Monday, November 01, 2010

The Beginning of a School Boy's Adventures

This morning I'm sitting at my sunroom window at the computer watching my second child wait for the bus at the end of our long driveway.

After homeschooling him until the age of ten years, we've come to the conclusion that this year school might be a better option for us.

Last week, his first week, I asked him if he wanted me to wait at the end of the driveway with him.  He did.

Today, the first day of his second week, he said, "No thanks, Mom."


I watch him wait as I click around my keyboard.  On the odd occasion he looks back at the house.  Mostly he doesn't though.  Sometimes he hides behind a tree.  I wonder what he's thinking or pretending.

Nevertheless, he's clearly busy thinking his own thoughts and anticipating his own day.  When the bus arrives he gets on and goes quickly to his seat with no thought to look back at his home.  I know that he is more concerned about whether his friend Mitchel will be on the bus this morning and what they will do at school today.

I could not have wished for a better First Teacher for him.  She's not only the 5/6 teacher, she's also the theatre arts specialist in the school.  My one kid who is tremendously shy one-on-one but loves stage performance landed the teacher of a lifetime.  It carries the same feeling that I had when I was a little girl, reading Cinderella, finding out that the Fairy Godmother shows up to make sure all is well.  Pure relief.  As a matter fact when she was first talking to him about the class, I stood out in the hallway and almost wept with tears of relief and joy.

School has so much potential for him and so many opportunities.  I really want it to be great and I really want him to love and revel in each and every experience. I know if anyone can help it be great, Mrs. Dumais can.

So, it's all as it should be.  I feel like I've done what I've supposed to do.  The time is right for him to go. He's secure enough not to worry about home anymore.

For a long time it wasn't that way.  Sick kids like to be at home. It's their safe place. It was the place he wanted to be most of all.

It's been a long time since he's been 'a sick kid' though. (Knock on wood.)

As a result, his focus is going outward now.  I am scared he will get sick out there again but I don't tell him that.  I remind him to wash his hands lots and have fun.  I'm guessing he doesn't need me to remind him to do the latter.  Really, I keep telling myself, he'll be fine.  If he was going to get sick, I think I would have seen whispers of it in his first week.  But I didn't see anything.  Really.

It all began this year because, at the age of ten, he's finally sleeping in his own bed.  Honestly, I think it only happened because his five year old brother decided to sleep in the new bunkbed set I put together upstairs for them, and he didn't want to be overshot by a little kid.  He's always had his own bed.  He's just never wanted to sleep in it.  It's the 'safe' thing again, I think.  And it was for me too.

When he was sick, if his temperature suddenly skyrocketed in the middle of the night, the heat coming off him would wake me and I could make sure to wipe him down with a damp cloth, at least keeping him in the 'safe' range.  If he was in another room, I was always afraid I wouldn't know, he would skyrocket, begin seizing and die alone.  These are the thoughts that go through the head of a mother with a 'sick kid'.

For the last eight years on his special diet he hasn't had a fever.  But his first three years of life, it was a case of being constantly vigilant, and performing our 'wiping ceremony', sometimes several nights a week.  It makes fear sit in a mother's gut like slab of concrete with spikes sticking out of it.  It does erode with time... but it takes a while.  Apparently it's the same for 'sick kids' so I didn't want to force him to be alone at night if he wasn't emotionally 'ready'.

So all of a sudden he's ready, to conquer the whole world, it seems to me.  I know I have to let him go.

He's bright, clever, witty, good at school and the kind of kid who, despite a couple of minor ticks, other kids think is really cool and want to be around.

My final, almost overwhelming feeling as I watch the bus disappear beyond the treeline is that my chest will explode with pride and excitement.  He is on his way toward a new adventure and loving every minute of it.  After years of feeling like I didn't have a clue, it brings tears to my eyes to see I've done right by him.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Idi-Odyssey: Stage Left!

One of the parents in our homeschool group decided to get an acting class/troupe together for our kids.  It was a lot of work for her and my hat's off.  I don't think I could've done it.  I'm sure I'd have been spitting nails half way through.  It's not easy to co-ordinate classes, a show, multiple families and more PLUS she works full time.  So yup, I've got a new source of inspiration. ;)

It was a great experience for us but as with all experiences, not without its rough spots.  As usual, I'm glad we did it.  After all, nothing prepares us for life, like life experience. :)

My son can tend to stutter a bit and my daughter was hating the experience.

The instructor, who is a professional director, gave us some good information/advice and we put it to use when we were practising at home and helped to psychologically prepare the kids.

And what an invaluable experience it has been!

Here's the overview of the play:

Homers epic poem, The Odyssey, is the basis for this fun, yet educational play packed with nothing but silliness!  Set off on an entirely new journey with four students of assorted personalities — jock, nerd, cheerleader and Goth — as they experience the strangest review session led by a mysterious and strict tutor, Dr. Hamilton.  Odyssey characters come alive onstage in the wackiest of ways — the poet Homer is compared to Homer Simpson, Hermes is an air-head UPS delivery person and the Lotus Eaters are now the Lettuce Eaters!  The God of the Sea blows a fierce wind that wreaks havoc on Odysseuss ship...  and also just plain reeks (his niece Athena gives him a few Tic Tacs for the fish breath).  This romp still stays true to the original journeys but in a comedic, contemporary way, with the students even becoming intertwined in some of the episodes.  After Odysseuss return home, Dr. Hamilton retires for the day, leaving the students engrossed in their reading.  One things for sure, this unforgettable retelling will help your students forever remember elements of this timeless classic while also evoking epic laughter! 

I must say, it really is quite a good play.  I enjoyed it enormously and of course, saw it several times.  I think I blew over $100 on tickets.  No, parents don't get in free. It just wouldn't be professional. :D

The children began building their team and skills in September.  They began practising the play itself around January.  In the last two weeks, they put on six performances during the London, Ontario Fringe Festival.  No, this was no one show deal.  It was like being a real actor on a real stage performing multiple times for multiple audiences.  Cool.

My 12 year old daughter played one of the main roles, the cheerleader... and hated almost every minute of it.  There was nothing she liked about it.  The process, the social activity, the fun... None of it created the least spark of interest for her.

Still, she sucked it up and did a good-job-no-matter-what.

I'm always preaching to the kids, "No matter what you do, even if you hate it, make it the best experience for yourself that you can.  Learn EVERYTHING you can from it.  Keep in mind, once it's over, it over. 

I never think they're listening when I say that.  It must have sunk in though because she did a FABULOUS job and I'm tremendously proud of her.

The compliments were still coming in an hour after the last show. People could not believe that she hated it.   And with a main role that was on stage for the whole play, it was no mean feat to expect of a 12 year old.

"But you were so GOOD??!! How could you have hated it and still been so good?!!  How old are you? etc." is how they would respond.

So kudos to her. The confidence and skill she has built is amazing. Let's face it, it's easy to do a good job if you like something. It's really tough to do a good job... over and over... when you hate it. We're really, really proud of her!

My ten year old son loved every minute of it and is feeling very mixed now that it's over.  He loved his role, loved the process, loved everything.  He doesn't care to talk to people one-on-one but we've known he likes stage performing since he was four when he had to do a couple of solo dance performances.  He doesn't care a whit about the compliments afterward.  He generally puts up with the compliments them BUT really for him it's all about the process and the show.  Being on stage seems to feed something in him.  He, of course, can hardly wait to get back up there again.

Usually, as I said, he doesn't like talking to people after the show.  He gets very self-conscious and appears somewhat embarrassed.  However, after these shows were over, one of his favourite things was talking to strangers and telling them that he was "The Nanny". He absolutely *adored* the astonished looks on
their faces... since he's normally in army fatigues after the show.

"I'd never have known she was a BOY!" is what they would usually shriek... and then laugh madly and say, "You were AWESOME! You were one of my favourites! You were SO FUNNY!"

There was a little bit of luck involved there, as he was privileged enough to land a bit of a cameo role.

One of my favourite parts was near the end, sitting at the kitchen table rehearsing, when he said, "Mom! It's like I'm really turning into Eurycleia when we do this!"  See what I mean?  He internalized this stuff on some level... and enjoys going through the process to get there.

A couple of times, people said to me, "So this is a homeschool group, eh?" And would nod in a way that made me think... Aha... they're processing good things about homeschoolers/ing. So that was pretty cool too.

As always, there were some rough spots.  You can't put a group of humans together every week for months and not have someone's feelings get hurt.  They managed to get through it, which may have been one of the more important lessons for some of them.

Our big lesson was not to attend any social events for at least two weeks or maybe the month before a show.  We almost got glutened twice.  Both times were completely unforeseen.

First, we went to a party and I thought bringing cake would be enough.  But there was candy at the party too.  So my 12-year-old, as anyone with a pubescent-food-sensitive-kid knows, has hit that stage where she almost HATES being different.  And will punish her body for it when she hits those irrational moments.  Usually, those moments occur when she's psychologically unprepared to be strong about her food choices.

So as she stood with the other kids around the table watching them shovel this stuff into their mouths, she suddenly grabbed one, unwrapped it and shoved it into her mouth.

Of course I ran over and told her to take it out of her mouth and about how she has responsibilities to meet with an upcoming set of performances, nevermind the upcoming trip to Canada's Wonderland for our family and our visiting guest from France.  We sweated it out for the next 48 hours waiting for gut pain or something to set in.  We got lucky.  She was fine.

Then, just before the third of the six shows began, one of the cast member's Mom's decided to bring a 'nice surprise' for the kids.



First of all.  Gluten.  The potential hospitalizer.

Second of all. Sugar. The sleep disturber cum brain fart contributor.

And we *really* don't want those happening when there are no back up actors.

Let me add that there was an after-party scheduled after the last show.  One of the parents was kind enough to invite everyone to her house after the last show.  The kids knew that the treats would eventually come.  So I really hadn't expected any junk food to show up before the end of the last show.

I was completely unprepared.  And of course, so were the kids.

Back when I was competing in sports. For at least a week before the event, I made sure to eat clean.  No junk.  No nothing that wasn't absolutely healthy.  DEFINITELY not during competition.  When you've been training all year for a three day event, you just didn't screw it up by eating wrong.  So now, in adulthood, this way of thinking about 'performance periods' is second nature.  Sometimes I forget that other people don't really know how much the chemistry of this stuff can bring a body/brain down.  What can I say?  I'm an idiot.

Worse, the kids were completely unprepared psychologically.  All I could think of was the candy incident that occured recently.  A cupcake mistake, even if only one bite that was immediately spit out, would end up with a missed performance for sure due to pain.  We'd be lucky to avoid the hospital.  So of course, I was in an absolute tizzy!

I was tempted to run out and buy them some kind of equivalent junk but then thought, "What?  And possibly ruin their chance of the best performance ever because their sleep has been messed up with sugar... knowing they have three more performances to get through?

No, I thought, I want my kids to learn that when they have to be in top form, they don't fill their bodies with junk half way through.  No matter what anyone else does.

You know... that whole 'If somebody else jumps off a bridge...' scenario that all of our mothers taught us. ;D   That day I relayed the message down through the ranks to the next generation.

Luckily, one of the kids in the cast walked by.  I grabbed him and asked him to send my two out so I could talk to them.  They came.  We talked.  I gave the the bridge message. They were prepared to have to watch the other kids eat cake while they had none. Phew.

By the skin of our teeth, the fourth show was not placed at risk.

One of the saving graces for us was that there were possibly three other kids in the cast who couldn't eat them either.  And my kids, if nothing else, will not leave anyone out to founder.  They'll stand beside them and go without, even if it's something they can have, so the other child won't have to suffer alone.  They do it quite bravely and willingly actually.  I think maybe it's because they've been left out so often that they know how crummy it feels.  And how much worse it is when you're suffering alone.

So after that, we had an extra long talk about how, whenever people gather, there's probably someone who's going to want to bring junk food into the picture, and how they're getting old enough now that they're going to have to just remember to be psychologically prepared for it to happen at any moment.

As usual, we talked about how people just don't get it.  None of the other parents, I'm sure, realized that those cupcakes might have meant the loss of one, for sure, and possibly two of their cast members for at least one of the performances.

Shrug.  What can I do?  I talk about healthy diet until I'm blue in the face.  Some people love me for it, some people hate me for it.  No cupcakes for kids is not exactly going to win me any popularity votes with most people, I know.  But then I'm not in this parenting or the health game to be popular.  I'm just there to do the job and do it right.  Anyone can tell you, I can unsell something as fast as I can sell it if someone gives me the least bit of an idea that they shouldn't be consuming it.

So lots of great skills and lessons learned.  I'd do it all again if I could.  My son would too, of course.  My daughter...  well...

She said, "The show's over." And proceeded to take a bite out of her long-awaited gluten free cupcake. ;)

Photographic credits:  Robin Saylor (Homeschooling Mom and Photographer Extraordinaire)