Tag Archives | school

Same recipe, different soup

I’ve just suffered through two school projects (one for each child) that involved–god save me–glitter. Plus glue, posterboard, construction paper, some rudimentary elements of design, and a smattering of factoids gleaned from actual books (!) and that there new-fangled internet thing.

For his project, Liam needed black construction paper, which precipitated crisis #1 (there were several): The pieces of black construction paper were not the same shade of black.  How could I expect him to put together a display about galaxies using a background of mismatched blacks.

The horror.

When I pointed out that the black paper–well, black and charcoal, I guess, to be precise–would be mostly covered up with images of galaxies and his various snippets of information, his disdain for my slacker ways was palpable.

He managed to rally–there was much arranging and re-arranging of images and text boxes for maximum coverage of our Pantone-related faux pas–but then there was too much glitter and then his lettering was crooked and then the glued-on text boxes started curling at the edges (glue, in this climate, is ridiculous: the humidity unsticks everything), which meant it was all ruined.

Liam lives his life in italics these days, in part because he’s a perfectionist whose vision of how things should be frequently outstrips what he can actually create. I’m well acquainted with that frustration (it happens pretty much every time I cook) and in his adjustment from vision to reality, there is much italicized gnashing of teeth and rending of garments.  Once he adjusts his vision, however, it’s all fine: the morning after his glitter-related crisis, he looked at his poster and said “this is really good, actually.” Those of us who were on the receiving end of the italics and the despair and the I’m going to fail may have been, hypothetically, slightly irked by this abrupt attitude shift and–purely hypothetically, of course–we might have said something wicked mature, like “we told you so.” Hypothetically.

The second glittery project was Caleb’s project about Aztecs.  He loves the Aztecs because he loves their weapons: huge slingshots! long spears! poison darts!  He settled himself on the couch and looked through two of his favorite books: World History and Ancient World. He typed some things into the computer, and then a few days later he roamed the internet looking for more information about warfare, food, warfare, houses, warfare, religion.  And maybe a little bit more about fighting and battles. We bought a sheet of green posterboard–like the jungle, he said–and glitter glue pens. (Would it be wrong to suggest that the person who invented the glitter pen be given some kind of lifetime achievement award for figuring out how to prevent glitter spreading through the air like so many sparkly germs?)

There was some cutting, there was some gluing.  He arranged his factoids in a kind of circular pattern; I suggested that perhaps some images of these various things would be a good idea.  He found some images, there was more cutting, more gluing, and then the glitter pens were used to write “AZTECS” across the top. The lettering was a tad crooked and the letters he’d done in green glitter sort of blended into the green posterboard. I asked if he’d like to go over the words, and he said “nah, it looks good. I like it.”  Here is one of his factoids:


It says “after sacrificing someone they might eat the left overs which is an act of cannibalism. Also chocolate was only drank by men and women drank pozolli (maize gruel). Also another thing that was popular among the Aztecs was Tortillas and casseroles. Aztecs also thought insects and bugs were a delicacy and in some parts of Mexico they still are.” This information was followed by a recipe for Aztec hot chocolate (without body parts).

Did you find that blue block text hard to read? Yep, me too. I mentioned that to Caleb, who shrugged. “I like blue,” he said.

Caleb is…not a perfectionist. I suppose this trait may prove problematic in the future (don’t ask me how I know this), but at the moment, I have to say it’s a hell of a lot easier to live with.

How did the same genetic mash-up produce two such different children? I know, I know, we’re all individuals and whatnot, but did you ever pause to think about how weird that is? It’s as if I reached into the same soup-pot and ladled out first one bowl of minestrone and then one bowl of chicken-and-stars.  How does that happen? Husband, in his ever-charming fashion, points out that he is a perfectionist (albeit one who frequently loses his perfect creations in the morass of his desk) while I am, in many things, a member of the church of “good enough.” So perhaps we created one mini-him and one mini-me.

Wacky stuff, that genetics. Maybe one of my kids could make a display about it.





Continue Reading · on May 10, 2013 in family, Kids, Parenting

in which i am proud of my kids (a post probably only of interest to grandparents)

The last day of school finally arrived. July 5. It’s been a long year and now, officially, summer has begun.

We went out to dinner that night to celebrate and in the middle of dinner, Liam sagged against the back of his chair like a marionette whose strings had been cut. I thought maybe it was the heat – we were sitting outside in the balmy 98 degree evening – but he said no, it wasn’t that. “It’s just hit me that school is done,” he said. “And it feels really…weightful.”

Weightful. That’s just about right.  What they’ve done this year is big:  moved to a new country, started not one new school but two, navigated the British way of doing things (their new school follows the UK model), got great grades, made new friends, figured out how to be (mostly) happy.

I think sometimes that my kids don’t know how proud of them I am. I tell them so, all the time, but I wonder if they don’t hear those words; if they only hear pickupyourtoysdoyourchoresdon’thityourbrotherstopyelling.

It’s weirdly difficult to write an “I’m so proud of you” post – snarky is easy, and god knows complaining is easy too. But putting words to paper (digital paper, anyway) about the fact that I think my kids are rock stars…that feels odd. Odd, and yet important.

So let me take a minute and, as Fagin says in Oliver!, review the situation. Continue Reading →

Continue Reading · on July 8, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, Education, expat, family, Kids, Parenting

Just Dinner (and maybe a fresh start for dessert)

It started with french fries. Caleb asked if we could make purple french fries, like we used to do in New York, with the purple potatoes from the Union Square Farmer’s Market.

No purple potatoes here that I can see, but I decided to make french fries anyway, using ordinary Idaho potatoes–from Oman.

Miracle of miracles, we were all home tonight–no soccer practice, no meetings, no plans–and so: french fries. Caleb said he’d help and so he scrubbed the potatoes while I started oil heating in the pan. Liam followed us into the kitchen (what? little brother will get mommy all to himself? no freaking way) to talk at length about a project for his Arabic class that has him all excited.

Yes. That’s right. The prison school we’re sending him to, the school that has ruined his life, seems to have come up with an interesting project.

I started to be annoyed that Liam had chosen to ask for ideas and advice just as I started on dinner, instead of during the previous hour, when he’d been engrossed in a computer game, and then I had one of those little mini parenting AHA moments, sort of like an aneurysm except you don’t end up in the hospital.

“Bring your stuff in here and work at the table while we fix dinner,” I said. Okay. It’s not up there with E=MC2 but it worked. It worked because for the first time in the life our family, we have a kitchen big enough to hold more than one person: it’s a hideous space, with walls the color of congealed oatmeal and no windows (because of course, the assumption is that we would have a live-in maid and why would she want an window?). The world could end while we’re in there and we’d never know. We’d also probably survive.

Anyway. So there we all were: Liam sketching out his Arabic city; Caleb snapping the stems off green beans; me chopping Omani potatoes into french fry strips, WMVY telling us that it’s 43F in Edgartown (I loves me my streaming MVY, even though I’ve only been to the Vineyard maybe three times in my entire life).  The boys didn’t bicker; the french fries didn’t burn; I found enough unwilted mint and a wedge of lemon in the fridge to make a little sauce for the beans.

For the first time in what felt like weeks, we sat down as a family for dinner: merguez, french fries, beans.  Okay, true, Caleb ate only the french fries and Liam ate only the merguez (“I don’t like French fries,” he said. Who on god’s green earth doesn’t like French fries?); I ate most of the beans (added a little marinated feta to the lemon & mint because it’s not a meal without a dairy product); Husband, ever the omnivore, ate everything and finished the boys’ leftovers. He’s a bit like having a dog.

At dinner, Liam started telling scary-animal stories about Australia. “My friend was telling me that…” he started.

His wonderful sympathetic, empathic mother said “A friend? at the prison school? You mean a casual acquaintance, right? Surely not a friend?” (Because isn’t that why we have kids? So we can mock them relentlessly and later say “I told you so?”)

He laughed and laughed. “Right. A casual acquaintance who I don’t like much was saying that in Australia he saw a spider…”

Yes. It’s true. Apparently at the prison school my ruined-life son attends, he has CAWIDLM. We won’t call them friends. Yet.

Caleb said “I have friends. From Australia. And Nigeria. And they’ve seen spiders as big as MY HEAD.” He shuddered in delight.

It was just a family dinner. The kitchen is coated with a thin film of grease from the french fries, there are dishes stacked in the sink; the boys got ratty with each other as it got close to bedtime, just like they always do. And yet I felt sunshine in that windowless room this evening. It’s been gloomy around here since the boys started their new school and tonight was the first time in weeks I’ve seen Liam laugh and tell stories about school that weren’t about all the ways in which he feels miserable.

It was just a family dinner, but it felt, inshallah, like a beginning.


and hey guess what, it’s also the beginning of yeah write! #42 now open for linking up. c’mon over. bring your blog. or your comments, quips, and sparkling repartee. or just scary animal stories about australia: spiders, crocodiles, and rabid koalas (Liam’s CAWDILM swears it was rabid). So click, read, enjoy. Come back on Thursday and vote, vote, vote.

Continue Reading · on January 31, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, Children, family, food

going on a bear hunt… (and it sucks)

When Liam and Caleb were little, they both loved Going on a Bear Hunt. Remember that?

Going on a bear hunt.

We’re going to catch a big one.

What a beautiful day!

We’re not scared!

And then there’s the long tall grass to get through, swishy-swashy; and the mud, squelch-squerch…and pretty much every other obstacle known to human kind, each with its own sound effect.

And the refrain, of course is “we can’t go over it, we can’t go under it… oh no! We’ve got to go through it!”

They do get through it, find a bear, are afraid of the bear, run back through all that crap, and climb into bed with the covers over their heads.  Very satisfying. Except for the poor bear, who is left alone to wander the seashore.

I’m thinking about bear hunts these days as older son tries to adjust to his new school.  It’s his second new school in six months–not easy to do, by a long shot, I know–and he’s pretty clear that we’ve ruined his life.  I don’t have the heart to tell him that he’s only eleven. The life-ruining hasn’t even begun. Wait till he’s sixteen and I show up at some party where he’s all cool with the hair gel and the soccer jersey and then I trill from the front hall that it’s time to come home and practice the euphonium. That will be life-ruining.

He has forgotten the lesson of the bear hunt. He can’t believe that he won’t be in the middle of a rocky transition forever. As far as he’s concerned, his new school is an abysmal failure, a prison, a nightmare from which he will never, ever awake. And we’ve ruined his life.

School is stupid and British spelling is stupid and English history is stupid and oh by the way, we ruined his life.

Here’s the thing about Liam: he hates not knowing. He’s a perfectionist in pretty much everything and as a result of that (says moi, armchair shrink), when he explodes because of all the pressure he puts on himself, he explodes BIG and DRAMATICAL and WITH BAD WORDS.  Let’s keep in mind that his mamma is a card carrying member of the Good Enough Club and Husband aims for perfection but then he can’t ever remember where he put it, so we’re both quite puzzled about Liam’s need to be perfect.  Fortunately–or unfortunately–he often comes quite close: perfect report cards; chosen for this honor or that selective program or that elite soccer squad.  He works hard; he pushes himself; he’ll kill himself trying to get something right.  And also manages to be goofy and silly and dance around in his underpants to Kesha songs.

“Passionate” is the word I always use for Liam and I am reminded again, in these past few weeks, that passion is a double-edged emotion.  The highs are really, really high, and the lows are cataclysmic.  He’s in a cataclysmic low right now as he tries to suss out the new system, tries to remember that gray is now grey, and color is now colour.  There have been sinkers–not quite as epic as when we first arrived in Abu Dhabi, but close–and as usual, I try to deal with them with some ad hoc mixture of empathy, firmness, listening, berating, whispers, shouts, hugs, threats, and bribes.

Yes. My parenting has lacked consistency lately.  Thanks for that insight.  And Husband and I aren’t always on the same parenting page at the same time, which adds a whole ‘nother level of wonderfulness to the situation: he wants to cajole when I want to be firm; he berates when I want to offer hugs. I don’t know if we’re complementing each other or just muddying the already swirling waters.

I am trying to remember my own bear hunt lessons, oh yes I am. I tell myself we’ve just got to get through all this swishy-swashy grass–and my sister (so wise and yet…younger. How can that be?) reminds me (and I then remind Liam) that it won’t be like this forever. But. When your adorable boy in his navy blue blazer is whisper-screaming at you that you’re an idiot and (say it with me) you’ve ruined his life–in the elevator of our building–with other people on the elevator- AT 6:50 IN THE MORNING…well, let’s just say it’s hard to hang on.

For a brief nano-second I thought, what if I just smacked him? Just flipped his cheek with my hand to jolt him out of his hysteria?

I didn’t flip his cheek. In a triumph of will over emotion, I hugged him close and told him it wouldn’t be like this forever.

I am not sure he believes me. I am, after all, the woman who has ruined his life.

Going through it. That’s the thing that sucks, about life and bear hunts, both.


image source


this post is linked up with the new improved (probably lemon-scented) blog formerly known as lovelinks: yeah, write. so yeah, right, click on over, read some fabulous writing, then come back later in the week and vote vote vote.

Continue Reading · on January 25, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, Children, Education, family, growing up, Kids, Parenting

four months

no, I’m not pregnant. it’s just that in the beginning of the fourth month, if you are pregnant, you can kind of let your breath out. the worry of the first trimester is over and now (usually inshallah and knock on wood), you can just settle into the “new normal” of losing your waistline and growing your appetite.  It’s our fourth-month anniversary of moving to Abu Dhabi and I’m feeling myself let my breath out…but this time, part of why I can do that has to do with these boys–not babies any more–who have helped ease my own transition. This letter is for them.

My dear boys,

Today we have lived in Abu Dhabi for four months.  In that span of time, we’ve had to evacuate our building in the middle of the night (down 37 flights of stairs, on September 11th, no less!); we’ve traveled in India, explored the oasis city of Al Ain, kayaked in a mangrove swamp during a lunar eclipse, and one of us (lucky dog sixth grader) spent a week in Ephesus.

These adventures are nothing, however,  compared to the everyday adventure of establishing our new lives in Abu Dhabi.  The little things were, in some ways, the most difficult: we couldn’t find the right sheets for your beds, or the right pillows (note to self: when repatriating family, bring your own linens, even if you’re moving into a furnished apartment).  Our great quest for Toys R Us was a bust: no up-to-date legos, no Nerf basketball.  On the other hand, the Toys R Us is linked to a Tru-Value hardware store, so we didn’t find Nerf but I found all-important bathroom hooks and a new spatula.  We sorted out grocery stores, bookstores, and spent more hours than I’m sure you care to remember wandering the aisles of Ikea.

In four short months, the two of you started a new school, made new friends, joined new soccer teams, learned to love butter chicken from Moti Mahal Deluxe and any form of Lebanese chicken shish tawook.  You found the humor in our endless quest to find decent pizza, and you’ve found the joy in walking to the naan bakery for fresh bread.

You settled in. You figured it out. And then a few weeks ago, we asked you to change again and start a new school in January. You grumbled, you griped, there were tears.  Maybe even a few slammed doors.  But the other morning, when I dropped you off for your “come meet your new teacher day,” off you went, smiling, heads held high, arms around each others shoulders.

The two of you have spent more time together in the last four months than you have in years.  There aren’t as many friends clamoring for attention, or as many activities—we move more slowly here than we did in New York.  Together the two of you could fuel a city with your creative energies: building lego ships and towers more elaborate than any store-bought set; writing and illustrating stories, creating computer games, building sand castles that stretch half the length of the beach.  And okay, sometimes you use that creative energy to annoy the living crap out of each other, which is probably to be expected, right?  But do you really, really have to argue debate—in ever louder voices—about the possibility of a mouse surviving a sandstorm?

Bicker McBickersons notwithstanding, the two of you have astonished and impressed me over the last four months. Your curiosity, (relative) good humor, and resilience have helped me to survive this transition.  Even when you’re making me angry—as when one of you screamed “shit head” the other night—I’m still impressed: you yelled it in Arabic.

I hope you both feel as proud of yourselves as I feel of you.

Love, Mommy

ps: say “shit head” again, in any language, and you’re toast.

it’s lovelinks time! i’m linking up and you should too! click this nifty button and bring your blog over to the linkup! Or don’t bring your blog, just come read some funny smart writing…then come back on Thursday and vote for your three favorites. It’s a lot easier than holiday shopping, I guarantee!

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Continue Reading · on December 13, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, Children, expat, family, Kids, UAE

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