Monday, August 22, 2011

Summertime, and the Living Is...Full of Homework?

A friend of mine pointed out this morning that today is the start of classes in Washington, DC, and nearby Prince George's County in Maryland. Another neighboring county opens its school doors next week.

That news might have shocked me - if I hadn't just returned from a family trip to Tennessee, where public schools started on August 8. It took us a while to figure out why the hotel staff kept asking our kids how they liked classes so far, and why the local amusement park was only open on weekends.

Nearly three-quarters of all U.S. school districts now start their year before Labor Day; we in New York are among the few September stragglers. While our southern neighbors are prepping for tests and marking soccer-match dates on their calendars, we're only just getting around to hitting Office Depot for pencils, dry-erase markers, marble notebooks and schoolwork folders (five two-pocket ones, each in a different color even if your child hates green and purple, and label each one with your child's name and check it every afternoon and try not to freak out when he forgets to bring his assignments home for the third day in a row, kthxbai.)

The issue of school calendar length isn't a new one. The summer break was established in the 1840s in response to poor school attendance in urban areas and the fear that a year-round schedule was bad for children's health. Now we seem to be moving in the opposite direction, with some education experts arguing that an extra month of school could improve grades and boost American students' embarrassingly low international ranking in math and science. One of Rahm Emanuel's first acts as Chicago mayor was to add more hours to the city's relatively short school day. Even in cash-strapped districts that have opted to shorten the school week - cramming five days' worth of learning into four - parents worry that the lost day will spell academic doom for their children.

I'm all for better grades and educational excellence, but I'd still hate to see our children miss out on a season that's brief enough as it is. One minute we're turning on the air conditioner and biting into the first luscious berries of the season, and in an eyeblink, we're picking up yellow leaves from the lawn and retrieving jackets from the closet. To a child, summer is a magical space between the wool-wrapped gotta-do months of homework, curfews and extracurriculars. It's pools and playgrounds, family trips and camp friends, fireflies and dandelion fluff. It's even a time to be just plain bored - a concept kids hate, but which actually helps nurture their creativity and lets them unwind (especially if we resist the temptation to fill their boredom with TV and hand-helds).

Bad enough that across much of the country, two weeks before the unofficial end of summer, anthills lie unexamined and roller coasters wait impatiently for the weekend. Fewer ice-cream cones are being eaten, fewer sandcastles built. The smells of new-cut grass, salty surf and sunscreen are being replaced by more cold-weather aromas: Crayolas, gym floors, science-lab chemicals, cafeteria tacos.

Have a great school year, all you early birds - and I hope you'll spend at least a few of your post-dismissal-bell hours appreciating the warm-weather joys before they're gone for another year. Knowing that we're among the fortunate ones makes me appreciate these days even more, and I'll do my best to make my kids' final vacation days memorable.

(NOTE: The preceding opinion subject to change without notice, depending on how many times Momsperimenter hears the phrases "Stay out of my room!", "You stupidhead!" and "There's nothing to doooooo!" prior to September.)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Stuff I Never Thought I'd Be Doing Today

-Attending a slightly belated birthday party thrown in my honor by an assortment of LEGO Star Wars figures and my old Dawn dolls.

- Watching said toys boogie to the "Episode II" soundtrack. (Orange fringed minidresses go surprisingly well with John Williams.)

- Reading the dress-code demands made of the guests at the Kardashian wedding.

- Wondering if any of the invitees will have the courage and self-respect to say, "I can't wear any color but black or white? Screw it - I'm showing up in hot pink and having a cameraman ready to videotape me getting booted out."

- Seeing my byline twice in a health newsletter.

- Getting a cryptic reply email and wondering if it's actually a nicely-dressed rejection.

- Engaging in an hour-long lightsaber duel against the resident Jedi Master.

- Being informed that I possess mad lightsaber skills.

- Asking my children to clean their rooms and hearing nothing but "Not now" - then witnessing their 180 when offered the chance to play with the neighborhood kids.

- Giving the Starving Ethiopian Children speech in response to various complaints that dinner contained such horrible ingredients as rice and peas. I have officially become THAT Mother. Heaven help us.

- Hearing my son say, "I have a bad feeling that my life is going to explode" and wondering when he suddenly turned 50.

- Spending all day with my kids, then oddly missing them during the brief time I was away from them tonight._

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Going Bongos

We can all breathe a little easier now. Bongo is home where he belongs.

In case you missed it, Bongo is the stuffed toy monkey that went missing last week en route to a restaurant. Fliers were quickly plastered around his Park Slope, Brooklyn, neighborhood promising $500 for his safe return. After a few anxious days, a good Samaritan spotted Bongo on top of a parking meter and reunited him with his overjoyed parents.

That's right: parents.

You see, Bonni Marcus and Jack Zinzi consider their little Bongo - and his Beanie Baby "brothers," Doe, Ray and Me - to be their children. They've cared for the Bongster for 10 years, talking to him, taking him on vacations and forming a "spiritual connection" with him. Losing him threw Marcus and Zinzi into a fit of grief that affected their very relationship.

And you thought I was weird for photographing monkey toys at an amusement park!

Yes, call them eccentric if you will. Call them misguided or sad. Call them people who need better things to do with their lives than fuss over a wad of plush.

Then call me, and I'll tell you all about the week I've spent traveling with my two decidedly non-stuffed children.

I'll tell you about arguments over glances and touches.

About slapping and wrestling fights both real ("She STARTED it!") and fake ("We're just playing! We like hitting each other!").

About complaints of hunger, followed quickly by complaints of "Do I have to eat all that?"

About the same four bars of the same number from Little Shop of Horrors being whistled (albeit nicely on-key!) for roughly 45 miles.

About endless jokes involving poop and pee.

About demands for souvenirs at every sightseeing landmark and sweets at every meal.

About name-calling, tantrums, spilled crayons, spilled water bottles and refusals to brush teeth, pick up clothes or stop [insert behavior here].

Bongo, on the other hand, does none of this. You can even leave him in a hotel room if you need some privacy.

Plus his parents have no worries about diapers, homework, doctor bills, college tuition or general angst about whether their little monkey and his cloth brothers will grow up to be productive members of society.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Today's Kid Imponderables

Longer post to follow, but I thought I'd share a few "whyizzits" to perk up your morning.

Why is it that the same child who, for weeks, refuses to sleep without a bedside lamp shining its 40-watt glory next to her face all night can, after just a few minutes of having Mom sit with her in the dark till she falls asleep, suddenly do a 180 and turn off the lamp on her own the next night without any coaxing?

Why is it that the child who calls for Mom at 4 AM because he's had a terrifying dream about a big, hairy tarantula coming down from the sky and crawling all over him and why did I have to write a school report on spiders and can you check the sheets to make sure nothing's there? - can then proceed to call for Mom four hours later to point out a period-sized spider in the bathroom sink, watch it in fascination and say, "Let's not kill it. Let's leave it alone"?

Why is it that the mouth that can observe of a theatrical character who turns from evil to good, "It's like she has a black heart and it changes to loving red, or maybe even white," can also be the same one that announces, "I have a cobra in my pants"?

Got any whyizzits of your own to share?