Home Works

We work at being at home; our home works for our family. We are regular; regular seems rare. I try to look at the stars like my mother does each night -- proof we are all under the same sky.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Yellow Card

After my husband blew out the candles on his cake and we forgot to give him his gift because Nick crawled up on his lap and asked to be put to bed, I came upon the realization that I knew most of the words of an important sentence:

Esta noche mis hijos limpian la cocina. Tonight my sons clean the kitchen.

I admit the tense isn't perfect, but all of mis hijos got it. Even the one who speaks Spanish.

So, I read the next installment of Harry Potter to Nick and let the swimmers ear medicine seep into his swollen ear, while the older boys clanked around the kitchen and more or less did the dishes.

At dinner, we talked about our day today and our manana. (Apologies for not including the mark over the "enya". I have promised myself to look up how to include the accents and letters, but I have not gotten there yet). Anyway, today Nick played outside for the first time since his ear infection turned mean. Patrick and Kevin had a lesson with a homeschool dad/computer guy on building a computer. This is Patrick's project, because he's the one with the money saved, but Kevin can't resist listening in. Mom made sure to have la torta y helado for the birthday party (helado is turning out to be one of our most frequently used Spanish words. Look it up) and went to the gym to lift weights and run.

Isaac, unfortunately, ran afoul of the "tuck-your-shirt-in" dress code of our school system. The problem lies, it seems, in what you call your shirt. Our Spanish son had a shirt nicely tucked in, but what he calls his sweater -- which he had on the outside of his pants -- was also seen as a shirt by an unknown American teacher, who says this is his only warning. He wears the sweater because it is so cold in government class, despite the fact that it is 100 degrees in Mississippi.

Anyway, it is hard to explain. Isaac tells me this is injusticia since many other students were walking around in front of this teacher with their shirts not tucked in. We struggle through a conversation about whether this might be conscious bias against a foreigner or example-making because he is a high-profile exchange student. Patrick offers that it could be a subconscious rather than an active prejudice, which I translate from the English-Spanish dictionary as subconsciente, and Isaac seems to accept this as a possible explanation and possibly the correct word. And Kevin points out that it may be random, for which Isaac provides a Spanish word: al azar. Given Mississippi's culture, it's a conversation that we must have, and mi corazon hurts to acknowledge that it's possible that el azar may not be the only explanation.

We get into a bit of conversation about the rightness of the rule, about our children not going to school, about the school's authority, and then about the school's consequences. None of this is that easy in the gap between our two languages.

My husband, speaking the universal language of soccer, manages to explain the concept of "warning" to Isaac: "Yellow card!"

Isaac nods and smiles: "Yellow card!" he agrees.

Later he tells me that if he has another problem like this, there will be a report. I realize that I need to explain to him further, that there will be either a suspension, or his choice to take corporal punishment.

The "yellow card" moment of clarity is definitely the highlight of the conversation.

Tonight, my studious, respectful Ecuadoran exchange student bends low over his American government textbook at our dining room table with my grandmother's lace tablecloth under his notebook. He looks up definitions as I think back to this week's news: 100 Ecuadorans died in the hold of a boat designed to hold 10, having paid $5,000 to be smuggled to the United States and having given their promise to pay another $5,000 upon delivery to the United States. The boat sank in high seas in Colombian territorial waters. A Reuters story said this week, "The incident illustrated the ruthlessness of people traffickers as well as the risks people were willing to run to escape Ecuador, where 60 percent live in poverty and three presidents have been toppled amid popular unrest since 1997."

Last night, his mother called from Ecuador to check on Isaac, since he's had a bad cold. I understood a few of her Spanish words, which somehow incited in me a wild instinct to speak --- French. Realizing my error (and I am no good at French anyway), I then was struck nearly speechless, other than to stumble out un momento, por favor, un momento.

From Reuters: "Maria Cuzco, 15, described the moment when the boat sank in a heavy sea. 'When we were hit by the giant waves, the people who were in the hold screamed and wept, but they couldn't get out because it was locked. . . .' Cuzco held on to a leaky fuel barrel. Her face, arms and back were severely burned by the fuel and the sun." Nine people survived until a passing boat picked them up. Four others who "initially escaped the sinking vessel gave in to exhaustion and drowned."

I ran through the house with the cordless phone so as not to waste precious Ecuadoran phone minutes, hearing her "gracias, gracias, gracias" to me.

Comprendo, Madre de Isaac, comprendo.

Vanishing Ink

See me pulling my hair out? The last TWO posts I have written for this blog disappeared when I hit "publish" (which sort of strikes me as too strong a word for this medium). Of course, I told myself to compose and copy the post in another program after the first loss, but I forgot to do it. There is something about composing on line that frees me to write (I know, that's why there's so much junk on line), so it was just natural that I did it a SECOND time before getting the message: COPY, in case it disappears.

Sigh, and the last post included an awful lot of Spanish that I had to work really hard at. Lo siento. Para mi.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Just for Kicks

Working hard to think about how to fit in all the footwork this weekend. Nick has soccer practice tomorrow night and Saturday afternoon, Patrick has soccer practice Saturday morning (and all of those are in the neighboring town because our town doesn't have rec soccer), and there is no way to tell if Isaac will have pre-season soccer tomorrow. Kevin has his first martial arts tournament Saturday, but he is going with his sensei, and it will be one of the first times he's ever done an event like this without having one or both of his parents there to cheer him on. Not counting stuff at scout camp.

Meanwhile, Rick and I will be trying to figure out how to get ready for hosting a Not Back To School picnic for homeschoolers next weekend. Gonna be a whole lotta mowin' goin' on. We have to at least temporarily tame a few sections of our rambly plot so there's room for the promised activities -- fishing, swimming, horse shoes, volley ball, croquet (hhmm, I wonder if that croquet set is in the attic or the garage? Has it been unpacked since the move?) and picnic. Bring your bug spray. And your soccer ball.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Para Caminar

I just made it back inside into the air conditioning after my 6 am 95 degree Mississippi walk. Isaac, who is from Ecuador (think EQUATOR) says it is hotter here than at his house. Anyway, I've done my morning two miles and will hope to make it to the gym this afternoon. My old football injuries tend to act up when I don't exercise.

Just heard Nick's footsteps up the steps outside my room. Patrick told me yesterday he wants to get up at 7 to run, but I haven't checked to see if he is up. Kevin didn't take the trash out this morning, but I had him so busy yesterday, that instead of our usual method ("Wake up NOW because you didn't do it last night!") I had mercy and rolled it out to the road myself. I'm not sure that either of us knew what day it was yesterday, much less had enough brain cells to think that means trash day today.

One of the things Kevin did for me was take Isaac to Walmart to buy the precise school supplies his teachers have specified as well as a new "bag" (which is a backpack to us) to replace the one that has torn since he arrived. At least he understands the concept of "cheap," as in cheaply made, which was not something he could talk about when he first arrived, so I consider that some language process. He was surprised to have spent over $40 in school supplies -- in under an hour -- because Kevin had to rush home to get himself to martial arts class. And people say that homeschooling "must be expensive."

Isaac showed me his description and requirements for an English class project related to Beowulf, and it's a decent project and not so different from a unit-study a homeschooler might do. This gave me confidence both about the English class and about homeschooling, tho' I could kick myself that I still measure homeschooling by school standards. Of course, Isaac's challenge is that he must do it in English.

We're considering buying the Rosetta Stone Spanish program http://www.rosettastone.com/home . I picked up a catalogue from FUN Books http://www.fun-books.com/ at Virginia Homeschool Day this past weekend, and they have a good promotion for purchase of Level I and Level II together. With the catalogue, they had a sample CD, so we've tried that, and I like the fact that it's not just a textbook "put" on a computer, but a different technique.

Everybody asks, "Have you started school?" This is a hard question for unschoolers, because, truly, we never stop. But with everyone else hitting the books around us, Patrick is delving back into the very end of his algebra, we're reading history together, and Kevin is also reviewing some math.

I think I may have found someone who will help Patrick with his "build-the-computer" project, and he is going to be really excited when I tell him that.

Some homeschool friends will come see us for the day today. The little ones will play or swim, the big ones will work on designing computer games and websites, and the mom and I will work on poetry and other creative stuff together. Wednesdays are the days that I get some of my social needs met -- a really important ingredient in Mom Maintaining Sanity.

Alas, this means I should clear the trail that leads into my kitchen. I wanted to write about Virginia Homeschool Day, but I want to get some lunch prep done so that when friends are here, I can concentrate on them. The last few weeks of Wednesdays have been less satisfying because the time has been rushed or we skipped meeting, with pressures of exchange student hosting, travel for conferences, and the start of school for the high schooler in our friends' family. (Yes, he was a lifelong unschooler who very successfully entered high school last fall, made good grades, excelled on the soccer team, and generally got along very well).

I think I have pretty well stiffened up from sitting here in my chair in the air conditioning after the walk in the humidity anyway. Time to see if I can unfold my muscles.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Talking to Myself, Touching My Ticket

Tomorrow morning I fly out for the Virginia Homeschoolers Conference in Richmond, so I'm frantically checking my freshly-minted boarding pass and trying to remember all the things I should have communicated to the guys that I haven't. Like, feed the dogs. You would think this would be obvious, but I am the fallback plan for the dogs, and it could happen that no one would realize no one is feeding them until Sunday, when I return anyway. And put the alcohol drops in Nick's ears if he swims. Last time I went away, he got swimmers ear because he and Papa didn't think of the alcohol drops. And oh, yes, Kevin has an extra karate practice for the tournament on Saturday, so he won't be home to watch Nick, so Nick will have to accompany Rick when he goes to pick up Isaac from the Exchange Student Sleepover. Now, I have the part written down where Patrick has to ride along to pick up Isaac and then Isaac has to ride along to get Patrick to soccer practice. But the extra karate practice was a late-breaking development, so it had not been factored in.

The hand-outs for my talks are ready, though one had to be printed on harvest gold paper that could also be considered that funny spicey mustard color that everyone is using to paint the inside of their homes these days. I had the ink cartridges on hand when I ran out of ink, but the Endless Box of Paper (we buy it in bulk and keep it in the closet) had reached The End, so I had to reach for Leftover Gold. The others I got commercially copied, and I have put the receipt in such a safe, safe place that I cannot put my hands on it.

And I'm nervous about the presentations. Why is it that no matter how much you prepare, you never feel like it's enough? I'm blogging tonight to keep myself from looking up any new information -- like it would do any good at this point.

Rick will drop me off at the airport on his way to work, which is great because I don't have to deal with the whole car parking thing. And on the way, I can tell him all the things I haven't thought of yet to tell him

But for now, I'll email him about the dogs and Kevin's extra karate practice, even though he's sleeping two feet from me at the moment. This sort of reminds me of when I used to work really long hours and had a horse business on the side, and I would often call my own answering machine and leave myself messages.

Don't tell anybody.

Knock on Wood

Well it turns out that tempting fate is unwise no matter what the language. Last night I wrote that I had become confident that Isaac would consistently get up and meet the bus.

This morning, he missed it.

He had slept too late, but apparently got ready quickly when Rick woke him up, but said he also did not hear the "back-up rings" that the bus makes when it turns around in front of our house.

I said again what I've said before, "The bus does not wait. You have to be outside waiting for it."

Then I drove him to school - very early, because with the construction of the new theater in the parking lot, traffic congestion is said to be terrible any time after 6:30 am.

He took a taxi to school in Ecuador, probably with a bit more flexibility in departure time.

I do think the bus was about three minutes earlier today than it has been the past few days.

He said he was dreaming when Rick woke him up. Still in Spanish, I'll bet.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

un sustantivo no un verbo

Today Kevin took Isaac to get his haircut after school. Isaac has told us that in Ecuador, for $5 he can go get his haircut, have some delicious helado in town, and pay for the taxi both ways.

Here, it cost him $12 plus tip. Explaining the tip thing was a challenge, and it wasn't just the language barrier, but I think we got it across.

Now I feel confident that, on his own, he's going to get up early enough to catch the 5:50 a.m. school bus and make his own breakfast and lunch beforehand, so I'm a little less nervous about the possibility of my having to be competent before 5:30 a.m. on a regular basis.

I'm packing my bags for VaHomeschoolers Homeschool Day this weekend and looking forward to it -- tho' creating the list of who-has-to-be-where for Rick is more difficult than staying here and being the Director.

I should be able to be a logistics manager for one of these big warehouses in Memphis after my experience as a homeschool mom.

Language challenge of the day was explaining "why do you use the verb 'to catch?'" in regard to the school bus. "To catch and to ride are the same?"

Not quite, but in this case, and not usually, but you can even say "catch a ride" but then ride is un sustantivo no un verbo.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Things to Do

Early morning: make sure Isaac is on bus, work out, write
11:00 am - my haircut
12 noon - Pizza Hut buffet with boys
1:00 pm - Kevin, Patrick, Nick haircuts, then library

Also, get hand-outs copied for Homeschool Day; get new calendar
Plan logistics for getting Isaac to Exchange Student Orientation Friday while I'm away
Double-check flight schedule for Friday
Oil changed in car
Plan, buy groceries for and cook dinner
Take Isaac for haircut after school, depending on bus arrival in afternoon
Take Kevin to drop off job application at coffee shop
Remind Kevin to call park ranger re Eagle project signature
Change ink cartridges

Patrick's soccer practice 7:30 pm; leave here 7:00 pm
Kevin martial arts 5:30 pm

Longer term
Remember to pay university for Patrick's guitar lessons
Call piano teacher re August for Kevin's lessons
Talk to sensei re upcoming martial arts tournament
Nick's soccer Thursday night
Remind Rick he'll be doing two soccer practice pick-ups Sat., plus picking up Isaac from Exchange Student orientation Saturday
Look into Grand Canyon trip for scouts
Get desk for Kevin/Isaac
Consider cub scouts for Nick
Find computer geek to help Patrick with building computer
Get more advanced algebra book
Promote Not Back To School Yard Party for Midsouth Homeschoolers (Newsletter?)

Now I'm thinking about the letters to write, the painting that needs to be done, school materials, and am pretty well set for a bout of insomnia.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

This Homeschool Mom's First Day of School

Tomorrow, our exchange student Isaac goes to high school. Since he has not registered for classes, we'll go a bit late, as instructed, and I'll stay with him to get him registered.

The courses he has to take, as required by his visa to be an exchange student, are American History (or government) and English. The other courses he also hopes to enroll in are physics, chemistry II, algebra II, and calculus. Oh, yes, and he thinks he'll have a study hall with that.

I've explained this would be considered quite a challenging schedule for an American student with full command of the language the subjects will be taught in, but he's more concerned that he may be bumped by an American student who wants those classes for college prep or graduation requirements! He says, "the symbols, they are always the symbols" for math and chemistry, and he believes that since he was very strong in these subjects in Ecuador, they will help him keep the necessary grades in USA. I concede that English and history would be quite likely to be more difficult to keep up with, language-wise.

I, being one to support folks in doing what they want to do, will be there advocating for him to get the classes that he wants. But two maths? This English major cringes....

Meanwhile, he asks if "my brothers" will be starting school this week at home. How do I explain to him that his being here has been a large part of their recent education? How do I explain that Kevin's final written work on his Eagle Scout project proposal is his current school project? How do I explain that Patrick's research on "how to build my own computer" is also a current school project? How do I explain that posting the verb tener and its conjugation, as well as phrases like como se dice and mas despacio por favor, all over the kitchen, is the way that I produce escuela at our house? Accompanied of course, by dinner table conversation about when to use usted and when to use tu.

How do I explain that Tuesday, when he must board the bus at 5:50 am, his brothers and I will be asleep?

And how do I convince myself, that my new son from Ecuador can really get up, cook his own eggs (which he has now done three times in his life), and wait for the bus at that hour without su madre?

Meanwhile, Patrick tells me he is stumped on an algebra question (he has only asked me about five questions all year) and that he wants more advanced materials for right after he finishes the last page of the last book in the Key To Algebra series, and by the way, have I found anyone who can walk him through how to build a computer, EXACTLY? I wonder if Patrick understands enough Spanish and Isaac understands enough English that my Ecuadoran math whiz can tutor my American math whiz? And does anyone out there want to volunteer to be the computer-building tutor?

Nick's and Patrick's soccer coaches have called about practices that start this week, Kevin is going to the dojo nearly nightly to prepare for a martial arts tournament, and Isaac is letting me know that he intends to play for the high school soccer team, whose informal practices (without coach) will probably start in about a week.

Sometimes it seems the most important thing I do in my house is manage logistics. And this year, I get to manage them on both a public school and a homeschool basis.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Cultural Exchange

Today I showed Isaac how to use the washing machine, the dryer, and the vacuum cleaner. In his family home in Ecuador, he has not had these family responsibilities because, like in fortunate South American families, chores are taken care of by servants. He is a willing learner and seems to understand when I tell him how middle class families in America work hard together to take care of their homes, yards, cars, and pets. I have also shown him how to cook eggs so he will be ready to prepare his own breakfast.

It's important that he can cook eggs (los huevos!) because the bus comes at 5:50 am. He and I are both in disbelief about this. As a homeschool mom to three boys, I am feeling like I will be getting a big dose of "American school culture" as well as the Ecuadoran culture I look forward to learning about so much.

Kevin and Patrick also helped with chores today. Isaac agreed that cleaning bathrooms, which each of them did, was less desirable than vacuuming. Nick helped with putting away toys, straightening chairs, and helping to "pick up."

Tonight we went to the high school for orientation for Isaac. He says the school is a bit bigger in size than the citadel in his town in Ecuador, and we were able to see the new soccer field that has just been built. He is anxious to participate in soccer, so I hope that all that will work out. I myself was shocked to hear that dress code violations here are met with punishment that includes a student's choice of "corporal punishment or suspension." More culture clash for me. I can't imagine corporal punishment, and most especially in dealing with teenagers. The Scandinavian exchange student we spoke with about this noted that this is illegal in his country. I had read a lot about corporal punishment being outlawed in Memphis schools just last year; the first year we moved to this part of the world, the newspaper published statistics regarding the many thousands of incidents of corporal punishment in that school system. There is a lot about Ecuador that has seemed less jarring to me than this.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Sleepover and Sleep Deprivation

Tonight, our two oldest sons and our exchange student are spending the night with friends. I felt odd leaving, thinking that it is another unfamiliar family for Isaac, but knowing that he will be facing a lot of this sort of thing. School starts for him on Monday. He can only know that our own kids feel safe with our friends and that therefore he probably can too. Still, it is a new set of accents to try to decipher, a different angle on American culture. My husband had to go in to the plant in the middle of the night and still get up early for meetings today, so he is really exhausted, and I've been staying up too late trying to learn Spanish and recover from trying to learn Spanish from Isaac. Isaac and our son Kevin have been talking into the wee hours, Spanish/English dictionaries in hand to aid in translation.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Mis Cuatro Hijos...My Four Sons

Our exchange student from Ecuador arrived Tuesday. Or was it Wednesday, since his plane came late and it turned in to 3:30 am instead of 9:46 pm? In any case, I figure it's time to record an interesting year in our family's life.