Sunday, September 26, 2010

Flash Back: Stomping Turtles

Yesterday I posted on Facebook that I had driven past a guy selling baby turtles out of the back of a truck. A couple of old friends warned me to keep my son away from the turtles. The story that prompted this admonition is now 4 years old. But it's pretty funny and I thought I'd share it here for those who didn't know Henry and I then.

When Henry was just a week past his 1st birthday, and had been walking for just a few days, I took him to the zoo. We went into the children's petting zoo where they had a very large turtle wandering around. Henry was fascinated by this turtle. He kept following it around while I spotted him to keep him steady on his new land legs. Except at one point, he lunged forward and stepped on a, ahem, rather delicate part of the turtle. The next day I was still so upset by the incident I posted about it on my parenting forum.

Kind of sill maybe, but bugging me 
Yesterday at the zoo, I think Henry stepped on a turtle's peni$. The turtle had extended it for whatever reason and as it started to walk away it became visible. Henry took a step toward it and stepped on it. The thing that's troubling me is that the peni$ looked a lot different after Henry stepped on it.
I feel really, really horrible about this. The petting zoo attendant saw it happen and didn't say anything. I was really close and trying to keep Henry from hurting the animals.
Anyway, there's nothing I can do about it, but I feel sick about it.
Not sure what I want to hear, I guess this is just a confession. =P
I was genuinely concerned about this poor turtle and my conscience was really troubling me.  The initial responses to my confession took me off guard.
-- LOL! Don't know what to say??? ETA Can you call the zoo and ask about it, to help you feel better and see if anything really happened?
-- Is it bad that I'm laughing so hard I can hardly type?
And so I responded.

I know it sounds funny, but if you'd seen that poor turtle's peni$. . . 
What if they tell me the turtle is irreperably damaged and in terrible pain? How do you know if a turtle is in pain? I mean, he didn't scream or anything when Henry stepped on him. . .
Maybe it would make me feel better to call.
But, oh my, do you think person answering the phone would think I was just a complete freak?
"Um, hi, yeah, I was there yesterday, and my toddler stepped on the petting zoo turtle's peni$. And the peni$ looked, ummmm, different after he stepped on it. And I, uh, googled "turtle genitalia" to get pictures of what a turtle peni$ should look like, and, uh, it did not look like that after my son stepped on it. So, um, I was wondering if the turtle is okay."
This, apparently, did not help my fellow forum goers stop laughing.
-- Stop! I think it's the mental image of a turtle walking around with his peni$ sticking out...
-- You just gave me my morning laugh! If it's bugging you, call. It's nice that you care so much:) 
-- LOL OMG I am laughing so hard. If the zoo attendant saw it occur and wasn't concerned then I would just let the zoo deal with the turtles peni$. I think they WOULD laugh at you if you called with your concerns about the turtle.LOL
-- I am finally home from work and can let myself ROFLOL. I have tears in my eyes. I do feel a little guilty for laughing at your predicament. And now a picture ! I just couldn't figure out in my mind how this happened. This is definately a memorable board moment. I am sure he has received treatment and good care from his vets.  
There were some who tried to console me through their laughter. 
-- Turtles (that I have been around) are capable of making sounds. I would expect if Henry had hurt his parts that you would have heard something. 
-- I don't think they would think you were a freak. They would think you were a caring person.
-- Zoos are very quick to give animals the veterinary care they need. If the turtle is injured, it's being cared for. And obviously Henry isn't aware of what he did, so even if you found out that he HAD hurt the animal, what good would that do? Would it make you feel better?
--I just can't help myself Jessica...ROFLOL
I do hope the turtle wasn't harmed, but if it's that easy for a toddler to inadvertently injure a turtle's pen*s, then the zoo should know better than to put them in the petting zoo!!

-- I'm really sorry. I know you feel bad, and I think your concern is very sweet. But you are responsible for a near miss with my bladder :)  

And then my personal favorite:
-- Are you sure the turtle just didn't have a bowel movement?
Um, yeah. I was very, very sure. I know what squished poo looks like.

And then, of course, there was the person with intimate knowledge of turtles who made the statement which caused the thread to take a fateful turn.
Turtles do not have penises. Both the male and female have a cloaca (opening in the tail); the male's is shaped differently and during ejaculation something does protrude a bit, but it's not something he'd be walking around with hanging out. 
Now, this woman is typically very knowledgeable on such topics. But I had to beg to differ with her on this one. I didn't want to have to go there, but I had to defend myself.

I beg to differ. I sent this to Kate via email, but here it is for anyone who may be interested.
[unfortunately the link is no longer active]
Scroll down to the pic of the turtle in his water dish. May not be a peni$ per se (sure doesn't look like one I"ve ever seen) but this is what I saw and what Henry stepped on. And he was definitely walking around with it hanging out.
Now, the bulbous things hanging out of the turtle in that one pic - that's what Henry stepped on. And they were flat and weird looking after he stepped on them. . .
ETA: I can't belive I am now responsible for bringing turtle p * r n to the board. -- hangs head in shame -- 
Our resident turtle expert graciously conceded the point. 
-- Yikes! My aquatic turtle is, alas, not well-endowed . . . LOL.
You want to see a picture too, don't you? I know you do. If you don't, scroll quickly because here it comes.

Yes, the reactions on the board were similar to yours.
-- I would have completely mistaken that thingie for a tail, if it were me!
-- that is absolutely unbelievable! The things that I never knew about turtles...
-- From that picture, things look very... loose inside. If that makes sense? I would guess that maybe things just... shifted and made it look different.
And the woman who suggested it was poo apologized for thinking I was that dense
-- My goodness, that definitely doesn't look like poo. --snort-- I'm not laughing at you, honest, I was just wondering.
And then someone did what we like to do in our culture. She blamed the victim.
-- Weird. That picture clarifies what happened, but I still believe that if the turtle is injured, keepers will notice and call in the zoo vets. At least when I volunteered at a zoo, that's how it worked. They are _very_ strict about the health of animals.

You know, he shouldn't be walking around with it hanging out, should he?* It almost makes me wonder if there was something wrong with the turtle to begin with.
* By "shouldn't" I mean in a physiological/behavioral sense, not a moral sense, of course. We all know that walking around with a penis hanging out violates modesty norms in North American human culture. The question is, what about turtle culture?

At this point the entire thread was a huge joke with ROFLOLing, --snort--ing, etc. My nickname on the board became "Mother of the Turtle Penis Stomper," and to this day, four years later, people still bring it up.

For those readers who are still concerned about the turtle, as far as I know he's fine. At the time, I decided just to trust in the excellent care I know the zoo staff provides for all of its animals. (Translation, I was a big chicken and decided not to call.) But I did return to the zoo about a week after the accident. The turtle was still in the petting zoo and apparently fine. At least I didn't notice any bandages or anything.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

How to Traumatize a 2-Year-Old: Our Trip to the Post Office

Periodically Helen and I get to have a "girl's day" while Ryan takes Henry fishing. Girl's day typically involves running errands, which may not seem as exciting as going fishing with daddy, but Helen seems to enjoy it. She likes to help me carry things and pay for things, and, I suppose it's just nice to have mommy's undivided attention.

I enjoy running errands with just one child, of course, because it is so much easier to get one child in and out (and in and out) of a car seat than to wrangle two children. At least theoretically. See, Helen has her own babies. Lots of them. We have a two baby limit for car trips and so her entourage varies from trip to trip. Today we took Bear and Seeping Baby. And since there were two empty car seats in the car (yes, I've already installed the baby's car seat), Bear and Seeping Baby each had to be strapped in to a car seat. And unstrapped when we arrived at the library. And restrapped ("Do the yeg straps too!!!!!") when we left the library. And unstrapped and restrapped and, well, you get the picture. I had plenty of time, and so I indulged her. I'm sure anyone watching me was either amused or bewildered by my behavior. I'm equally sure at least one childless twenty-something thought I was a complete lunatic.

Helen often "wears" her babies while we're out.
Here she is quite literally wearing Baby Joona, one of her favorite babies.

When we arrived at the post office I convinced her to leave the babies in the car because it would just be a quick stop. I struggled with this because, of course, I don't want to teach my daughter that it's okay to leave babies unattended in cars. I decided not to over think it.

To satisfy her need to be a big girl I handed her a small package containing a little dress I'm sending to a friend's baby girl. I told her that we were at the Post Office and that we would be sending the dress to Baby Emmie.

When we walked inside Helen asked, "What this place, mama?" I again explained this was the Post Office where we would send the dress to Baby Emmie. She said, "I no see Emmie." I realized that this whole concept of sending packages through the mail was completely foreign to her. So I explained, as simply as I could, that the Post Office is where the mailman works and that we would give the package to the man at the counter and that he would give it to the mailman who would put it on a truck and drive it to Baby Emmie's house. She seemed skeptical but became distracted by the display of cards and stamps.

When it was our turn to hand over our packages, I gave the clerk my other two packages and told Helen to turn over the dress. She clutched it tightly and glared at me. I assured her that the nice man would make sure the dress gets to Baby Emmie. She clung tighter and glared at him. He offered her a Beauty and the Beast post card in exchange for the package. (Little did he know that as the second child with a big brother he might have had better luck with a dinosaur post card or something.) She curtly said, "no," and turned her back on him.

At this point I realized that our cajoling was going to be fruitless, and  that we were going to have to do this "the hard way." I pried the package from her tiny fingers and handed it over. She sobbed pathetically while the man weighed and marked the package, and I paid the shipping while trying to console her. I assured her that Emmie would get the dress and promised that her mommy will take a picture of her and the dress when it gets there. I whisked her out to the car and distracted her with caring for Bear and Seeping Baby.

Who knew that learning about the U.S. Postal Service would be so traumatic?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Comfort Nursing

Elizabeth Pantley shared the following quote today on her Facebook page.

 "No one could give her such soothing and sensible consolation as this little three-month-old creature when he lay at her breast and she felt the movement of his lips and the snuffling of his tiny nose.” ~Leo Tolstoy
It resonated with me because it took me back to a time when holding and nursing my little one was the greatest comfort I could find in a devastatingly difficult time.

My little Helen was 10 months old when my 16 year old brother died by suicide. Needless to say this turned my entire world upside down. And through that first, most difficult week between Jared's death and his funeral, I was so blessed to have the constant warmth and snuggles of such a sweet little girl. I clung to her and nursed her through those first hours as we met with the detectives. I held her close that night as I cried rather than slept and she nursed sweetly through the night. I wore her close in the sling, my back aching, through the viewing. Her presence provided comfort not only for me, but for many others. But for me, she was my life line.

Her constant presence and constant need for my milk, far from being a burden in that difficult time, gave me a reason to get through it. When all of the activity died down and everyone went home, and I left my parents home to return to "normal life," it was my children that helped me get out of bed each day. Both of my children needed me, but for my little Helen I was irreplaceable. No one else could give her the milk she wanted and needed. And it was such an easy need to fill. I just had to sit or lay down and snuggle a bundle of joy.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

More of The Glorious Flight

As promised, here are some of Henry's pictures from his experiments with perspective:

From the ground, looking up.


Extreme close up

Self Portrait

He also decided to get creative all on his own today with flight based arts and crafts. For those of you who happen to know him, you know that this is extremely out of character. We created an art gallery to show daddy when he got home.

Here's a self portrait of him watching an orange glider and a purple helicopter fly through the sky. He signed his name in blue.

This one is of a spaceship blasting around the earth.

I love this three dimensional airplane he created with scissors glue and tape. Completely on his own. The piece on the bottom keeps the airplane flying straight.

Finally, this picture has nothing to do with The Glorious Flight or flying, but it sparked a funny story.

I was pointing out to him how the colors and subject matter of his family portrait are similar to those of Michelangelo's Holy Family (which was hanging in the hallway nearby). See the similarities? (Play along with me here. . .)

I went on to tell him that Michelangelo is a famous painter who has made many beautiful paintings and is one of my personal favorite artists. Henry responded with, "I think I may be an even better painter than he is!"

Nothing wrong with that boy's self esteem.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


We have officially started our Five in a Row (FIAR) curriculum this week with the book The Glorious Flight by Alice and Martin Provensen.

For those unfamiliar with FIAR, it is a storybook/unit based curriculum designed for use with 4 to 8 year olds. You read each book every day for five days and each day do a subject related lesson. For example, on Mondays you might do social studies, Tuesdays art, etc. The suggested lessons are simple and sweet, and the potential for expanding the curriculum is limitless.

So as I said, we started with The Glorious Flight. This is the story of Louis Bleriot, an early French aviator who designed, built, and flew his own planes.  After 8 years, 11 planes, and many mishaps, Bleriot became the first pilot to cross the English Channel from France to England in a glorious (and dangerous!) 37 minute flight.

The first time we read this story, neither Henry nor I were terribly thrilled by it. I thought it would be like pulling teeth to get him to sit through it even one more time. Today we read it for the third time, and something amazing has happened. We've been able to see and appreciate the richness of the story, language, and art of the book. Now, those who have been "rowing" for awhile will silently chuckle I'm sure. For that is the point of FIAR - delving deeply into one book to truly mine its riches.

We have come to love the unflappable Papa Bleriot and his family, and we have found much to treasure in this beautiful book.

Here are some of the things we've done and learned with this book. I'll try to break it out by subject.

Math and Science
We've spent a lot of time flying different kinds of paper airplanes, discussing which ones go the furthest and why. We've seen what shapes make better flyers, which glide best, which go the fastest, etc. These experiments led to a discussion of angles as I instructed Henry to launch a plane at a 45 degree angle and he asked what an angle is. So we got out paper and pencil, learned what an angle is, how a triangle has three angles, a square has four, etc. We learned about right angles, 180 degree angles, and 45 degree angles. Not too bad for not having a math curriculum!

We will supplement the science with The Way Things Work video on flight. As soon as I can get it from the library.

History and Social Studies
In addition to Louis Bleriot, we've learned about the Wright Brothers, Ruth Law, and Lt. Gail Halvorsen a.k.a. the Chocolate Pilot. We still have books to read about Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh and some other early pilots.

Through these books we've learned some geography. Henry now knows where France and England are on the map and that they are separated by the English Channel.  He's learned that people in France speak French. He knows where to find Chicago and New York City on the map and that Chicago and NYC are cities in the states of Illinois and New York.

We've learned lessons of perseverance and the importance of making reparations. We've learned how much can be learned from making mistakes.

One of the most "schooly" things I do with Henry is our "word of the day." This is simply a word, chosen from the book and usually a verb, that I write on our chalk board. The first time I did this I was amazed at how much he learned from this simple lesson. I never say a word about it. I wait for him to notice it. He'll either sound it out or ask me to read it for him. Then he'll point out what he notices about it. This week we've discussed the "silent e" that makes the "i" say it's name in the word glide. We reviewed the rule "when two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking" with sail. And we learned that "y" is sometimes a vowel with the word fly.

We learned about onomatopia and will review the concept with tomorrow's word of the day, CRASH!

My favorite language activity involved using the Lord Alfred Tennyson Poem, The Eagle. Henry loves it and I hope we'll both have it memorized by the end of the week. Here's the excerpt.

He clasps the crag with crooked hands; 
Close to the sun in lonely lands, 
Ringed with the azure world, he stands. 

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls; 
He watches from his mountain walls, 
And like a thunderbolt he falls. 

I looked for a good read aloud poem at the Institute for Excellence in Writing. I was simply looking for something that somehow related to flight in some way. I chose this poem before I had even read The Glorious Flight. So I was thrilled when I came across this passage in the book describing the first flight of Bleriot II:

"Like a great swan, the beautiful glider rises into the air . . .  . . . and shoots down into the river with a splash that frightens the fishes." 
We discussed how the images were similar and different and compared the language used by each author.

One of the lessons suggested in FIAR is a discussion on perspective. We talked about how some of the pictures are drawn looking up into the sky and others are drawn looking from the sky down on the village and people. I then gave Henry a camera and let him take some pictures from different perspectives. I'll get those up ASAP. Henry's favorite perspective was the "extreme close up!"

We haven't gotten to this lesson this week (though the discussion reparations would certainly fall here too). I looked up the patron saint of pilots and discovered St. Joseph of Cupertino, a.k.a. the Flying Friar.  We have The Reluctant Saint coming from Netflix so we can learn more about this fascinating man of God during family movie night. I'm hoping the story will be compelling enough that Henry will ignore the fact that it's in black and white. Otherwise, Ryan and I will watch it together and share the story with the kids afterward.

Overall, I have been pleasantly surprised by how much this curriculum has had to offer us - especially since it wasn't a book I was really looking forward to! Next week we'll "row" How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World. I'm expecting that one to be even more fun!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

One of my favorite children's illustrators

We've been reading a lot of books around here lately, and Helen has discovered a love for Nadine Bernard Westcott.

I first discovered Westcott when Henry was about Helens' age. I checked out Hello, Snow! from the library and absolutely fell in love with the joyful rhyme by Hope Vestergaard. With passages like "Hello, sock./ Good bye, toe./ Hold on, piggies --/ In you go!" this book captures the thrill of a young child playing in the snow. And Westcott's playful illustrations add immeasurably to the fun.

Westcott has also done her own series of books, Sing Along Stories, in which she takes a classic children's rhyme (Mary Had a Little Lamb, Yankee Doodle, Miss Mary Mack, etc.), expands it and illustrates it. Her illustrations are so full of life and movement and provide for endless conversations and enjoyment with young children.  My current favorite, and Helen's, is Skip to My Lou. In Westcott's take on the traditional tale, not only are the flies in the sugar bowl, but the cats have made a mess of the buttermilk, and the cows are in the kitchen making pancakes which the pigs are eating in the parlor. The entire farm is in chaos until the farmer and his wife are due to return in 15 minutes! 

Westcott is a genius and I thank her for the treasure she's given me to share with my children.

(Oh, and as a bonus, the simple text set to music is a great way to develop early reading skills!)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fall is in the Air!!!

Fall is absolutely, hands down, my favorite time of year. The infernal heat of summer transferring its intensity to the blazing leaves of the trees. Harvest festivals,  apple cider, farm field trips, pumpkin carving, cool mountain hikes, Halloween, Thanksgiving.  
One of my favorite fall events is the perfect trifecta that is All Hallowed's Eve, All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day. My son thinks there's nothing better than a holiday that allows him to hack into pumpkins, dress up in a scary costume, and stay up late to wander the neighborhoods collecting an enormous bag of candy
After all of that excitement, our family spends the next day in the cozier activity of baking bread. Pan de Muerto to be exact.  There's just something about baking bread. And baking bread in the shape of a skull is, apparently, kid nirvana. For me, I've found bread baking to be the perfect way to commemorate a holy day which, in our culture at least, is not widely celebrated. It's an all day activity, and each time we go back to the dough, my mind is brought back to the importance of the day.  It’s become one of my favorite fall traditions.  

Pan de Muerto 2009

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Finding Our Way

So tomorrow ends our first official week of homeschooling. While nothing has really changed, this has been a big emotional shift for me, and a bit of an emotional roller coaster. I've learned some important lessons about my son and about myself and about what is best for our family.
First, I've learned that boxed curriculum is not best for our family. Not even one component of a boxed curriculum such as the "Sing, Spell, Read and Write" program. It's just not a good fit for H1. We'll use parts of it - the music and maybe some of the games. But I don't think we're going to go through the lessons. It just doesn't feel "authentic," and he's learning so much from life, that I'm going to let it go.

What this week has really been is a lesson in trusting myself. It's so easy to get caught up in the hype and feel like I'm supposed to do this or that - have a curriculum, teach him phonics, have a strict school time every day, etc., etc. I have to keep reminding myself why we've chosen to homeschool and what I know about how kids learn. I believe in embedded learning opportunities and teachable moments. I believe in the world as a classroom. I believe it is okay if a kid isn't reading at age 5.

I also believe my kid is incredibly bright and I need to let go of the need to prove it by having him be able to read. Not all bright kids are early readers. In fact, many of them read much later than their peers. And so what? H1's intelligence is not about me. My job is to be the best teacher I can for him.

But I am not really an unschooler at heart, either. I personally need some structure and accountability or I will basically ignore my kids all day unless they're giving me no other choice. And that doesn't feel good either. I want to enjoy my children. I want to live life with them. That's one of the major reasons we want to homeschool. So I need something. Something to guide our interactions together.

I was talking with a fellow homeschooling mom today and she mentioned she was doing Five in a Row. This is a story book based curriculum. You read the same story for five days in a row and each day it provides an activity from a different subject area. I've looked into the curriculum before and it seems lovely. It feels warm. It feels real. It feels low pressure. I had dismissed it as too simple, but really, isn't there beauty in simplicity? It feels better to have a spring board into other activities and interests than to feel locked into a boring curriculum that is frustrating and really just a way to pass the time.

It's hard for me to explain, because it's mostly just a feeling I have, but when I imagine days spent learning with my children, the images that make me smile are curling up on the couch with a book, or reading in the grass outside, or wandering through the wilderness together marveling at nature. Going through workbooks, playing phonics games, sitting at a table doing drill of any kind just doesn't evoke warm fuzzies from me. I know it does for some people. I know some people are really turned on by a fresh workbook. And honestly, if I was teaching a different kid, I might be too. But I know that I cannot homeschool if every day is going to be a fight. If learning is going to be a fight, I'd rather my kid go fight with someone else and save the warm fuzzies for me.

So, at least for now, while they're still so young, I'm scrapping the formal lessons in favor of some fun and trusting that the learning will continue to come as it has. I will keep listening for God's whisperings in my heart as I raise the children he has entrusted to my care, and I will try to remember to ask for the graces of matrimony that are promised to us as we raise these children.