skip the extra steps

I opened the velcro strip on the small catnip toy. I carefully filled the empty space with catnip, gently crushing the catnip just before it left my fingers. I thoughtfully spread the lightly broken catnip into the tiny areas of the animal shaped toy. I sealed the velcro strip thoroughly and repeatedly. I put the catnip toy in front of sweet, gentle Buttercup.

Buttercup snatched the toy and violently flipped it in the air. On the second toss, the entire catnip filling erupted with volcanic force. Catnip sprinkles decorated the bed, the floor and the cat.

The next day, I poured the catnip in a small pile directly on the cat’s blanket.

cat parenting

Buttercup and Westley are the first cats I’ve bottle raised. Consequently, they were nurtured like puppies. Either mother cats do something to teach litterbox behavior or my cats are brain damaged from their time in a ziploc bag. After using the litterbox, both of our cats scratch all the surfaces around their output, but never scratch the litter over the output. In case that sentence is too long, I will be less vague. Our cats don’t bury their poop and pee.

Since the cats like to use their litterbox when I am in the bathroom, I have watched the pointless routine repeatedly. Westley scratches the wall beside the litterbox. Then, he scratches the floor on the other side of the box. After doing this for a ridiculous length of time, he prances out of the bathroom like a peacock. Buttercup wastes the same amount of time, but her routine is to scratch the inside walls of the litterbox. Scratch a little on this wall, then hop to another wall, hop to another wall area and so on until she exhausts herself. There is lots of scratching and absolutely no litter is moved.

Yesterday, I decided I should start teaching the cats proper litterbox behavior by burying their poop. I rationalized that they would eventually understand that litter should cover their stinky stuff. I watched Westley do his silly scratching. Westley stepped out of the litterbox and I immediately used the litter scoop to cover everything he had left in the box. Westley stared at the litterbox. He looked at me. He looked at the box. He looked at me. He stepped back in the box and sniffed the area carefully. He dug his poop out and stomped out of the room with his poop proudly displayed atop the litter.

annotation bots

I like diagramming sentences. My teachers revisited diagramming year after year. That was during the dark ages when the information in textbooks wasn’t obsolete by the time the books made it to a classroom. My two youngest children have no idea how or why to diagram a sentence. There probably isn’t time for diagramming.

I like annotating. Well, I thought I liked annotating. Annotating, to me, is highlighting the sentences that stand out from the page. It is making a mark above words that you aren’t sure of, but which don’t matter enough to stop reading and look up the meaning until you finish that chapter. Annotating is responding to a character or the author in the margins of the book. There were two books that I read repeatedly in high school. I highlighted and wrote all over them as if I was having conversations with a friend. It was not required by my teachers. I did it because I wanted to do it. I no longer annotate my books. Now, I take a picture of a line I like and Instagram it or post the quote on Twitter or Facebook.

I like that the middle school teaches annotation. It should guide students to better comprehend what they are reading. I like that the students listen to the audio book while they annotate as a group. The school is trying to reach all kinds of learners. Still, something is not quite right. Students are sitting with a guide of what marks to make and where to make them. They are visually scanning text to complete an assignment. They aren’t getting lost in the stories and the characters. Books that should be making them think and feel are made as bland as worksheets.

My middle schooler insists that they are “supposed” to annotate as they read. I can’t convince her to read a chapter with a highlighter in hand for the sentences she likes, then go back to do the mandatory identification of literary devices and characters. It’s like trying to help with math homework. “My teacher doesn’t do it that way” is code for ‘I’m not going to cooperate.’

My older three children were readers. My youngest two are not readers. All of the children grew up with computers and video games. They all had cell phones. I don’t know the combination of causes that has led to the preference for YouTube videos of other people playing Minecraft over books. I know that the difference in my oldest children and my youngest children’s education and their attitudes about reading is palpable and it is most profound in my youngest child.

I refuse to stop trying to find that one book that makes reading come alive for these two. I will continue to try new things to make reading enjoyable. I don’t think annotating entire books as a class is helping make reading fun.

Winter in the South

Day One: Businesses started closing before the precipitation began to fall. Naysayers mock the fortitude of our collective character. Children play. Crockpots hum. Happiness and calm rule. One day of bad weather and then the Southern normalcy of sweater and a jacket weather will return. That’s what always happens.

Day Two: The entirety of the outdoors is glazed in ice. It is beautiful. Children’s attempts at snow angels and snowballs are met with frustrated confusion. Attempts to replicate the fun of snow on slippery ice results in bruises and scrapes. Whining and squabbling commence as the injured discover the horrors of ice includes bad Internet connectivity.

Day Three: Layers of snow cover the ice. The outdoors is a glass palace illuminated by a million prisms that distract from the bitterly frigid cold. Nothing this breathtakingly gorgeous could be bad. Could it? Sure, the winds are gusting and branches are falling, but if we appreciate nature’s art, the misery will end. Right?

Day Four: The world is a frozen and desolate wasteland. The cars are probably never going to start again after sitting unmoved for so many days. The food choices are dwindling and eating has become monotonous. The laundry and dish piles are hopeless. Things get dirty faster than they get cleaned.

Day Five: So, this is winter. The rest of the country experiences several months of ice and immobility. The children can do lessons online, however spotty the connection remains. There’s no reason to get out of pajamas. It is what it is.

small talk

We go out for adult evenings less often than Knoxville gets a good snowfall. That’s probably a confusing example, because if Knoxville gets ANY snow, we don’t even go out for the children’s entertainment. Bad example aside, Doug and I went out for a few hours Saturday evening. Doug’s primary job for the evening was to wear his juggling hat instead of his programming or dad hats. My job was to not get caught with the wine that I brought to the beer only venue.

Before the variety show began, Doug and I were introduced to one of the performers who is a local legend. I smiled, shook his hand and said nothing because I am a walking, talking, social snafu. The voice in my head was high pitched jibberish like SuperTween on giant pixy sticks. ‘Squee! So cool! What will he and Doug talk about? Doug’s soapboxes are so diverse. They might talk about automatic cars or music or poetry or local history.’ Doug is a social butterfly who can talk for hours with absolutely anyone. I zoned out all of the bar noises and listened for what was certain to be an entertaining conversation.

They discussed Irish vs Scottish surnames and their spellings.

Vaccinations don’t cause Autism

They don’t. Seriously. No matter what you read on a forum or heard from your Aunt, vaccinations do not cause Autism.

I have heard parents blame Autism on vaccines and metals and pollution and blah-blah-blah. I have known parents of Autistic children who had their children’s teeth with metal fillings pulled. Some parents put their Autistic children in hyperbaric chambers. Autistic children have been given blood transfusions. Parents have eliminated colors and gluten and meat from their Autistic children’s diets. I have spent two decades smiling and listening to their endless pseudo-science explanations about toxins and waves and whatever. At the same time, they never afford me such courtesy. I have been told repeatedly that I poison my children by having them immunized. All of those other parents still have Autistic children and I still have four neurotypical children and one Autistic child.

I’m done ignoring people who refuse to vaccinate. When only the people who are physically unable to vaccinate are unprotected, herd immunity acts as a fairly decent safety net. As more and more parents opt out because of something they heard or read or had a feeling about, that net falls to shreds. Without herd immunity, infants who are too young for vaccinations, the elderly and the immunocompromised are at risk. You know who else is at risk? Everyone.

Diseases that were nearly eradicated are returning because people aren’t vaccinating their children. Have you ever seen a polio patient who can’t survive outside their iron lung or one who is physically disabled and in constant pain? I have. Have you looked at all the ancient tiny gravestones with statues of lambs in your family cemetery? I have. Do you think our ancestors would vaccinate their surviving children to save them? I do.

Even if I believed that vaccines cause Autism (they don’t), I would never risk serious illness or death to change my child. Why are you more afraid of a disabled child than a dead child? Yes, I know it’s frustrating when your child has all of Apollo 13 memorized, but doesn’t know the months of the year. The years of tantrums, crawling under mattresses and screaming whenever a store uses their loudspeaker are exhausting for everyone. There is no joy in your child reading all of the Lord of the Rings books in one week but taking four hours to do one math worksheet.

Here’s a hard truth. All children are going to do things that are frustrating and exhausting. No child is going to be exactly what you dreamed of when you were expecting. This is not something that is limited to children with a diagnosis. Why are you willing to risk serious and preventable diseases to your child and others to avoid having a child who is different?

Do you know what you are going to someday realize? The dream you should have for your children is that they become who and what THEY want to be. Do you know the simplest thing you can do to make that happen? Vaccinate your children.

condiment priority

“We have chicken nuggets almost every day at the middle school.”
“Sweet! I can’t wait for middle school. Wait. Do you have bbq sauce?”
“No. We only have ketchup.”
“Am I allowed to bring my own bbq sauce?”

Dear Middle School, Please allow my child to carry a bottle of bbq sauce in his backpack. Signed, Epstein’s Mother