school that invited him to apply for one of their Intentional Learning Communities that came with a scholarship. He wrote three extra essays and then, after about 6 weeks, received a letter addressed to someone else, “Dear Lauren B., we’re sorry that we have to inform you we can’t give you the scholarship…” He emailed back to say, “Hey, I’m not Lauren B.. Can you check on my application?” To which he received an email reply, “Okay, we looked and you didn’t get it either.”

So that school is off the list. (The more schools that behave badly, the easier it is to choose!)

Six: We’re currently down to two schools, one of which we will visit for the first time this weekend. He is an alternate for an Intentional Learning Community (see, this actually is a thing at multiple schools – I’m not making it up) but will only get that spot and scholarship if the first choice cis- white male (CWM) with a smidge of Mexican backs out and goes somewhere else.

Seven: So, with 10 days left before the deadline to choose, our current decision algorithm looks like this:

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Really, this is just like the Bachelor. With lower ratings. Stay tuned.

For more Quick Takes, go check out Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum!

SQT: Staycation

One: We had a delightful (and full) staycation with my brother- and sister-in-law and their three children.  The logistics of a house with 11 people in it can be challenging, but Matt and Jen are both so flexible and obliging that it felt like we had more adults than children. (Spoiler: we did not.)  I highly recommend, if you decide to have a staycation with 11 people, you invite my in-laws, because they will make it wonderful.

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Two: The first day, the children decided to do a play. They chose Romeo and Juliet. Step one: I cut Shakespeare’s masterpiece down from 104 pages to 27 pages. Step two: We vetoed the idea of auditions. Step three: Matt negotiated the minefield of my children’s unkindness to help them through the trauma of casting.

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Step four: younger children got very excited about a) costumes and b) killing each other with swords. Step five: All the children hung through 3 hours of read-through, in the original language.

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Step six: We began staging. Step seven: Everyone abandoned the effort in favor of popsicles and running through the sprinklers.

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Ambition should be made of sterner stuff. — William Shakespeare

Three: We managed to take one hike.  It was raining as we drove to the mountains. It rained all the way home.  But miraculously, we had two hours of sun-dappled beauty in the pines without crowds or rain.  It was a gift.

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Four: We celebrated Independence Day by picking the neighbor’s pie cherries (with his permission), listening to NPR’s annual reading of the Declaration of Independence, taking the citizenship test, cheering on the local parade, and watching the fireworks.
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Five: What family vacation would be complete without a medical emergency?  Only one person had to be hospitalized, and she bore it with patience and grace.  Happily, she came home (healthy) to much acclaim and a hero’s welcome.

Six: We celebrated four birthdays and a baptism anniversary all at once.

Seven: The children finally managed to produce a full play, Rapunzel. We all agreed that the porch was equally perfect for Rapunzel’s Tower or Juliet’s balcony.  The witch was defeated before bedtime, and fun was had by all.  The end.

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I can’t wait till next year’s Staycation.

Seven Quick Takes: Is school over yet?

One: We’re in the last days of school for the year.  Originally I had us going into the first week of June, but when I counted up the days I had two weeks extra.  Hooray for counting.  Everyone is squirrely (myself included).

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Two: Jonah and Sam had a great time (four days’ worth) in Beijing.  The rest of us survived without them and waited each day for their photos to trickle into Photostream.  Now Sam is trying to get back on Colorado time, while Jonah had no problem.  Oh, to be fifteen.

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Three: The lilacs and iris are blooming.  I managed to snag the landscapers at my neighbors’ house and got them to aerate my lawn for $10.  No appointment, no phone call.  Win-win.

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Four: We haven’t been as lucky with the computer repair people, for whom we waited all yesterday.  Anyone else having trouble with Windows 10?

Five: Jonah is looking for a job, diligently making the rounds of all the local businesses.  Moriah has expanded her dog walking business and is enjoying her well-gotten gains. Yesterday after ballet she bought herself a lemon bar and then told the rest of us about it in excruciating detail.  Owen earns extra money by mowing the lawn.  Anyone have a suggestion for a job for an 8-year old who needs to buy her own lemon bars?

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Six: I had the world’s worst run last week.  Well, that might be a slight exaggeration.  But everything bothered me: my new socks, the rock in my shoe, the waistband of my pants, the endless ballads that kept coming up Pandora no matter the station, the annoying podcast I switched to… Only the birds kept me going.  Look, goslings!

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Seven: I spent so much time trying to explain why Sam and Jonah’s flight flew through the arctic circle to get to China I finally bought a globe.  Now for two weeks, we’re going to cram geography and nature walks.  What’s left in your school year?

For more quick takes, check out Kelly!

 

SQT: Epiphany

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One: I rearranged the living room furniture for Epiphany.  Hooray!  The piano is back in the living room, but now there’s no room for the tall bookcase that holds the  phone charging station and the cookbooks.  This is what comes of the extra windows I demanded when the house was being built.  But I gotta say, I love windows.
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Two: And then I had this blank wall that was just crying for art and beauty.  The photo, by Frank Anello, was taken in Myanmar (Burma). It’s a Kachin mom and baby, and I love it.  I bought it at a fund-raiser for the refugee-support organization we volunteer with.

Three: Owen said to me the other day (right before he had to leave for his once a week school), “So, what are the benefits of micro loans?”  And my loving, motherly response was, “What, did you forget to do your economics homework over break?”  No, he genuinely wanted to know about micro loans and if we could start a micro loan program.

Do any of you have experience with international micro finance?  I don’t think we’re up for beginning our own international relief organization, but my kids are really excited about raising $500 for a micro loan organization.  Anyone have an experience with an organization that gives micro loans with success?

Four: Obviously my camera is working again.  The new phone had to be replaced, so after I reloaded all the things I hadn’t backed up onto new phone #1, I had to do it all again with #2.  #firstworldproblem

Five: I spend two days over New Year’s weekend in Des Moines, Iowa.  A friend and I met for a weekend of reflection and prayer.  We woke up on Sunday and saw Ben Carson’s campaign bus in the hotel parking lot, and I realized I had some items I wanted to discuss with him.  Alas, they pulled out just as we were going down for breakfast.

Six: But I found this awesome cheese shop in Des Moines and ate the world’s best grilled cheese sandwich (with a little rosemary ham and fig jam).

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(Somehow my photo has as much chocolate as cheese in it. I don’t know how that happened.  Must be the new camera…)

Seven: The Epiphany service was lovely.  And our church started a Wednesday night class for the season of Epiphany, “A Christian Ending to Life.”  I will be presenting a session about getting straight answers from the medical community about how much time we have and implications of treatment choices, and how to communicate our end of life wishes to our treatment team and families.  That shouldn’t take more than an hour, right?

For more Seven Quick Takes, go to This Ain’t the Lyceum.