Observations From the First Week of School

Aug 28, 2020

Up until the moment I was hugging my kids goodbye and telling them to have a good day!, I half expected  the school district to say, "We're sorry, but school will not be able to begin in-person this term." 

But then, the school doors were closing behind them,  and I was walking back to my car with a somewhat bewildered expression on my face. I may have been experiencing a mild case of shock. It had been over five months since they had set foot inside a school, but by the looks of it, they were going to get at least one day before anything drastic happened.

And now, here we are at the end of the week, having completed four very successful in-person days and one semi-successful virtual day, and I couldn't be happier with the way things have gone so far.

Things feel both familiar and wildly different, and consequently my awareness of everything (mostly good) seems to be heightened.

A few observations:

  • There is no quiet like that of an almost-empty house on a weekday afternoon.
  • Junior high can make a person happy. 

  • Paper bag lunches are the only way to go. 
  • A 6-year-old cannot be expected to close the house or garage doors if he has to run back for his water bottle. Don't trust his assurances.
  • It is fun to walk to the bus stop on a summer morning.

  • A three-year-old misses his "kids."
  • Trying new things builds confidence.
  • Not chauffeuring kids to and from school feels amazing.
  • Living close to the junior high and bus stop is magical.
  • Masks are stifling at recess but not so bad otherwise.
  • Friendships are resilient and outlast a pandemic.

  • A backpack is very heavy if you forget your mask and then have to run back home and then back to school before the bell rings.
  • Teachers who have the foresight to plan ahead for an uncertain future are true heroes.
  • Spying a certain 7th-grader walking home from school is delightful.

  • The wonder of a popsicle at the end of a long, hot day cannot be overstated. 
  • Game after game of Memory makes for a looooooong morning.
  • Playing a trombone with a mask on is actually not impossible. 
  • A bowtie does not automatically make you a fun teacher.
  • It is possible for an elementary school bathroom to stay clean.
  • Seeing one of your favorite cousins while you wait for the school bus is fun. 

  • People are very smily and friendly if you're holding the hand of a three-year-old.
  • It feels good to relinquish responsibility to a 12-year-old.
  • Teachers will resist telling you that certain work is "not required."
  • Virtual Fridays probably work better with only one student at home instead of four.
  • When your first grader puts his hands on the computer keyboard in the "home position" like a total natural, you might not be able to contain your glee that he is already learning something.
  • Getting the "dream team" of teachers for another year feels like an exquisite blessing.
  • A difficult three-year-old turns on all the charm when he is no longer competing with older brothers.
  • It is good to put a spare mask in your backpack . . . just in case.
  • You can smile with your eyes.

  • Eating a picnic lunch on the school grounds is refreshingly different.
  • Teachers are the best of the best and deserve all of the gold stars. 

Although we don't know how long traditional school will last, we are going to soak up every day we are given. If things change, we will cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, we are just going to bask in the wonder of being among friends, sitting at a desk, and learning from a teacher. We will never take it for granted again.

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look

Aug 15, 2020

When we wrote up our plans and goals for this summer, all of the boys agreed that they definitely wanted to have a family book club again. As usual, the book selection was left up to me, and it was particularly tricky this year since we had a new member of the club (Clark!!). 

I needed something that wouldn't be too long or daunting for him but also not completely juvenile for the rest of us. Something with slightly larger text and pictures while still having some substance. After digging around for a bit, I finally settled on the first book in the Alvin Ho series. These books have been around for more than a decade, but amazingly, none of my kids had read them. 

Alvin lives in Concord, Massachusetts (a city that could only be improved if it had a volcano) with his mom, dad, older brother, and younger sister. He is, in his own words, "afraid of many things." Heading into second grade fills him with the severest kind of dread. In preparation for the big first day, he makes sure his PDK (Personal Disaster Kit) is fully stocked with all of the necessities: you know, things like band-aids, garlic, dental floss and escape routes. Just in case. 

On his first day, all ability to speak evaporates, so when a girl named Flea offers to be his desk buddy, he can't say no . . . or yes. Flea is cool because she wears an eye patch and one of her legs is shorter than the other, but she is still a girl, and girls are one of the things that Alvin is most afraid of. 

Clark was quite anxious about finishing this book "on time" even though I assured him over and over again that he could take all the time he needed, and we wouldn't have book club until he was finished. He took his commitment to book club quite seriously. As it was, it ended up being Mike who was the last one to finish, which thrilled Clark. 

We kicked off our book club with popcorn and cinnamon bears and the invitation for everyone to share a favorite moment from the book. There were many to choose from:
  • the time that Alvin's older brother, Calvin, encourages him to try getting a little taller by hanging from a tree branch . . . but then accidentally forgets about him, and Alvin is, of course, afraid of heights.
  • the chapter where someone in Alvin's class gets the chicken pox, and Alvin goes over to his house to infect himself with it (you might think that Alvin would be afraid of getting sick, but he is more afraid of going to school, so getting sick provides the perfect out). 
  • the moment where Alvin takes his dad's beloved Johnny Astro retro toy (it's a real thing--check it out!) to school and accidentally breaks it ("if you break it, you might as well plan your funeral").
  • the silent psychotherapy session that ends abruptly when Alvin starts yelling Shakespearean curses at his therapist.
But my personal favorite was a rather tender part. It happened right after the unfortunate incident mentioned just above. His dad picks him up from the therapy appointment, and Alvin fully expects to get into trouble. But instead, his dad takes him out for ice cream. Alvin says, "Usually we go to Brigham's to celebrate a birthday or a good report card, but never before for cursing a grown-up." But when Alvin questions the choice, his dad simply says, "Therapy is rough, right?" Then he admits, "I had a rough day too. So we need to stick together, and we need some ice cream." Alvin totally breaks down, but his dad is patient and understanding. They have a good heart-to-heart on what it means to be a gentleman, and Alvin's dad tells him that Rule No. 2 involves never cursing or insulting others. Alvin's dad takes the time to listen and teach, and as they leave the ice cream store, Alvin says, "It was the best time I ever had with my dad." 

I didn't know it when I chose this book, but there ended up being so many memorable parts and quotable lines--things that will probably end up becoming inside jokes for our family, such as, "I'm sorry that it's a weird book and that you're a weird girl." When Mike was reading it, I often heard him chuckling, and since I'd already read it myself, I always had to ask what he was laughing at so I could laugh about it, too.

Even though we discussed very deep, book-clubby questions, such as, "Why do you think it was so hard for Alvin to apologize to Flea?" and "Have you ever overcome one of your fears?" we mostly just sat around and relived all of our favorite parts, quoting and laughing about them all together. It was one of those perfect moments where I looked around and had the thought, This turned out exactly like I wanted it to. The camaraderie, the shared laughter, the tasty snacks, the unity of coming to a discussion with the same amount of preparation--6-year-old and 38-year-old alike. It was just delightful. 

After we were done, I checked out several of the other books in the series because I have a feeling that even if we don't have a formal discussion about it, our family needs more Alvin Ho in our lives.

(Oh, and just a PSA, if you read it, be sure to not skip over Alvin's glossary at the end. That thing is gold.)

A Little of This and That in July

Aug 9, 2020

July was hot and dry . . . and hot and dry again. I am a big fan of summer, but it got a little stifling, even for me. There was still plenty of fun to be had though. I have a feeling that the transition to school is going to be hard this year for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that we've grown quite accustomed to a lazy, very open schedule, and I think we're going to miss that. This month found us . . . 

Kayaking . . . on my mom's birthday. We woke up very early so that we could get to the little pond by my parent's house before sunrise. My parents brought over their kayaks, and we spent a delightful hour paddling around. The water was still and peaceful. There were a few people fishing along the sides, but we had the water to ourselves. Afterwards, we went to my parents' backyard for a birthday breakfast.
Watching . . . Hamilton. Although Mike and I have tried to get tickets to Hamilton twice (once here in Utah and the other time in NYC), we've never been successful. So we were thrilled when a recording of the production was released on Disney+. It wasn't the same as watching a live performance (not even close), but since there was no hope of seeing it in the near, or even distant, future, I was grateful for the chance to see it. And I really, really loved it. The music is absolutely genius, and I feel like there are more layers that unfold every time you listen to it.

Sitting . . . on the sidelines of a parade. I thought we were going to miss out on a parade this year due to the virus. But then our old neighborhood organized a little bike parade that was just perfect. The route was circular, so you could start and end at any place on it. We chose to watch it from the grass rather than ride or walk, and it was so delightful to see all of our friends. And bonus for Clark: a few people even threw candy.
Admiring . . . fireworks from afar. We discovered that our house was perfectly situated to give us a great view of all of the fireworks going off in the neighborhood and across the valley. On the Fourth of July, we sat outside on our balcony and watched as fireworks lit up the dark sky. It didn't seem to matter where we looked because they were going off all around us. It was one of the most pleasant Independence Days we've ever had because we just enjoyed other people's shows instead of lighting them off ourselves. (To be honest, the boys would have preferred our own fireworks (we only did a few smoke bombs and flowers), but fireworks make me more nervous every year, so I was quite content to watch them with a little more distance.)

Getting . . . blinds. When we moved into our home, there were no window coverings at all on the second floor. So the very first thing we did when we moved in was order blinds for every room. Unfortunately, they didn't arrive for six weeks. So every night, I felt like we were on display for the entire neighborhood as it got dark and we turned on the lights. Mike's and my bedroom has five windows in it, which is great for natural light, but not so awesome if you want some privacy. When the blinds finally arrived, it was so nice to be able to shut out the hot afternoon sun and then go about our evening without an audience.

Chatting . . . with friends from a distance. Mike's and my weekly dates have not stopped during the pandemic, but many of our dates have been slightly modified. With the weather being nice, we've been enjoying backyard dates with other couples wherein we each get takeout, sit apart from each other, and spend the evening eating and chatting. It's really been quite enjoyable.
Having . . . an unfortunate accident. Maxwell has continued to have his weekly porch dates with his friend. A couple of weeks ago, they decided to do a little whittling with their pocket knives. The night before his friend came over, Mike reviewed all of the safety rules with Max (this wasn't the first time), but after he was done, he made the prediction (to me, not to Max), "He's going to cut himself." I'm sure you know where this is going. About thirty minutes into their porch date, Max decided to try to hollow out the stick in a way that was definitely counter to the instruction he received the night before. The knife slipped and sliced open his hand between his thumb and index finger. Clark rushed in to tell me that Max had cut himself. When I came out, I found Max cradling his hand as blood streamed onto the grass. It was a fairly gruesome sight, and I was glad Mike was home to come to the rescue. One look at the deep cut, and it was obvious he needed stitches. Mike and Max drove away, leaving the other boys to entertain Max's poor friend. Mike decided to stop in at our pediatrician's on their way to the instacare, just to see if he might be available to do the stitches. The waiting room was empty, and the doctor was actually just in the front office. He said he would be happy to sew Max up. Six stitches and less than an hour later, Max was as good as new. In fact, he got back home before his friend had left! (And this experience taught him a valuable lesson. Sometimes you can go over the rules a dozen times, but they just don't stick until you actually have to put them into practice.)
Going . . . back to work. After more than four months of working exclusively from home, Mike finally stepped across the threshold of his building once more. It was only for one day for a few hours, but he was still glad to be able to be back with his coworkers and actually work with his hands instead of just sit at a computer. His company doesn't want more than 20 percent of the employees there at any one time, so Mike will still be primarily working from home for the next while, but it was still a nice change of pace.

Building . . . Rameumptoms. Although our ward started going back to church at the end of June and now meets once every three weeks, we still haven't gone, which means that home church is still going strong. One Sunday, Bradley gave the lesson about the Zoramites praying on top of the Rameumptom. He brought out all of our building blocks and told us to build our own representations of the tower. I was impressed with the wide range of designs. Even though I have missed the fellowship that happens at church, I'm grateful for the time I've had to study with Gospel with my family.  
Teaching . . . Max and Bradley to sew. At the beginning of the summer, they both expressed an interest in learning how to sew. I checked out the book, Creative Kids Complete Photo Guide from the library and used it as a starting point. We selected three projects that looked fun and simple: a drawstring bag, a pieced together picture frame, and a pair of shorts. So far, it has been a lot of fun. I think I mentioned before that there is a little dressing room off of Mike's and my bedroom that I turned into a sewing room. This has made all of the difference in the success of these sewing lessons. At our old house, I would have had to set up everything in the kitchen, and all of the other kids would have been in and out the whole time we were trying to work. But now, the room is tucked far away from everything else in the house. I can give all of my concentration to the project at hand. And if we don't finish in one afternoon, it's not a big deal at all. Both Max and Bradley have improved so much already, and their projects have been turning out so great.

Making . . . it to the pool--finally! It took us over a month to get there, but we finally went to our little neighborhood pool. It made us all so happy. The thought of going had been stressing me out because we wanted to go when it wasn't crowded. The pool management capped the number of people allowed at fifty, but we wanted to go when there were far fewer than that. We had asked Aaron's doctors if he could go to the pool, and they said that they weren't worried about the pool itself at all, just the people in it. So anyway, we tried to strategically plan a time when there have traditionally not been very many people, and it worked! We had the pool mostly to ourselves, and it felt like summer. We've been a few more times since then.
Decorating . . . the front room. Our house basically has two living rooms: If you turn to the right from the entryway, you get to one, and if you turn left, you go to the other. I spent a good part of the month mulling over what to do with the one to the left (I decided in order to save my sanity I had to focus on one, and only one, room at a time). I was unhappy with the dining room, which was at the back of the house and felt isolated and cut off from the kitchen and the rest of the house. I wondered if the front room (which had great access to the kitchen) could be turned into a dual purpose dining/sitting room. I had a completely blank slate to work with, which might be exciting for some people but struck me with fear. I didn't have a single piece of furniture for that room--not even our dining table because, since we had benches at our old house, we only had four matching chairs for it. I consulted with friends and family members about the best arrangement for the room and finally decided on a mid-century modern style; I knew the furniture needed to be sleek and minimalist so that the room wouldn't feel overwhelmed by having so much going on in it. It was stressful to buy things for it. I'm an underbuyer to begin with, but then we were also working with a pretty tight budget because there was so much we had to get for the house (not just this room). I am not ready to reveal the room yet, but I'm getting close, so hopefully next month. It is coming together, and overall, I'm quite pleased with the result. 

Discovering . . . one of the best hikes we've ever been on. I was talking to the mom of one of Max's friends a few weeks ago, and she mentioned a hike that their family had recently enjoyed. She said that partway through the hike, you crossed a suspension bridge. Those types of hikes might be common in other parts of the country, but not here in Utah, so I was intrigued. Plus, she said that it was a fairly easy hike and not overly crowded if you went early. We decided to go on a Thursday morning to hopefully minimize the people even more and also avoid the heat since it was not a shaded trail. It ended up being absolutely delightful. We got to the trailhead by 7:30 am. The majority of the trail was flat and easy to navigate. In fact, Ian ended up walking the entire 2.2 mile loop by himself. The boys and I played a rhyming game for almost the entire time, which meant there was no fighting or complaining. We were all surprised when the bridge came into view; it was longer than we expected, and it was quite fun to cross. The sun stayed behind the mountain until the last ten minutes of our hike, and it was just such a pleasant way to spend a morning. 
Thinking . . . constantly about the start of school. Isn't everybody? Our district has decided to only give two options: in-person or online. I've discussed many other options with my friends, but there isn't a single one that stands out as being the "perfect" choice to me. Aaron's doctors gave him the green light to start school face-to-face, so we'll see if that actually gets to happen in a few weeks. It seems like information (and my personal feelings) change daily. 

Cutting . . .  down an apple tree and setting up the trampoline. I've mentioned before the small size of our backyard. We didn't have room for our trampoline without cutting down one of the apple trees. The tree was in bad shape anyway with many dead and dying branches, so I didn't feel bad about letting it go. We ordered a natural waste dumpster, and Mike spent a weekend taking the whole thing down (plus removing a bunch of other bushes and plants around the house). The weekend after, he went back over to the old house and disassembled the tramp and brought it over to the new house. The boys all helped put it together, and they have been so thrilled to have it again. There have been many hours of happy jumping (including a raucous game of Duck, Duck, Goose that involved the whole family).
Enjoying . . . a water fight and a bike ride on Pioneer Day. We went to my parents to celebrate the holiday. The kids ran around with squirt guns and buckets, except for Ian who played in the wading pool as if there wasn't any chaos going on around him. In the afternoon, my mom and I went on a bike ride. I am so jealous of all of the bike trails that are accessible from my parents' house, so I have to take advantage of them when we're there for the day.
Spending . . . summer evenings reading to the boys on the front porch. This has been one of my favorite parts of this summer. Aaron and Bradley take a football to the front yard, Max looks for bugs or rides a scooter up and down the sidewalk, and I read to them. Right now, we're reading Moon Over Manifest, which is a perfect book for summer, in case you were wondering.  

Celebrating . . . Aaron's twelfth birthday. This birthday felt especially tender since it was just two days after his eleventh birthday that we found out his bone marrow had stopped working. With his birthday this year, it seemed like things had come full circle. Here he was vibrant and healthy, active and busy, with a full head of hair and a dashing smile. And we celebrated to the max. Mike bought two dozen doughnuts for breakfast (overkill for a family of seven, but the boys were happy to get to keep munching on them throughout the day). Aaron received a bunch of presents that he loved, including an electric scooter, which he helped pay for with his own money since it was out of our normal budget for birthday presents. We went to the cabin and spent the day with Mike's parents. About halfway through the day, he said, "This is the best birthday I've ever had." In true Aaron-form, he was easy to please and just so grateful for everything. We finished off the day with peach cobbler instead of birthday cake, and I had to agree with Aaron: it was a pretty magical day.
Having . . . family over for lunch. We invited my brother and his family over for lunch one Saturday. Aside from a few backyard get-togethers, this was the first time we'd had anyone over and inside our house since March. It felt both strange and wonderful. Our kids didn't quite know what to do with themselves having other kids to play with. Gordy and Mike made chicken wings while Brooke and I kept them company and chatted. One thing I've realized with this pandemic is that everything is a risk on some level, and you have to decide when the benefit outweighs the risk. On this Saturday, we took the risk of spending some in-person time with my brother's family, and it fed our souls. 

Knitting . . . at a steady pace. I finished another sweater and a hat in July, but it was just too hot to take any photos of either item, so the only thing I can show is this little floppy-eared bunny that I made for my friend's new baby.
Spending . . . time at the cabin. I think one of the things my kids will remember the most from this summer is how much time we spent at the cabin. We did two day trips in July, and the boys filled up those days with all sorts of activities. Mike's parents were there both times, and that only added to the fun. Among other things, they shot BB guns and bows and arrows, played card games and horseshoes, made paper boats and crafts, swung in hammocks and giant swings and zip lines, went on hikes and walks, ate s'mores and ice cream, played in the water and trees, and caught snakes, butterflies, and grasshoppers. This is the stuff of memories, and I hope they get to keep and hold every pleasant feeling.

Holding . . . family book club. I'm going to save details about this for a future post, but it happened, and it was our best one yet!

That's about it for this month. How is your summer going? What are the things you'll remember most? 
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