Sunday, September 27, 2009

Among my betters

There are so many times I get discouraged living in our neighborhood. I see parents neglecting their children or abusing them. I see intelligent kids put into special ed. classes or on medication for no good reason. I see kids steal and bully. I see kids who have a horrible self-image and even worse self-esteem. So many problems we encounter every day here hinge on parents and education (not to imply that those two things should be in distinct categories). It can be a real head-scratcher trying to figure out how to do what is best for the kids while, at the same time, doing what is best for the parents.

Along these lines, however, there is now reason to rejoice in our neighborhood, thanks to the hard work and talents of many people.

Last year, a new charter school called the Hoosier Academy opened up in Muncie. It is an experimental model, set up as a hybrid between a brick-and-mortar school and an online school for students from kindergarten through 8th grade. The kids do online classes Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays with their parents or learning coaches on a computer provided for them for free. Tuesdays and Thursdays, all the kids meet in graded classes and have school just like any other traditional school.

During meetings about the opening of the school, it seemed to draw mostly home-schoolish parents from as far as an hour away. And that is mostly who attended the school during its first year: white, middle-class kids. But my friends (and pastor) Andrew and Leslie Draper saw great potential for the kids in our neighborhood. One courageous, African-American 7th grader from our neighborhood decided to enroll that first year. He was the only black person in the school. Leslie Draper committed to being his learning coach, which meant that he would be at her house, receiving one-on-one instruction, transportation, and lunch every day he was with her. (Did I mention she and Andrew have a preschooler and a toddler?) Her dining room turned into a classroom. He tested into a 5th grade level for reading and math that year, even though he had been passed through to 7th grade in his previous schools. So he took science, history, and the like with 7th graders and went to the 5th grade class for reading and math. They worked very hard to get him caught up to his grade level. He endured no small number of jokes and racial slurs -- from whites and blacks, family and friends, adults and children -- for his decision. When I told him he was courageous, he said, "Everyone tells me that. I don't know why." When I tell Leslie she is a brave (and/or crazy) woman, she says, "Meh," smiles, shrugs her shoulders. Geesh.

This year, the young man, having graduated 7th grade, made what was undoubtedly a difficult decision to continue the Academy through 8th grade. So Leslie committed to being his learning coach again. But during the summer, our neighborhood elementary school (the oldest in Muncie) was closed in order to avoid being taken over by the state under No Child Left Behind. This opened the "how do we educate our children" question wide open. We, as a community, have a value for being fully part of the neighborhood and, as such, many of us had committed to sending our children to the neighborhood school. But when the neighborhood school shuts down, then what? Many parents in the neighborhood must've had the same question, because this year there are eight kids in grades K-8 who signed up for the Academy with Leslie as their learning coach!

Needless to say, there was much scrambling around to find a place to meet and people to help out, but when the dust settled recently, it seems we are left with a sustainable model for our new sort of neighborhood school that is great for the students, the parents, and the teachers. Leslie acts as principal/teacher in the building that used to house the office where Pat's company was based. The owner of the building, who is part of our church, is donating it for use as a one-room school three days a week. (Okay, so it has three small rooms, but who's counting?) Parents are required to volunteer at least one hour a week to help teach and some are doing even more than that! Other people from our community are volunteering as well and the students (at least on MWF) get to see people of various races, ages, genders, and education levels working together to bring them up. Other of us (including one of the parents) prepare and bring lunch for the kids and workers once a week. I am excited to do this on Wednesdays and have been tickled that the healthy food I make gets gobbled up. It is so gratifying to feed young minds the food they deserve!

This has brought out so much good in so many people (with room for more to come) and I am sure I know only the first hint of it. I see the Drapers sacrifice, a young man endure hardship, parents step up, break stereotypes, and boldly try something new. I see my peers come alongside to volunteer to tutor and to make meals and help tie up loose ends. A friend recently quoted C.S. Lewis in her matron-of-honor speech at my brother's wedding, and it certainly bears application here. In this endeavor, I feel a though I am among my betters.

Not the school kids, but another group of kids those courageous Drapers took on a trip to

*So many great ideas (giving kids a good education, empowering parents to educate their children, providing proper nutrition, modeling diversity, etc.) have been able to come together in this little learning center that I just have to share them! I hope this model can provide a great education for our neighborhood kids (which includes the McCrorys) as well as kids in other neighborhoods and in other cities and towns. Please get in touch with me if you want to learn more and I'll do my best to find answers to any questions you may have.

Friday, September 25, 2009

keeping current

I have a journal for each of my kids that I will give them when they are grown. I hope they are able to look back at their life through it and appreciate who they are then and how they became themselves. A couple of days ago, I wrote a little letter to Eden in her book and was amazed. I know from experience that things change quickly in the life of an infant, but Eden is moving from infant to toddler at a ridiculous speed and some days it feels to me that she has changed into an entirely different person overnight. In the last 20 days, the following things have happened:

- Eden learned to sit up straight by herself.
- Eden began sitting in a high chair and eating meals. (Thus far, they have included rice, oatmeal, pears, peaches, avocado, and green beans. She likes them all.)
- Eden's first two teeth broke through. She now has two little pointy ridges in the bottom of her mouth.
- Eden turned six months old.
- Eden learned to REALLY crawl and goes anywhere she wants.
- Eden was told "no" for the first time. (Okay, perhaps that is a slight exaggeration, but it was the first time I told her that in a pre-meditated way and not just because she had accidentally grabbed my hair or because I really meant to say, "Israel.")
- Eden was found crying, standing up in her pack'n'play; she had pulled herself up.
- Eden took her first big-girl bath.
- Eden started saying her first syllables: "Ba, ba" and "Ma, ma." (In addition to her laughs, gurgles, squeals, etc.)

What a busy month for a little one! It has all happened so quickly that I feel I am not able to reflect on it. I just keep playing catch-up to where she is. ("Oh! She is ready to do this." "Oh! She doesn't need that baby thing anymore.") I am re-finding all the places crawlers shouldn't go in the house. I am trying to remember the easy ways to make my own baby food. I'm trying to find time to sit and read books to just Eden by herself, because she is VERY interested in them at this age and can't really grab them when we're trying to share them with Israel. It is so different with a second child. With Israel, I was always reading the books, aware of what developmental step came next. With Eden, it's more of a, "Huh. She's doing THAT now. Is it time for that, yet?" It doesn't help that the little thing looks like she's about half her real age. She weighs in at a whopping 13 lbs., 13 oz. and is about 25 inches long. I had just started to be concerned that she was not growing last week when I put an outfit on her and realized I had been putting that outfit on her since she was a month old. The doctor says she's fine, that she's small, and that she acts like a nine-month-old! What a strange combination of looking young and acting old (well, for a baby). She does mind tricks on me all the time. Should she be able to handle all this toppling over when she's so little and delicate-looking? Do I think that because she's small or because she's a girl...?

Luckily, for her and for me, there is not much time for this over-analyzing. I don't even have time to remember to look for my book on child development! We're caught up in a current that is carrying us both toward more-completed versions of ourselves and I'm just trying to keep my eyes open to discover all there is to learn along the way.

Friday, September 18, 2009

these are the days

Oh, does life get fuller than this? My last post said I need more time, and I suppose that has proven to be true, as evidenced by how much time has passed between entries.

So much has happened. Life does not stop...for anything. Israel is now two years old; he is two in every sense of the word. I have decided that whining and throwing fits just happens and hope parenting can at least control the duration of the phase. We're about one week in and so far everyone is alive, if no better than that. These are the days that feel long and the days I have to remind myself why I love my job. To illustrate, here are a couple conversant moments from recent days:

First thing in the morning:
Me: Israel, who do I like? (I ask questions like this all the time and Israel usually answers, "Izoo!")
Israel: No. I

First thing another morning:
Israel: [climbs onto my lap] I hnuggle.
Me: You want to snuggle me?
Israel: Yes!

Emotions are tough things to learn about and master. Staying home with your two-year-old teaches you that we don't necessarily get much better at it as we get older. He messes up and has melt-downs. I mess up and have melt-downs (of a different sort, thankfully!). Israel and I have to apologize to each other sometimes. Here come a lot of lessons in self-control and patience for us both!

On the positive end (as though learning self-control and patience was not a good thing in the end), Israel seems to be fairly generous for a two-year-old. We have had several friends' birthdays lately and he enjoys giving presents to people. He voluntarily shares his toys with Eden. Of course, he also claims, "Mines!" about things here and there, but seems to be more naturally inclined not to be "stingy." If I'm having a hard time getting the house clean, I can enlist his help by asking him to help make Daddy happy when he comes home. He loves that idea. Israel also seems inclined to do what is polite (with the exceptions of hugging people and saying hello to someone's face rather than after they're gone). He often says, "Thank you," without being prompted. He compliments food he likes by saying, "Thank you, Mommy. It good! Very nice! I like it!" On his birthday, I told him the polite thing to do when people tell him "Happy Birthday," is to say, "Thank you." He went around all day, saying, "I tell people...Thank you!" It is fun to watch virtues emerge. There are flowers among those thorns!

As for Eden, she continues to be sweet as can be. She can fully sit up on her own (though I am happy to report that she still also does the "senior portrait" sitting-up pose often) and is eating solid food. Thus far, she has liked everything: rice cereal, oatmeal cereal, avacado, and pears. On Israel's second birthday, she turned six months old. On that very day, she began to crawl in earnest and now can make her way from the front of the house to the back of it if she is so inclined. There was almost no teaching her these things. My girl can do whatever she puts her mind to doing.

As she becomes more mobile, I get to see new areas of her personality developing. There is much toppling over these days and, while she can sometimes handle it just fine, she seems pretty sensitive over some little things. When she reaches a small barrier or feels she may be stuck in any way, she cries as though the world would end that moment. Her cries are some of the saddest, "Why is this happening to me?" cries I have ever heard. While Israel's cries nearly always came off as mad, Eden's nearly always come off as heart-broken. Those of you who have seen it can testify: She'll break your heart.

I do not cease to be amazed by how very different my two children are from each other. I enjoy watching their two personalities interact and wonder how they will shape each other as they grow. I think they will be good foils for each other.

That said, here are a few pieces of eye-candy for you.

Israel last year

Israel this year

Israel and Judah did their best to break the paper-mache pinata I made. Remarkably, no children were injured in the making of this video.

Eden showing a little bit of a crawl. She can really go quite a bit faster, but I haven't captured it...yet.