advice · education · husbands · motherhood · preschoolers · schools · speed-posts · transplant

School Matters: Who Knew the Earth Had a Foreskin? (from the Momplex Blog archives)

I am a writer, so people are often surprised to learn I skipped a grade in math. Maybe it’s not because I’m a writer that they’re surprised. Maybe it’s because I seem kind of dumb with numbers. In truth, I sort of am. It’s not so much that I’m naturally, intrinsically dumb with them. It’s just that muscles atrophy when you don’t use them. (I know my brain isn’t a muscle, but just go with it.) After two decades of me writing and editing for a living, the math part of my brain looks like this:


Just for reference, here is the writer side of my brain:


So, just to be clear, here is the whole thing:


(Guess where the art center in my brain is located?)

I have not needed my full gamut of math education nearly as much as my math teachers threatened I would—until now. But because of recent experiences in my life, I just want to warn all the little kids out there:  YOUR MATH TEACHER IS NOT LYING. YOU REALLY DO NEED TO PAY ATTENTION IN MATH CLASS, BECAUSE YOU REALLY ARE GOING TO NEED IT ALL.

The most important reason to retain it–the teachers don’t tell you this–is so that you will not look stupid when, later in life, your child asks you for homework help. I mean, what are you going to do when your fourth-grader is coming at you with questions like, “Which one of these is a rhombus?” and “Did I get the area of this triangle right?” And there you’ll be, hanging onto your shred of dignity, squinting over a Stove Top Stuffing box as you and your grade-skipping self struggle with mental math to make one-and-a-half times the suggested amount.  What? You’re going to sneak over to the iPad and whisper, “OK, Google…how to calculate the area of a triangle” right in front of her? No! You’ve got to prove your salt by knowing as much as she thinks you do. Don’t you know a 10-year-old girl is just one hormone-surge shy of deciding you’re the world’s biggest idiot?

If the math doesn’t kill you, the science will. Because someday, as God is my witness, your 5-year-old is going to demand answers. Like, is Pluto a planet or isn’t it? WELL, IS IT? And when you answer incorrectly, your daughter’s friend from the fourth grade is going to survey you with shriveled brow and an Elvis lip and say, “Um, Pluto used to be a planet.” (I wasn’t sure if she was correcting me or wiping me off her shoe.) God, I actually knew that one! I did! But she caught me off-guard!

But therein lies my point: As a parent, you’ve got to be ready to do things like name the planets, spell Potomac, and define a hypotenuse off the top of your head and even while cleaning pee off the base of the toilet. (Which is what I was doing during the Pluto debacle.) Your teachers are telling you that you need to remember this stuff because you DO. Total recall, people, or you’re going to screw up your children.

Which one is Tattooine?
Which one is Tattooine?

Tonight as I was getting my daughter ready for bed, I told her how embarrassed I was at her younger brother’s parent-teacher conference this morning:

“Out of the blue, do you know what he blurted? He said, ‘Someone in my family—I think my mom—said you were wrong about something even though you think you’re right.’”

I told her how I’d explained that he must have overheard a conversation about my daughter’s teacher. I mean, that teacher is the one who changed my daughter’s spelling of blond to blonde, which technically wasn’t correct, given the context and this one weird spelling rule that most people don’t know.

“But, geez, I just sounded ridiculous,” I told my daughter. “Because your brother then pointed at his teacher and said, ‘No, Mom, someone in our family said that about HER.'”

Turns out, it was my daughter. “Sorry, Mom,” she said, “but his teacher had taught him that at the end of the earth there’s something like lava.”

“Honey, she must have meant the center of the earth, which is pretty much like lava,” I said.

“I know, Mom, but she said end of the earth, and anyway, it’s not lava.”

Do you know what I said? I said, “Well, that’s just an easier way for a preschool teacher to explain that stuff to little kids. And I know it’s not lava, but it’s similar. It’s smegma.”

Yes, I seriously said smegma, as if the Earth is one big foreskin. No, I did not realize my mistake right away, not even within a minute. My excuse? This:


On a more serious note: Remember that I’m donating 80 percent of the profits from March sales of my book to the Restoring Hope Transplant House–a home away from home for transplant recipients and their families. Already own one? Recommend it to a friend, or better yet, buy some copies as gifts. 

humor · kindergarten · preschoolers · schools · sons

Why (Our) “Redshirting” Is None of Your Beeswax (from the Momplex Blog archives)

My son, now four, was born a week before his due date and three weeks before the academic year starts. I don’t work in education and we don’t put our infants in school in Wisconsin, but trust me, there’s good reason why I took note of those three weeks. They quickly became the rest of the world’s license to have an opinion–sometimes a flared-nostril one–about our family’s personal beeswax.

Having begrudgingly “Ferberized” our colicky firstborn when she was nearly nine months of age as well as breastfed her for a year after that, you’d think we’d be used to opinionated nostril-flarers. At least in those cases, everyone was calling a spade a spade. Nobody was suggesting our sleep-training was a crazed effort to get her rested up for a career as a triathlete. Nobody accused us of making her “cry it out” so she’d have lungs strong enough to contend in the Tour de France.

I want to be clear that those three weeks aren’t the only judgment-magnet we’ve had with our second-born. After all, we didn’t circumcise the kid. In Wisconsin, that’s as suspect as not owning a Packers onesie or, worse, not teaching him to say Lambeau before he could say mama. Again, at least with this issue, we’ve all been talking about the same thing: foreskin cheese, disease-susceptibility, locker rooms, and whatnot. There was no indication from anyone that we might be leaving him uncut in a crazed effort to reduce water-drag for a future in professional swimming.

But those three weeks? That little period of time that makes him eligible for kindergarten even if he’s not ready for it? Those make people delirious. My best guess is it’s partly because the stupid term for it, redshirting, which derives from the sports world. In sports terms, these days, it’s basically about holding a kid back so that he’ll be bigger and stronger than his classmates on the field, court, or diamond. A lot of people still think that’s all it can be about. “So, is your family, like, really big into sports?” people have asked us when they get wind that we might hold our kiddo back. Really? WE are those idiots you see walking around in the opposing team’s colors, unwittingly, at the supermarket while mobs of Packers or Brewers fans stock up on jarred cheese and beer.

Does this shirt belong to you?
Does this shirt belong to you?

Every time I read an article about redshirting, the sports thing comes up. And I am so flippin’ tarrrrrred of it. Redshirting–even the word makes me cringe–isn’t always about sports. In our family, and I would venture to say in many families, it’s very simply about not sending a kid to school before he’s ready. It’s about being told by all of the education professionals we’ve asked that, if there’s any question at all, we should err on the side of holding him back. It’s about being told by all of the parents we know who’ve made the same decision that, yes, they’re so happy they held off. It’s about knowing just two families who went the other direction and are glad they did–but who also felt in their hearts that their kiddos were ready. And it’s about knowing many more who didn’t hold off but wished they had. What would you do? Actually, don’t answer me that. Because I don’t care what you would do unless you’ve been there yourself. You hear me, nostril-flarers?

Our son was diagnosed when he was two and a half with a “significant developmental delay.” Which sounds very dramatic but is basically an exacting label needed in order to qualify for certain early childhood services. Actually, because he confused the speech-language pathologist and early childhood educator who came to assess him, he was referred to a neuropsychologist. The diagnosis, if you can call it that, was “quirky” and then “significant developmental delay” (by six or seven months, according to their best estimate).

Why is he delayed? Coulda been the chronic ear infections through his first year. Coulda been a processing disorder that will make itself known later. Maybe he just wasn’t digging the tester. Hell, we don’t know. Has he caught up? Not sure. What we do know is that we’re asking all the right people for their guidance–his preschool teachers, early childhood development specialists, and parents who’ve been there. Yet their advice comprises maybe half of why we’re probably redshirting.

The biggest reason is simply that we know him best. We are his parents. We care about him most. You have an opinion about our redshirting? Got flaring nostrils about it? That’s your problem. Those three weeks are ours to do with them what we see fit. Mind your own beeswax.