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Testing, Testing, 1-2-3

This week, the girl participates in her first annual testing session since we’ve been homeschooling.

It is less a test of her abilities and more a measure of my prowess as a teacher.

I’m a bit nervous. Possibly more than she is.

I actually had trouble sleeping, which is not unusual, but I don’t usually worry myself awake. Most nights, my brain spins stories or posts destined to never see an audience because I fell asleep halfway through.

Before we adopted, I didn’t understand when my friends bemoaned their children’s test anxiety. You’ve heard the phrase “pulling out my hair” in frustration…I’d never seen it in action until one of our little friends showed up with no eyebrows. He was anxious about testing and pulled them out, bit by bit. (There’s a disorder called trichotillomania, but they ruled that out and said it was just anxiety.)

I’ve always loved school and am a geek-tacular stay-up-all-night-crammer. My test grades were rarely less than stellar. (Not bragging—just explaining why I didn’t understand how tests might be scary. I just saw them as a challenge.)

Might not remember any of the material a week later, but as long as my grades were high, everyone seemed happy.

None of my peers ever talked about test-taking anxiety. On occasion, someone admitted being nervous about passing a certain test or achieving a certain grade, but no one was pulling out their eyelashes.

When my friends discussed their children’s test-taking anxiety , I thought it was hyperbole.

And then we adopted our kids.

The boy has no such thing as test-taking anxiety, mostly because he doesn’t care.

He likes good grades, mostly due to sibling competition. He doesn’t like it if his sister’s grades are higher than his, but he has an innate ability to both put in minimum effort and get fairly decent grades. In general, he displays an incredible lack of concern about school (the exception: history studies…the one time he has the legitimate ability to learn about war in a setting in which discussing weapons is taboo).

Our girl, on the other hand, wants to “get everything right the first time” and doesn’t understand why memorizing information requires so much effort on her part.

She should be able to assimilate it by osmosis, of course.

I’ve tried to help her understand that very few people can view text once and remember everything they need to know, but I am—thus far—unsuccessful.

Her expectation of perfection frustrates her. It often trips her up during testing, because the moment she sees a question she doesn’t know, she starts freaking out. She doesn’t necessarily have any external physical reaction, but she begins making mistakes and overlooking obvious answers.

Any information she might have known flies away like pigeons from a coop.

To prepare her for the upcoming annual test, I gave her a practice test 3 grade levels below her own. I thought it would bolster her confidence.

Instead, she stumbled over one question and spiraled from there. She ended up answering one-third of the answers incorrectly.

She KNEW all of the information.

I asked her the questions verbally and she answered all answers with 100% success.

But put that paper in front of her, and she freezes up.

Hoping to alleviate her fear, I explained the test doesn’t matter. The results are less about what she knows and more about highlighting anything I still need to teach to keep her on par with her peers. (Or, if I have my way, to get her ahead of her peers…but I don’t say this. No pressure. We’re still catching up. But I tell you, this kid is brilliant.)

I keep telling her I don’t know of anyone who takes standardized tests for a living.

None of it seems to sink in.

I am a bit concerned that the test results won’t be accurate because she may miss answers she truly knows after confronting a difficult question.

I’m fighting my own version of test anxiety,.

I want her to do well for her own sake. I want to show her that she can do well on a test. I’m hoping to help her overcome the stress induced by the public school system yearly testing.

I’m not on a witch hunt and don’t have anything against public schools but they put so much pressure on the kids with constant drilling, remedial groups before and after school, prizes for doing well and promises of ice cream for those who participated well in prep exercises.

One mother opted for her child not to take the test, which is allowed, and the school tried to fight her. Her daughter is extremely smart and would have done very well on the test, reflecting positively on the school and raising their scores.

I didn’t even know skipping the exam was an option until it was too late.

Because they drilled the importance of testing into my daughter, her already perfectionist personality can’t handle an error. Once she knows question is incorrect, it’s over.

I’m praying she does well, but to be honest, I have personally seen her growth this year and found that she is much smarter then they gave her credit for.

She just needed to hear things in a different way. Sometimes I have to explain things more than once, but once she gets it, she gets it.

I’d like to instill in her that the point of school is not to get good grades but to learn the information we need to be able to do well in life and to interact with others in a positive way.

Math is important. Most of us will never use trigonometry, but basic math, algebra, and geometry are all important for most careers.

Language is one of the most important subjects. You might be an amazing genius, but if you can’t communicate your ideas, no one will care.

History is her favorite subject and I’m so thankful for this. Learning about history and taking it to heart gives us compassion for others, helps us recognize dictators before they take over, and allows us to see the mistakes we as people have made in order to avoid repeating them.

Hubby and I also want to give our kids a love of science. Curiosity and willingness to problem-solve are key to lifelong learning and success.

We were fortunate to find a fabulous art class this year, in which she studies some of the masters and has an opportunity to try to paint in his or her style. She likes to sketch and color but has never shown much interest in painting until now. She’s very talented.

I was in grad school by the time I realized the point of school was not to cram one’s way to the highest grade possible, but to ingest and comprehend the greatest amount of information to then translate into real-life application.

Creativity, curiosity, problem-solving ability, and the knowledge that you can find the answer to pretty much any question if you look hard enough: this is what I want my daughter to learn.

Testing this week won’t even affect her by next week. The true test will be life.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to find out what she has learned and what she still needs to know to keep up with her age group…or surpass them.

But I know that this test will not measure her ability to live a happy, successful life.

For that, we will have to rely on the test of time.

 

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Homeschooling is Fabulous

I’ve been trying to catch up on writing about the craziness in our life. Let’s not leave out the good craziness. 

The kids started begging me to homeschool them almost as soon as they came to live with us. They spent some time in a foster home with homeschoolers, which prompted the begging.

That particular household embraced the philosophy that many of the minutes during a public school day are wasted.

I agree with the logic.

Kids in private school also deal with transitions and lost moments, but in a large public system, the problem is exponentially larger. Time is wasted in transitions, in moving between classrooms, waiting for everyone to get a drink of water at the fountain, waiting for everyone to finish toileting, waiting for everyone to finish lunch, waiting, waiting…

And waiting for at least 80 percent of the class to catch on to ideas.

Kids who “get it” more quickly must wait, bored…and even worse, the child who might understand with some one-on-one attention is left further and further behind.

At least in the U.S., I don’t see a viable solution within the public school system (especially for the child who misses the first step and struggles to climb the second step as his classmates sprint up steps four, five and six).

It’s not a “bad” system for most kids. It’s the best possible education for a grand spectrum of children, targeting the widest possible swath of average kids.

I agree that one-on-one attention can be better, but I didn’t particularly agree with the homeschooling philosophy of the family with whom they stayed.

The mother informed me that her kids (spanning elementary, middle and high school grades) were almost always finished with school in two hours per day. I imagine this could be possible for the lower grades, but homeschool done well in upper grades can’t be finished in a couple hours per day.

I’m no inexperienced snob…our family was one of the first in our area to school children at home (although each of us spent at least two years in either public or private school as well). At that time, the choice to homeschool was unpopular with the school system, county officials and even our church. My mom ensured our education was stellar—and it definitely took more than two hours per day.

All that in a nutshell: Public school wastes tons of time and leaves slower children behind. Homeschool can be a great alternative IF—and only if—done properly.

Sorry, I’m soapboxing. I digress.

Because of their need to learn how to integrate with society, we agreed with counselors and school administration that public school was the best beginning solution for our two.

However, Hubby and I promised them we’d consider home school when they successfully completed elementary school.

Fifth grade finished last year. We decided to take the plunge.

The school had me convinced that our girl required special needs support in math and reading. I had mild concerns about my ability to give her what she needs, but reasoned that I could learn anything necessary to help her.

We purchased the 5th grade math curriculum and completed it over the summer. The ease with which she moved through the program surprised me, but we weren’t studying other subjects.

When we began grade 6 in September, I expected she’d struggle. In some ways, this was true; if she considered a concept difficult, she gave up easily. We worked together and she began to realize that difficult math problems became easier once she learned the strategy. As long as she followed the strategy we put in place, she had almost no trouble.

Finally, I convinced her that the size of the number wasn’t an issue as long as she followed the math strategy (by requiring her to complete a long division problem involving a ten-digit number).

She stopped hating math.

Her handwriting improved.

She slowed her reading, decoding instead of skipping unknown words.

Quoting The Help, I informed Hubby that he is smart, kind and important.

Grinning wildly, she corrected my grammar.

She loves finding facts I don’t already know.

She is bright. She is talented. She is fabulous.

Although we wish he didn’t have to be at the treatment center, our son’s absence has allowed me to spend twice as much time with our daughter, helping her finally catch up academically (due in part to their time in foster care, she’s two years behind).

In December, we completed the core subjects for grade 6. We started grade 7 in January. As long as we stay on task, we should be able to complete 7th by June.

School is cool.

 

The Doll, Part 2

Continued from Chapter One.

First part of the second chapter.  I’m submitting the book idea at the end of the month, so if you have editorial commentary, now’s your chance.:)  
Summary: Colleen, adopted through foster care with her brother, dreams of finding her birth family and learning they are royalty. She hates chores and feels displaced by her adoptive parents’ pregnancy. She wishes her life were different, the life of a princess. A gift from her grandfather might make her wish reality.

Two

Grandpa is late.

 

He’s never late.

 

Did he forget?

 

How could he forget my birthday?

 

My grandpa is amazing. We connect. He understands me. He’s always understood me.

 

In one of my earliest memories, I hold the dash of his beat-up diesel truck as we bounce across the cow pastures to check on new calves. The afternoon wind pushes through the cab, warm and buffeting. I’m small enough that I can just see over the hood as I stand in the cab. Gold streaks the sky, edging the clouds, as we look for new babies.

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Photo Credit: Dan Hatton

Soon, in the blue dusk, we find the big girl with her fuzzy little clone tripping along behind. He coaxes her to follow us back to the paddock. I clamber up to watch out the back window as we drive slowly across the field. The calf follows his mother, head bobbing. The vinyl seat pattern creates basket-weave on my bare shins, the rolled seams pressing into my bones. Hours later, in my sleeping bag on the couch, I think I can still feel them.

 

Now that I’m grown, I realize all those cute little calves ended up as filet mignon on some rich guy’s plate in a fancy restaurant with napkins you can’t blow your nose on. Back then, though, I just knew I was helping Grandpa, and I loved it. His little sidekick.

 

Mom catches me peeking out the window. “Grandpa’s on his way. He called from a rest stop a few hours out. He had a flat and had to change it.” She sighs. “One of these days, we’ll talk him into getting a cell phone.”

 

I roll my eyes. This is a conversation Grandpa and I have often. He thinks cell phones are unnecessary. Last week, I said phones attached to a wall are constricting, clunky and old-fashioned. “Constricting” is one of my favorite words. Sounds like a snake, coiled up and squeezing me to death. Sort of like the curly phone cord. I told him we could talk almost face-to-face if he would agree to a phone with a screen.

 

“What? And then you’ll see how my hair sticks up. I need a haircut. You wouldn’t believe it. And what if I forget to wipe my mouth after dinner? You’ll see the food on my face. No. Besides, I’m almost eighty. This old-fashioned clanky phone is just fine for me.”

 

I consider correcting him, but he’s probably forgotten to replace his hearing aid battery again. It’s pointless. Mom says he doesn’t forget; he just decides it’s easier to ignore what he doesn’t want to hear if we think the hearing aids aren’t working.

 

Hovering over the snack table, I inhale the scent of vanilla cupcakes with buttercream icing. My favorite. Cupcakes used to be for little kids, but all my friends like this show about a cupcake shop in the city. The owners come up with unbelievable flavors and even group the cupcakes together to recreate famous paintings. Last week they did Starry Night and something by Monet.

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Photo Credit: A. Cook

My cupcakes aren’t that fabulous, but my mom did manage to talk the bakery into grouping them to look like a big daisy. It wasn’t that hard. Just put the yellow in the middle and white on the outside. A baby could do it. I talked her into buying some orange sprinkles, then shook them over the yellow cupcakes to make the flower look little more artistic. Kevin wanted a cake shaped like a torpedo, but it would have cost a fortune. Mom talked him into getting an ice cream cake with a picture of the Blue Angels flight squad instead.  

 

Our weird doorbell has been ringing all morning. Kevin’s friends are all showing up early because he sent out a picture of the new prize Fender. If that thing duh-BONG-bongs one more time in the next ten minutes, I swear I’ll go tear it out of the wall. I don’t know why we have to have such a stupid sounding bell. All my friends’ houses have the regular ding-dong style, except Emma’s. Hers plays Bach or Beethoven or something because her dad’s a composer for the movies. It’s actually pretty cool. Not like duh-BONG-bong.

 

A loud crash sounds from upstairs. Mom heaves herself up to the third step, then stops, hanging on the stair railing and panting. “KEVIN!” she squalls, “GET DOWN HERE!” His face, topped by wild spikes of brown and purple hair, appears at the head of the stairs. She blinks at him.

 

“First, explain the crash. Second, what in the world did you do to your hair?”

 

He grins. “Sorry, mom. Robert fell out of the chair.”

 

She raises an eyebrow. “Fell?”

 

“Well,” he shrugs, “he was trying to see how many times he could spin in thirty seconds. We were timing him. I guess the centrifugal force knocked him out of the seat.”

 

“Ah, well, tell him to find some centripetal force or he’s going to find a place to science himself out of a chair outside.” Her foot hovered over the second step, then she turned back to him. “Wait. You didn’t answer my other question. What have you done to your hair? Please tell me it isn’t permanent.”

 

He grinned, that wide, half-cocked smile he uses on adults. He thinks it’s disarming. Most of the time, it works. “Oh, that. Uh, no, it’s not permanent. It’s going to turn clear pretty soon.”

 

I can almost see mom’s mental wheels spinning. “Turn clear…is that one of the glue sticks you’re using for the science project presentation?”

 

She bought him a bunch of different glue sticks that start out purple and turn clear as they dry. He wants to document the color change, drying time and explain the science behind stuff that dries a different color. Sounds stupid to me, but it’s his project.

 

His grin widens. “Yep. Pretty cool, right? We took it out of the tube and squished it around until we could use it for hair gel. So we can start a rock band in style. Isn’t it amazing? Can I get some real purple hair dye?”

 

Mom rolls her eyes and slithers back down the railing until she stands on the hardwood floor of

the hall. She sucks in a breath, then hisses. I don’t know how she’s going to survive until her due date. I don’t even know what they were thinking. They already have us.

 

She looks back up at my brother, still hovering at the top of the steps. “If you pull your Spanish grade up to a B, I’ll consider it.”

 

Kevin could ace Spanish if he turned in his homework. He actually does it, then leaves it at home. I don’t know what his problem is. I’ve never told mom, though. It’s not my business. And he doesn’t tell her that sometimes I wear eye shadow at school, so. Fair’s fair.

 

Five minutes later, the doorbell sounds again. Six boys tumble down the staircase, trying to be the first to open it. When Robert pulls the door back and gapes at the front porch, I realize they must have been looking out the upstairs window. I see a sleek white sedan backing out of our driveway. It’s the car Emma’s mom drives. I guess she’s not staying.

 

Sure enough, my beautiful friend waits on the porch. Empty-handed. I wonder why she didn’t bring me a present. I push Robert out of the way and pull the door wide.

 

“Finally! I have no one to talk to. You wouldn’t believe the morning I had. Mom made me get up and clean the bathroom. On my birthday,” I emphasize, grabbing her hand and dragging her past the group of ogling trolls.

 

“Did your mom make cookies? Or put out any pre-birthday cupcakes?” Emma asks, always ready for sugar. Flashing her perfect, pearly teeth, she waves at Robert as we head to my room. I think people expect rich, beautiful Emma to be a snob, but she’s nice to everyone, even nerdy boys.

 

If only I had her life…

 

Among all the other ways her life is better than mine, Emma already had her teeth fixed. She said her dad paid “out of pocket” so she could get braces early, and they weren’t the silver metal-mouth things the rest of us have. Or will have. Mom said our insurance won’t pay for the braces yet because I still have baby molars that refuse to fall out. Emma’s parents didn’t wait for insurance. She had extractions and a bunch of stuff done as soon as the orthodontist said it was okay. Then they gave her the braces you could barely see.

 

My teeth stick out like a donkey’s. Mom says it’s not that bad, but she doesn’t spend hours in the mirror looking at them. And one of my teeth is turned sideways. It’s horrible.

 

The orthodontist told me it’s no big deal, but he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I know everyone can see it. I don’t smile for pictures anymore unless Mom forces me with threats of dismemberment.

 

“Is your grandfather here yet?” Emma loves my Grandpa. We all do. He tells amazing stories and always brings interesting gifts. The last time he visited, he gave me a book of princess tales. This might not sound that great to you, but I love to read AND the book was almost a hundred years old. It belonged to my great grandmother, the one who gave me my name. She died a year after Kevin and I arrived.

 

Inside the front cover, she’d written her name in perfect cursive. My grandmother’s name appears below it. He never gave it to my mother, even after my grandmother died. I’m not exactly sure why, but it makes sense to me. He probably recognized she has no imagination. I wrote my name under their names, and now the cover says, “Colleen Elizabeth” three times, in three different girls’ handwriting, because it was also my grandmother’s name. Three times, like a magic spell.

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Photo Credit: Anne-Lise Heinrichs

 

“Colleen.” Emma is wrinkling her nose. “What is that smell?”

 

Floating under the surface of my memories, I hadn’t even noticed. Now, a definite odor permeated my room. I narrowed my eyes at the tendrils of smoke reaching under my door. “Hold your breath.” I pull on the handle to find one of my brother’s homemade stink bombs smoldering by my door.

 

“Mommmmmm!” I can’t believe he did this. Again.

 

“MOMMMMMMM!” no answer.

 

Dad pokes his head out of their doorway, blinking. He must have worked late last night. “What are you screaming about, Colleen—” he stops, staring at the stink bomb. “Oh.”

 

Pulling his old green terrycloth robe on over his t-shirt and plaid pajama pants, he staggers to Kevin’s door. The room is empty.

 

“I’ll be back,” he says, “with air freshener. Close your door and stuff a towel under the crack. I might also kill your brother. If your mom asks about his body, you know nothing.” He winks and saunters down the hall.

 

Emma stares at me, wide-eyed. “Plaid. Is your dad okay?”

 

She’s spent the night enough to know that his pajama pants tend to correspond with his mood. Flannels sporting happy faces, penguins or a square sponge in short pants mean he’s had a really good day. He even has a pair with CELEBRATE! plastered all over them. He saves those for birthdays and work promotions.

 

“I think he’s just tired. He’s been working a lot lately,” I say, a little annoyed that she noticed before I did. Come to think of it, he’s been wearing plaid a lot lately.
I think I’ll start doing it, too. Then maybe they’ll realize how unhappy I am. I could just get a bunch of black pajamas and wait for mom to ask how I’m feeling. If she even sees them. She’s so obsessed with this new baby growing in her belly, she barely notices me.

 

 

The Globe

My response to Writing 101 Assignment, Day 4– be inspired by a picture. Sourced from Unsplash, no photo credit listed.

A Globe where I reside

My globe is fragile.

I live inside, among the green. I peer out at the world around me, held by a force I do not always understand. I look past the thin blue line to the infinite space beyond.

I try not to be concerned about what will happen if something collides with my globe. How we will live if the supply of water is not replenished. And yet, it is.

Unseen eyes follow my movements around the globe. I think I see a face in the sky, feel the hands holding us above destruction below, protective.

What choices should we make to ensure the survival of our generation, and the next? What if we allow another colony of ants to join us, only to find they are bigger, stronger. Should we trust them? They speak of peace, but I worry.

My globe is fragile.

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