Wednesday, April 28, 2010

in which I am 40-something-else

Concluding Birthday Season I in our family, I am now Even Older.  (Doesn't that get on your nerves, when people who aren't remotely elderly talk about how oooollld they are?  Mine too.  Get off my lawn. Oh wait. OK, I'll get off my own lawn.  But I'll be back on it before long, as it's about to need mowing.)

I had a lovely birthday, which started when my lovely husband made sure I was exempted from getting our lovely daughters ready for school.  I was supposed to sleep in, but was wide awake at the usual time.  Grrrr.  He also made me a beautiful chocolate cake, and I can now say definitively that the chocolate frosting recipe on the back of the unsweetened cocoa label is much superior to the one I'd been using for years.  Riveting news, I know.  But chocolate frosting improvements are always cause for good cheer.

I got a fishing pole and a Nancy Drew book and a Black Eyed Peas CD (the one with the boom-boom-pow song that I can't stop singing. "Them chickens jackin' my style," and stuff!) and Season 3 of The Muppet Show.  The Muppet Show makes me very happy.  Also a new novel, socks with flamingos on them, and a Life Is Good t-shirt.  And it is, folks, it is.

In other news you will be delighted to know that I finally finished the biography of George Washington that I've been reading on and off for FIVE YEARS now.  Of which more later.  My cat-herding exemption was for one morning only, so I'd better hit the hay.

Monday, April 26, 2010

And Now She Is Six

So the Peanut is six.  Six!  I looked through the blog archives to see what I've written about her previous birthdays.  On her fourth, I shared her birth story; on her fifth, noted that she'd had a wee meltdown the night before about not being four any longer.  That seems to be a pattern of hers.  She's such an irrepressibly joyous little person, but at times the bitter-sweetness of growing up overcomes her.  The other night, saying our goodnights at the close of a typically happy day in Peanutville and some words about looking forward to her birthday, she broke down in tears.  She sobbed and sobbed and held me tight.  When she could get words out, she said, "I don't want to go to school full day."  She's in a half-day kindergarten program, and I guess the major significance of Sixness is that you go to First Grade, and it lasts "all day."

(Our town has a full day K option, but we never considered it.  My thinking, in brief, is:  heck, she's still little! As long we're making things work without my having a paid job, why not let her play dress-up and read stories in the afternoons, or be out and about with me?  People say kids in full day get "ahead" academically and kids in half day will be "behind," but to my mind, that misses the point.)

But a sure sign that the Peanut is about to be ready for something is that she cries and says she's not ready for it.  It's as if she clears a lot of anxiety out with a major bout of tears, and then she's good to go.   The next day, she said she was actually ready for first grade "right now."

That makes one of us.  But I'm really, really proud of her.

in which my Peanut is Six and we have a busy but lovely spring break

Phew.  We've been busier than one-armed paperhangers around here.

Last week was school vacation.  The Peanut's birthday fell on a weekday, and we had her party on the weekend.  I made a small cake for her birthday, and a giant cake for her party.  She requested a "sunshine party, with a yellow cake with yellow icing and an orange sun and a big orange 6!"  Okey dokey -- as long as she keeps the frosting colors down to two, I can manage.  Shopping for presents was also fairly easy, as she'd written up a wish list which included things like a "real purse," and a Zhu Zhu pet (= a battery operated hamster-looking thing that scoots around and makes noises.  Definitely a playroom-only toy, and knowing how to make it "sleep" is key). I also got her a cute little watch.  The Bean got one on her 6th; it just seems like the right year for it.  So, we got presents, party supplies, favors -- all manner of errands got run.

On her birthday itself we went to the public library to get her very own library card.  All our library staff are great, and the children's librarian is exceptional.  "No, no, Peanut, you have to be six," he told her.  "I AM SIX!" she said.  "Oh, well, then, you have to come in with your Mom or Dad."  "MY MOMMY'S RIGHT HERE!"  "Oh, but you have to know how to spell your name... " etc., until eventually she'd proven herself worthy and was presented with her very own wallet-sized card which she had to sign, and a little globe keychain to attach the smaller card to.  She was fit to burst with pride from the whole transaction.  Have I mentioned how much I love our library?

What else?  We had picnics at playgrounds and beaches, and Mr. Sandy took a day off to join us on a trip out to Race Point to look for whales from the beach.  We had a wonderful time but didn't see any whales.  I still think they were probably all breaching and dancing on their tailfins just around the corner from us. 

So it went... and now we are back to our regularly scheduled routine, which is always a pleasure in itself.  Next stop, summer vacation!

Monday, April 12, 2010

They say you can't judge a book by its cover, but I think you can judge a town, or a school, by its library.

This week is National Library Week, in which we celebrate libraries and librarians, and their contributions to our communities.  Environmentalists say every day is Earth Day; I say true dat, and also, every week is library week.  I spend a lot of time in libraries. 

In my daughters' school library, parent volunteers have always been helpful for checking books in and out, shelving them, putting books in order when they aren't, and rescuing books that have been mis-shelved and might as well be lost to anybody looking for them in their correct place.  This year, we're not just helpful, we are essential free labor.

Thanks to (somehow unanticipated) cuts in state funding and decisions by the Superintendent about what jobs to cut in turn, the library aides in each of our K-8 schools were laid off before Christmas. Our school of some 900 kids now has just one person to manage the circulation and condition of the entire collection.  She's supposed to do this on top of teaching research skills to each of the classes that come in at their assigned times and helping the children that drop in individually or in small groups throughout the day.  I can tell you it's impossible. My volunteer day is a typical one.  There's already a library class in session when I arrive in the morning, and two more classes of 22 or so kids each come in and out before I finish at noon.  There are projects for each of them; sixth graders might be doing reports on Presidents, fourth graders on constellations, and second grade might be hearing a story and learning how to find fiction they like. Each kid puts a couple of books in the return cart on their way in.  Each kid checks out a couple of books on their way out.  A few will need speaking to about overdue or missing items.  Several ask for help finding what they're looking for.  ("Do you have any books on dinosaurs/Greek myths/kittens/Star Wars/raising cattle/Tom Brady/origami/Uganda/the moon?"  I have more or less memorized the entire Dewey Decimal system.) There just aren't enough minutes in the school day for the librarian to do all she does personally with the students and completely handle the circulation and shelving of books. We volunteers fill some of the gap.

The Bean volunteers in the library too. After hearing me talk about the district's budget problems,* she tried hard to come up with a way to help out.  (She wanted to give her school principal her tooth fairy money, because the school needed it more than she did.  How do you explain that a dollar won't help the school one bit, even if it represents her whole heart?)  We decided that because she especially loves the library, we would help there together.  So once a week, the Peanut and I join her after school.  Bean shelves series fiction and easy readers, I make a dent in the nonfiction, and the Peanut disappears somewhere with a book of her own (heck, this wasn't her idea).  When it's time to head home, the Bean's pride is palpable, and the return cart is in better shape for the next day.  We're doing what we can.

Public libraries have been in the news around here lately because municipal budgets, like school budgets, are stretched impossibly thin.  Boston is looking at closing several of its branch libraries.  My Cape Cod town will likely cut public library employee hours (if not entire jobs) and reduce its operating hours. 

Adding insult to injury, our public library is also recovering from its basement having badly flooded.  We had a crazy lot of rain this March, and groundwater is high.  The library basement rooms are used for meetings and programs and story times and a children's play center and lots more besides.  They'd just had new carpet installed, and it's all ruined.  They pumped out the water and it came in again.  It'll be weeks before the space is usable.

I visit the town library often, maybe twice a week, to exchange our stack of children's books for different ones, and hunt down the novels my book groups are reading plus whatever looks interesting besides.  We borrow DVDs and audiobooks as well.  Lots of families do all that and more.  The library's a busy, busy place. 

People more eloquent than I are going to talk a lot this week about how libraries are the heart of their communities.  I think that's true.  Libraries house all we know about ourselves, the world, and beyond.  Public libraries ensure that all this is available to everyone.  It is an awesome, venerable function, because, as a free society, we value that.  Don't we?

Maybe not.  Last week on Cape Cod's local news and talk station, a morning show discussion began of the proposed library closings in Boston, and I heard one ignoramus host say to the other that she thinks libraries are "obsolete, because you can always go to a bookstore."  Yes!  She thinks that because you can browse at a bookstore without buying anything, that's functionally the same as having a public library.  And of all the stupid ignorant things I've heard from that silly twit's mouth since someone thought it was a good idea to pay her to squawk into a microphone, that beat all.  Well, I thought.  Here, at last, will come the callers telling her what a dope she is.  But no.  In came the calls wondering yeah, why do we need libraries, anyway?  Stupid libraries.  Stupid, money-needing libraries.

Oh. My. God.  I had to turn it off.   

This is what we're up against, friends and supporters of public libraries:  people who think Barnes & Noble is an effective substitute.  

Looks like we do need National Library Week.

*probably wondering aloud why we've laid off all the library aides, yet maintain a high school ice hockey program which has made local headlines for 1) the bad behavior of its players and fans and 2) the girls' and boys' teams not having equal facilites (illegal, btw, and I'll give you one guess which team got the short end of that stick).

Sunday, April 04, 2010

An Easter joke, without warranty, expressed or implied

Q.  What did Jesus say when He went to the disco and found He couldn't dance?

A.  "Help!  I've risen and I can't get down!"

Thursday, April 01, 2010

waiting it out

This morning, as I was up in the predawn taking even more ibuprofen for the abdominal and lower back pain I've been having a few days each month for thirty years now and which neither medical science nor any hoople-headed alternative seems able to alleviate, I mistook the actual sunrise for a reflection of the light over my stove.  Really.  It's been gloomy out for so long that I didn't recognize that bright yellow light I saw just over the horizon out my east-facing window.  It took me fully a minute to realize it was the sun.

No matter.  It had disappeared again within the half hour, and the girls and I walked to school in a chilly damp wind under the usual gray sky.

The weekend's looking to be gorgeous though, and could we ever use it.