Sunday, September 30, 2007

Michelle Obama sent me some junk mail, but Elizabeth Edwards invited me on a conference call

You got a letter from Michelle Obama DH called when I walked into the house last week. I think it's just junk mail. He was right. Michelle Obama turned down a chance to meet with the Chicago Moms Bloggers, but she'll still ask me for campaign funds.

Elizabeth Edwards, however, invited the Silicon Valley Moms Bloggers to meet with her yesterday in San Jose and the Chicago Moms were asked to join in over the phone.

The boys were all excited that I was going to talk to the next president despite my many explanations that I was set to talk with (listen in, really) the potential next first lady.

I wished it could have been more of a conversation. As she was answering the questions there were many times I wanted to use her answer as a jumping off point to explore other issues. For example, when answering a question about encouraging women and minorities to pursue careers in science she talked about her daughter who was accelerated in math and was part of a all too brief special mentoring program- it took a great deal of self-control not to chime and ask how John Edwards plans to fix NCLB.

Speaking of which, I'd love to blog more on the topic, but I've got a paid writing assignment that I need to get back to. Thanks to NCLB, I'm paying might high tuition fees to get my kids an adequate education, so back to work I go.

One more thing, I fully agree with Mammaloves over at DC Metro Moms Blog.

"I still haven't made up my mind who I'm going to vote for, but if you aren't
willing to have a conversation with us Senators Obama, Clinton, Biden, Dodd or
McCain, Mayor Guiliani or Governors Romney and Richardson how will we know that you deserve our vote?"

The soccer moms are not going to sit on the sidelines during this election- we've got blogs now; we have a voice.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Barefoot Book reviews

The morning after I told DH I was done with time-consuming product reviews I received an offer from Rebecca at Barefoot Books. Books. Books! How can I turn down free books? (Or, apparently, cell phones.)

I had great fun perusing the Barefoot Books website. Their commitment to celebrating art and story is obvious- colorful illustrations, books with CDs to further engage the senses, high quality Folkmanis puppets to re-enact the stories. My only problem was what to choose.

Smartypants has been working hard to raise money to sponsor the Spanish classroom in his school's new building (and he's shockingly close to his $25,000 goal!), so I chose two early reader Spanish books that I thought the Spanish teacher would like. I was wrong she loved them!

Of course, we peeked at them first. Little Pikachu did a fine job reading the story about the fat pig, Cerdota Grandota, aloud, but felt this book was really for Spanish experts because he didn't understand it all-he's just starting to learn the language. Senora loved the book's clever rhymes and looks forward to sharing it with her students.

She was just as enthusiastic about Cha-cha-cha en la selva. That book came with a CD that inspired Pikachu to cha-cha around the room. Or was he doing a samba? Who knows?

Both Cerdota Grandota and Cha-cha-cha en la selva are also available in English.

I plan to donate the third book Rebecca graciously offered, The Genius of Leonardo, to the school's library once we've had a better look at it. This picture book about Leonardo Da Vinci (as opposed to Leonardo the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle) has some depth to it and I want to read it with boys boys before we pass it on.

Now that the toy store's shelves have been wiped clean due to recalls, why not make books the gift of choice this season?


For for more info contact Rebecca through the Barefoot Books site or check out her blog.

Senator Durbin doesn't know from mommybloggers, my kids are not entitled to appropriate public educations and other notes from Political Playdate Sat

cross posted on Chicago Moms Blog

I hadn't planned to blog about this morning’s grand opening of the boys’ new school (same school as last year, but in a shiny new building) but then I saw that Senator Dick Durbin was on the list of distinguished speakers and I broke out my camera and notepad, bursting into citizen journalist mode.

Moving into action, I nudged my way into proximity, introduced myself and started talking. Perhaps he could help me and my mommyblogger friends meet his colleague senator Obama? Whah? Senator Durbin has never heard of the mommybloggers! I guess he doesn't know that mommybloggers are the new soccer moms. And unlike the soccer moms on the sideline, mommy bloggers speak out...and people listen.

(Score one for John Edwards and his campaign; they know the power of mommybloggers. In fact, as I type this, I’m waiting for a conference call with Elizabeth Edwards to begin. She’s meeting in person with the SVMBloggers while the DC and Chicago moms patch in by phone.)
Senator Durbin discussed the sad reality that many US teachers are not certified to teach the subjects they are assigned. He talked about the fact that our school systems focus lots of attention and resources on children from poor families, slow learners and those with learning challenges. He recognized the fact that the children we send to this private school were left behind in their public schools. And he noted that no government funds were used to build my boys’ school, but that we need math and science academies like the ones my boys attend in order to help all kids develop and reach their potential and prosper. (Hmmm. My son said the same thing in his fundraising appeal.)

Of course what went unsaid was how the government will step up to this challenge of educating all kids to their potential. Then again, this was not a press conference, just a feel-good Saturday morning out with the people.

I introduced myself to another of the dignitaries, who turned out to be a state senator (though not mine). I don’t recall her name, which is a good thing, because when I asked about what was happening with gifted education, she seemed to think that some small level of funding has been approved (or will be) to return mandated gifted education in Illinois.

“Families like ours need help.” I told her. “It’s such a financial drain to send our kids here.”

Her response stopped short of saying that kids like mine, kids on the far edge of the bell curve just won’t be served by public education. Did I hear that right? Did she say that public education is not really for all children? I’ll never know, while I was busy scraping my jaw off the ground, the admissions directly gently escorted the dignitary off for a tour of the building.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

All Candy Expo (now with salty snacks, too!)

I just got back from the All Candy Expo and boy are my pants tight!

OMG! I've never seen anything like it--nearly 10 football field's worth of candy and snacks. OMG! Check back in a week or so for details on my Ultimate PMS Survival Kit giveaway. It's going to be awesome...unless the boys and I eat all the candy this weekend, in which case it's cancelled.

Friday, September 14, 2007

If you give a kid a cell phone...

What was I thinking when I signed my kid up to try a Kajeet cell phone? Forget that my nine year-old boy has no need for a cell phone, he’s a complete screen addict. Computer, video, TV, Ipod, there’s no technology too small to suck him in. So, giving him a cell phone, is like giving him his first bit of crack with a Tequila chaser. I am a bad, bad, mother.

After a consult with DH, we decided the cell phone would not stay with us beyond the trial period. When his Kajeet wallet is empty, we are going to auction it on E-Bay or raffle it off at school to support Smartypants’ fundraising effort (only $3,500 to go!)

When I told Smartypants that he was going to get a cell phone for a few weeks he replied in his wizened way, “I hope it’s not like a Firefly, they seem boring, lame. You can only call a few people and I don’t think they have games. They are not as advanced as regular cell phones.”

Lucky for him, the Kajeet is way cooler than the Firefly. The sleek blue Sanyo Katana phone leaves me with a case of cell phone envy.

Within minutes of opening the box, we’d started up the service with the help of a very friendly woman named Leigh Anne at the call center. Smartypants and I each chose passwords and user names and we were set. It was time to read the manual. Wait, that’s only for grown-ups.

Smartypants had explored every feature of the phone within the first five minutes, while I still haven’t figured out how to send text messages on the cell phone I’ve had for over a year.

Smartypants loves the grown-up look and features (and games!) of the phone. I love the pay-as-you-go service. No long-term contracts, just a simple 10 cents a minute per US call and 5 cents per text, regardless of the time or day of the week the call is made. Smartypants can send pictures for 25 cents each and purchase games ($3.00 - $6.00 per download, but free unlimited play after that).

I also love the parental controls. In fact, Smartypants decided to spend $6 to download the Shrek 3 game, but kept getting blocked from doing so. I told him to call the Kajeet toll-free number to try to resolve the problem, and he did. Cell phone teaches child responsibility-hooray! Of course, the Kajeet folks needed to speak with me to unblock the service, but I was proud that he made the call and got through some of the basic troubleshooting on his own. I had to give the Kajeet rep my username and password in order to unblock the service, so it’s not like any adult can make changes to his account.

Parental controls can also block service at set times, like during school or designated homework hours.

This has been an interesting experience for us. Even with the 35-cent maintenance fee, Smartypants will have the phone for 6 or more weeks before his Kajeet Wallet is empty; the poor kid has no one to call. Last night he called his grandpa…while they were sitting next to each other on the couch. So clearly he doesn’t need a cell phone just yet, but if your child 10-15 year- old does, Kajeet is an excellent way to go.

And if you’d like our cool blue phone, leave a comment below and I’ll notify you if we offer up this gently-used phone on E-Bay.

Note: this Kajeet blog review tour opportunity was provided by Mom Central. We received the phone and $20 for the Kajeet waller to test it out, but were not paid for the review.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Finally Back in School!

The boys finally started school today, but with a major Jewish Holiday starting Wednesday night, they'll only be in school three days this week. I still have lots to do and not much time, so click over to Scrambled CAKE and the Chicago Moms Blog to see what I've been writing.

Last week on the Chicago Moms Blog I issued an invitation to Senator Obama and his wife to come speak with the CMB contributors. She has already and officially turned me/us down, but that made some blogging mamas pretty angry. We've got some audacious hope for a positive response from the Senator.

The following blogs restate or reference my invite:

The Soccer Mom Vote





There's also this update. And of course, these posts at DC Metro Moms Blog and the Silicon Valley Moms Blog, sister sites to CMB. It's not quite viral, but I'm starting to lose track of the posts.

Before I hit the sack, I want to share this photo of 7 year-old Pikachu's Sculpey Pokemon in honor of my blog-friend Vero and her crafty kids blog, Little Elephants.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Giving Up on Public Education

Private school provides a haven for gifted kids—and their parents.

“We’re refugees” the other mom explained in a mocking tone. A smile was in her voice, but there was an edge to her words. We were part of an angry, frustrated group of parents who’d been mistreated and misunderstood by The System. But we weren't hurricane victims standing in the Louisiana Superdome. We were in the lobby of my boys’ new school, the Gifted Academy (GA) a 20-minute drive from our home.

I never expected to be a part of the private school crowd. Our family has a strong record of involvement in public schools as educators, school board members and students. But after disappointing experiences in public school with our oldest son, a profoundly gifted child, we felt forced to move, homeschool or go private for both our 7 year-old son and his 5 year-old brother, who also is gifted.

“There are parents who assume their children will go to private school from a young age and simply choose that,” my fellow refugee mom continued. “And then there are those who have struggled through years of public school and find the GA to be a haven for their children.”
During the first week of school I encountered many of these public school refugees. Each had a story similar to mine.

One mom sent her child to a highly touted North Shore public school with disappointing results. “She went into kindergarten reading The Chronicles of Narnia, but the school gave her nursery rhymes to read,” the mom said.

Another recalled: “My son visited the GA years ago. After a day-long preview, he told me to call his public school and tell them he was sick and would never be back.”

Then there was the mom who shared how her son’s public school kindergarten teacher, a seasoned teacher and the mother of a highly gifted child, scheduled an hour-long conference to discuss the boy’s high intelligence level and make recommendations to ensure him an appropriate education—something gifted kids are often not legally entitled to.

Unfortunately, the boy’s first-grade teacher, a well-intentioned young woman with a newly minted education degree, didn’t share the kindergarten teacher’s enthusiasm for teaching the profoundly gifted boy. Instead, she was convinced the boy was autistic. Many hundreds of dollars and hours of testing later he was diagnosed as being unusually intellectually advanced for his age.

That mom continued: “My image of a child prodigy was a kid who plays flawless piano concertos while still in diapers. I didn’t realize my child was so different. It’s a joy to see that the GA is meeting his social and academic needs.”

During a hurried but lively chat at pick-up time, I told her I could relate. Each of us was glad to have found a kindred spirit. “This conversation feels like a hug,” she told me as we herded our kids to our cars.

With so many children facing such a wide range of compelling and highly publicized emotional problems and learning disabilities, it’s hard to get sympathy for the smart kids. But parents who have been there understand. They understand that students now thriving at a school for gifted kids were not only bored and underserved at their former schools, but may have been suffering from anxiety or depression as well.

The GA is structured and the teachers are trained to meet the unique educational and emotional challenges gifted students pose. They understand “asynchronous development”—that a child may be exceptionally advanced in some areas, but average or even below average in others.

That ability to teach across the spectrum also means that the school works for both of my kids. Since we couldn’t imagine separating the boys, that was key to our decision. If we couldn’t send both kids to the GA we would have been forced to choose another option--most likely moving to a much more expensive house in a much higher performing public school district.

Even that might not have worked. Gifted children can be tough. And not just because they ask probing, unanswerable questions. Gifted kids can be emotionally intense, struggle with Big Issues and be master manipulators, among other things.

It’s tough for teachers and for parents, who find parenting a precocious child can be an isolating experience. It’s one thing to seek support because your child has a learning or physical disability, but it’s hard to rally the troops because school is too easy for your child (who, by the way, is now called Mr. Smartypants). A parent whose child is a star athlete can talk about the traveling teams or championship games, but when it comes to things intellectual and academic, it somehow gets more awkward, more personal.

At the GA, we have found support and safety. But our fate is still uncertain. My husband and I sometimes ponder an unanswerable question: Twenty years from now, will we find investing in a private school was a better choice than investing in a really expensive house in a higher-performing public school district? Both choices are quite costly.

Which ultimately will show greater appreciation—our children or a house? We have to believe it will be our children.

For more information on gifted children, visit http://www.geniusdenied.com/,http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/, and http://www.iagcgifted.org/.

This originally appeared in Chicago Parent magazine (2005) and later at MOMbo.org.