Tag Archives: children

Liesl and Smee

Her first lead role, with solo singing and several costume changes and (yikes) almost-kissing a boy.  Since she hadn’t really practiced at home, and certainly not at top volume, her first song caught me almost entirely off guard. 

I am sixteen, going on seventeen…

I knew she could sing, but I didn’t know she could SING. She danced across the stage, graceful and so composed and she just nailed it.

My heart couldn’t have been more full.  That she received rave reviews from people who are not me was gratifying, because I often think that my unabashed adoration of my children is the result of maternal bias. Other people telling me that they are, indeed, as amazing as I think they are is reassuring.  And my goodness, she was just so good and she loved it so much.

And then, a week later, his first speaking role too.  At eleven years old it’s easy to imagine he’d be embarrassed or think it wasn’t cool to put his whole self into it, but this boy does nothing halfway and he loves what he loves wholeheartedly and without reservation or pretense.  He was INTO it. 

He was so excited about the costumes and the make-up, and he kept it all a secret even though he is the actual literal world’s worst secret-keeper.  Striped shirt and rosy cheeks and thick mutton-chop sideburns and the obligatory specs perched on the end of his nose, and he loved every minute of it.

He played his part so well, the comic foil to an amazing performance by Captain Hook, who  also happens to be one of his very best friends and favorite people. 

And then as the cast marched down the center aisle to exit the stage on the last song, spotlights bright on their shining faces, he blew me a kiss when he walked by me and I could see the pride and joy and excitement shining in his eyes through the tears glistening in mine.

My babies. On the stage.  Owning it and loving it and my mama heart just bursting with pride because they had done it all themselves.  I didn’t help them memorize lines (they helped each other, actually – even better!), I didn’t force them to rehearse or practice even one time. 

Every second of glory is theirs, and all I can do is stand in awe.

Individuals

I snapped a picture as the gondola rolled down the canal, the sunlight in my eyes blocking my view of the screen, so all I could do was hope it came out.

Later, I looked at it and my breath caught in my throat.

If you’d asked me to capture each of my children’s personalities exactly in photo form, this is what you’d get.

She is smiling at the camera, hair perfect, sunglasses perfect, smile perfect. Confident and happy and just a little sassy.  Smile, I said, and she did, and it was perfect because she knows how to make it so.  I don’t think it’s vanity, but it’s a self-awareness I certainly didn’t possess at thirteen, and an acceptance that it’s actually okay to care.  It’s not pretentious, not forced, and she’s not embarrassed by it.  She is a perfectionist, and she does live in a world where every moment can be insta-worthy, but I like to think she balances that out.  We sometimes think that only the ugly moments are real, but the pretty ones are too.  As long as we can accept both as truth, we’re all doing okay.  She’s more than okay.

He, the oldest, heard me say smile but waited a heartbeat to do what he was told.  He is purposely still staring off in a different direction, a feigned look of mild confusion on his face.  Hair coiffed to perfection though.  He knows what’s going on, knows what we want him to do, knows how to do it, but he likes to pretend he doesn’t sometimes.  Wants the world explained to him in minute detail, wants to ask questions that have already been answered and wants me to answer them again and again.  A split second later he was grinning at the camera, but I missed it and he thought that was funny.  Innocence and mischief, that one.

He, the middle, did not hear me say smile and is not bothered by it.  He was not listening.  He is leaning over the side of the boat, which we told him not to do, trailing his hand in the water, which we told him not to do, and he is not bothered by the fact that we will tell him both of those things again.  He knows he will not fall in.  Knows he will not get hurt.  Knows exactly what he’s capable of, knows what he wants to do and how to do it, and knows how far he can go without getting into real trouble.  Because he knows we also know what he is capable of.  He is independent and fierce and determined, and humors us by following the the rules we lay out before him, but not always.  Not always.

He, the youngest, is in the center of it all, confident and grinning and happy and posing like a king, letting all of us orbit him in his glory.  He has no doubt in any fiber of his body that anything is less than wonderful, and that radiates right out of him at all times.  He is completely secure and sure that everyone loves him, that everything will be fine, and that life is good.  He is right.

I don’t know what I did to get so lucky to have these little individuals for my own for a few years, these little people whose personalities are so completely their own, even when I do occasionally see glimpses of myself or Matt or another relative in them.  They came this way, and I am just lucky enough to get to steer them along their course for a little while.

Try The Haggis

try the haggis

When we went to Scotland a few months ago, Matt ordered a full Scottish breakfast at a restaurant our first day.

It came with haggis.

In case you don’t know what that is, haggis, a traditional Scottish dish, is: “a savory pudding containing sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach”. 

That does not sound appetizing in any way.  Honestly, it does not.  I know this.  No thinking person would reasonably read that description and think, “MMMMMMMM, haggis.  That sounds good, I’ll try that!”.

But you know what?  I tried it anyway; we all did.  Even the kids.  When that plate was delivered to the table, every one of us took at least a small bite.

You know why?  Because we were in Scotland and haggis is a traditional Scottish dish, maybe the most famous traditional Scottish food of all.  And what was going to happen if we tried it?  Nothing.  The worst thing that would happen is that we’d have tried something that tasted badly.  You take a sip of your drink and you move on.  But maybe you find out that you LOVE haggis.  And you’d never have known if you hadn’t tried it.

“Well?” I asked. 

Not bad was the general consensus.  Not delicious, but not terrible. 

“And,” said Bridget, “now I can always say I’ve tried it.  Now I know.”

In that moment, with that statement, as I looked at all four of my kids chewing thoughtfully on bites of spiced sheep organs, I felt proud and I felt energized and I felt like a good mother.  Like if I do nothing else right in this life, at least I’ve taught my children not to be afraid to try something new.

So many people live in fear of trying a new thing.  People limit themselves on where they go and what they do and who they talk to and what they eat and what they wear based solely on the fact that the thing they do is the thing they’ve always done. 

What a waste.

What the hell is the point of living if you’re unwilling to ever try something new?  If you never take chances and risks, where’s the fun?  How will you ever find out what you love if you only ever stick to what you know?

So go to ScotlandTry the damn haggis.  At least you can say you did it. 


Also, this is the very purpose of our having moved to Europe, and this is another important parenting message.


 

School Differences: Classroom Time vs. Non-classroom Time

O xcountry meet

Since the beginning of the new school year last September, Matt and I have discussed many times how much the children seem to be learning — as I said before, they have quite a few more subjects in their schedules, and they are expected to work hard and really do their best.  But we’ve also noted how much happier the kids are about school here.  They are, all four of them, simply more invested and engaged and they ENJOY school more than ever before. 

Why, I wondered, are my kids so much happier about school here when they seem to have more work than ever before? 

The answer, I strongly believe, lies in the way the school day is structured: there is significantly more activity and movement built into their days and weeks here than in their average school week in America.

The current school day for Gabe and Owen lasts 7 hours — from 8:50AM to 3:50PM each day.  The school day in our American school lasted 6h 40m — from 8:40AM to 3:20PM.  (This year, though, the county where we lived extended the school day by 15 minutes and the days there now last 6h 55m, so really the school days are about the same length.)

Each day here, the children have two 10-minute homeroom periods — one at the beginning and and end of each day.  They also have a 10-minute “registration” period just after lunch to take attendance and make sure everyone is where they’re supposed to be.  Each morning after homeroom, there is a 20-minute school-wide assembly.  There is a 20-minute break after second period when the kids just go outside and play.  The lunch/recess period lasts 65 minutes.  In addition, the students change classes multiple times throughout the day, so they walk between classes across the school.  That all adds up to at least 135 minutes (2h 15m) of non-instructional hours in each seven hour school day, most of which are physically active times when the kids are walking, running, or playing. 

Through the course of the 35-hour school week, that adds up to 11.25 hours NOT spent sitting in a seat in class.  Only 4.75 hours are spent sitting in class each day, and of those hours, some of them are in PE and Games and Art and Music.

Here’s 7- year old Owen’s timetable (British Year 3, equivalent to American 2nd grade) so you can see how the day is structured (this schedule doesn’t include the 10-minutes of homeroom at the beginning and end of each day):

Owen timetable

The kids here have 60 minutes of PE every week AND 180 minutes of Games (sports practice, which I explained in my last post about schools here) every week.  They have 90 minutes of Swimming every other week. They have 60 minutes of Art and 60 minutes of Music every week.  They also have 60 minutes of Design Technology (DT) each week, which is essentially Home Ec and rotates between sewing, cooking, and shop class.  That adds up to another 7h 45m per week of physical activity, bringing the total number of hours of physically-related activities up to 19 hours out of 35 available in the school week.  (And yes, I count Art and Music and DT as physical activities — those are classes based on movement and development of gross and fine motor skills.)

In our school in the States, lunch lasted 30 minutes and recess was 20 minutes.  The kids only moved between classes a few times a day: to go to and from lunch/recess and to go to specials like PE, Art, and Music.  On average, the kids had 100 minutes of PE, 100 minutes of Music, and 60 minutes of Art each week.  There were occasional assemblies, but not daily, school-wide gatherings.  Sometimes the kids had more physical-related lessons in a classroom, but those weren’t guaranteed in any given day.  That adds up to only 310 minutes, or 5 1/3 hours of reliable non-seated, physically-related activity total in the school week.  That’s A LOT less time spent moving and a lot MORE time spent sitting.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison (for the sake of simplicity, I generalized a bit and made the 7hr British school day and the 6hr 55min American school day both add up to 35 hours per week):

Brit v Amer School chart

See the red?  That’s time generally spent sitting in a classroom.  

No wonder my kids are happier in school here — they never have to sit in a seat in a class for more than 90 minutes in a row at any point at all during the school week.  I’d also be willing to bet that because of the amount of physical activity built into each day, the kids are better able to sit still and focus when they do need to because they’re not spending their days bottling up all of the energy that is just part of being a kid. 

I often read articles — like this one — that explain why it’s so important for kids to move and be physically active.  Or articles like this that describe how difficult it is for children to sit still for long periods of time, especially for little boys.  Having now experienced a school where daily physical activity is guaranteed and built into the week, I can say with absolute certainty that it makes a huge difference in my children’s attitudes toward going to school, their level of happiness during the school day, and their ability to learn.

I do believe my children are learning more in school here than they were in their school in America.  It is NOT, however, because they’re going to a private school or because teachers here are better or because the curriculum is of a higher quality.  It is NOT because they are spending more hours in school or more school hours on instructional time. 

In fact, the opposite is true: they are learning more because the school day includes more of the physical activity that is absolutely crucial for children.  They are learning more because they are able to focus better during instructional time.  They are learning more because they’re not bored or fidgety.  They are learning more because the school day here is structured in such as way as to incorporate the play and movement that is most beneficial for children.

In short, my kids have fewer classroom hours here, but they are learning more.  And they are HAPPIER.  And that makes me happier.


Also, here are my other posts on school differences.


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