Short or long

C gets homework every day, which I usually help him with. Most days doing second grade level school work is no problem for either him or me, but lately it has been a struggle.  His class is now working on identifying long and short vowel sounds, and I have been no help to him at all.

Assignments include such things as circling the words with a ‘short A’ sound in a sentence, making a list of ‘long a’ words, or correcting words that have been marked as being either ‘long’ or ‘short’.   Here’s a sample of how his teacher corrected one of his lists of ‘short a’ words.

I have trouble with this partly because I don’t remember what the difference is between long and short vowel sounds, but I think that main reason is that being a native of Boston, I don’t really say words the way they’re supposed to be said. Typical of the accent is that I tend to drop the letter “r” and replace it with an “h”. Car” comes out more like “Cahhh”, the word “corn”, sounds like “cawn”, “horse” sounds like “hoarse”, “park” sounds like “pahk”, “picture” sounds like “pictyahh”.    Some of us will also drop the “g” at the end of words, so  “walking” becomes “walkin”.  Combine dropping the r and g  and “learning” sounds like “lahnin”.

Also, words that would not sound alike, do in fact sound the same when said by a speaker from Boston, such as “caught” and “cot”,  “four” and “for”, “father” and “bother”.

We will sometimes also add in letter to words, of all things we will sometimes add in an “r” into words where there is no “r” at all.  As though we’re saving up all those ‘r’s  from ‘car’ and putting them somewhere else.  Ms J (who is not from Boston) likes to make fun of the way I say “banana”, which I will add an “r” to at the end,  saying:  “ba-nan-err”.    And all of us Boston natives speak in a nasally drone. Think of the character ‘Cliff Claven’ from the old TV show “Cheers”, or more recently the actors Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg.

So, C and I will sit at the kitchen table and I will try to help him decipher which words have a short vowel sound and which have a long vowel sounds.  I will attempt to say these short second grade level  words the way they are supposed to be said, like “far”, “park”, “course”, “there”, “where” and I’ll usually end up getting the both of us confused.

I’ll be glad when this unit is finished in his class.

Here’s a pretty good example of what we talk like here from Seth Meyers.  It’s a parody of all the recent crime films set in Boston so there’s some violent scenes toward the end, just a warning.  Or as we say here “a wahnin”.


C’s school planned to have a “grammar costume day” on Halloween. So instead of coming to school in the costumes that they would be wearing later that night, the kids would come in as some form of speech.  For C’s class it was ‘adjective’.  That’s a nice idea, but now we have to come up with TWO costumes?

So I asked C which adjective he might want to go as, and he said that he’d rather not do it at all.  It wasn’t required was it? he’d ask.  No, it’s not required.  OK, let’s not do it, I’ll just be a vampire for Halloween night.

OK, great.  Only one costume to work on. The weekend before Halloween I didn’t think much about his costume, planning on getting it together Monday afternoon, once he came home from school.  We’ve always made his costumes ourselves, always at the last minute, so this was not unusual.  One year he wanted to be a tiger, so I took one of his old orange t-shirts covered it in  stripes of masking tape and spray painted the unmasked areas in black. Once the masking tape is pulled off, he had a orange and black striped shirt – there you go you’re a tiger.  One year he wanted to be a pirate – so I found a strip of red cloth, painted a skull on it,  cut out a piece of cardboard to look like a sword and painted it gray , wrapped the cloth around his head he’s a pirate with a sword.  One of the earliest was his request to be a robot.  That was easy, a cardboard box wrapped in aluminum foil, with a hole cut in it for a flashlight to poke out from the front, and added a few switches and dials from the pile of broken things in the basement to look like robot dials and buttons.  Cut a hole in the top for his head, holes on the sides for arms, and he’s a robot. So a vampire would be easy, take a black wool blanket wrap it around the shoulders and make some fangs.

Then Monday morning came and he asked me if he could go to school as “Stormy”.  This was at 8:30 in the morning.  We have to be at school by 8:45.  So we had ten minutes.  Uhhhh…. Ok, let’s see what we can do here…hhmmmm…. I said as the seconds ticked by.

We took that black wool blanket, wrapped it around his shoulders, pinned it on his shirt with several safety pins.  There you go, you’re a big black rain cloud!   This is what I said, trying to sound enthusiastic, while in my head I was thinking that this has got to be the worst costume I’ve ever come up with, but it’s all I can think of with ten minutes to go.

Then I drove him to school and started to see all of the elaborate costumes that the other kids had on.  There were a variety of adverbs, adjectives, nouns, conjunctions and prepositions.  One kid was dressed like a penguin, he was supposed to be “chilly”, one kid looked like a giant brain, he was supposed to be “erudite”.   So I was worried that he would feel a little left out since his costume could barely qualify as a costume.  All day I was worried that he would come out of school and be upset with the costume, but then again we only had ten minutes anyway.

Later that day, I go to pick him up from school.  All the kids come running out, very excited to plan their Trick or Treating night so they’re running around showing off their costumes to each other.  C comes out and says ‘Look at me I’m a storm!’ and runs across the field with his blanket flapping behind attached to his shoulders.  What a relief.

Later, while getting ready for a Halloween party, he says;  I want to be a dragon trainer!  Not a vampire?   No, a dragon trainer.   Once again, this is with about ten minutes to go before the party.

We took the black wool blanket, attached it to his shirt again, found a toy dragon and attached it to the blanket with some twine on his shoulder.  There you go, now you’re a dragon trainer.


Formal day at school

Twice a month or so, Mr. C’s school has a special dress up day. Everything from simply wearing the school colors, to dressing up as your favorite character from a book, ugly sweater day, mismatched socks day, funny hat day, dress like your favorite job, and dress like your parents day . Of course there is the biggest dress up day of all, Halloween, when all the kids paraded around the outside of the school wearing their costumes, while the parents watched and took pictures.

It’s been a  nice way to get the kids excited about something at school, and from what I’ve seen there is a high level of participation from the first grade class, up through fifth grade.  Participation seems to vary by event. ‘School Spirit’ day seems to be popular, with most of the kids dressing in the school  colors. ‘Dress like a Superhero’ day seemed to be only popular among the younger boys though.   Mr. C must be one of the few first graders who has no interest in superhero characters so he did not participate in that event.  “That’s not real, you know, Dada.”

Most recently, the school organized ‘Formal Dress-Up Day’, where the kids were asked to wear their best outfit to school.   I remember when I was a kid, I hated getting ‘dressed up’.  You would need an act of Congress to get me to wear anything but the usual stained shirts.  Mr. C though jumped at the chance to wear his best clothes.  He counted down the days.  He asked me almost daily if his shirt was clean, if his pants were through the laundry yet, if his jacket would still fit him.  He tried on his dark blue jacket a few days before the big day to make sure it still fit.  The big day arrived and he woke up early and rushed to get into his  light blue Oxford shirt, dark khaki pants, and dark blue jacket.   ‘Look at me, I look like the weatherman!’, he said.  He was very excited.

Why is there a photo of a bottle of glue, you might ask ?   The big day was scheduled for the same day as gym class. However, the principal thought it might be a good idea to reschedule gym for another day since a lot of the kids would be in their best clothes. These are all lower grade kids, not yet changing into gym attire before playing any sports.  So what was scheduled in place of gym class ?   Art Class.

That’s right, Art Class.  What project did the Art teacher have the first grader work on while wearing their best clothes ?   Making collages with paper and glue.  Lots and lots, and lots of glue! So instead of Mr. C coming home with his favorite formal jacket being wrinkled, or maybe a little sweaty, from gym class,  he came home covered in spots of glue and bits of paper.

Mr. C was very disappointed with what happened to his jacket.  I wonder if the school will accept the invoice for the dry cleaning ?

First Day of School

Why do you have to come into the school, Dada?

I don’t really know, but that’s what they asked the parents to do.

You don’t have to, that was just for the kindergarten kids.

You’ll be in First grade now, you’ll be in school all day now not just two and a half hours a day, maybe the teacher wants to tell the parents something about the school day.

No, you should just drop me off and not come in.

It’ll be OK, we’ll both go into the school cafeteria, wait for the teacher to gather everyone together at 9:00, you’ll go to class, I’ll go home and then I’ll pick you up at 3:30.

He was still not convinced.  He had been to this school already, this was the same school that he went to Kindergarten last year for two and a half hours a day, why would anything be different ?

We drove up to the school, walked across the street and entered the school.  Directly across from the front door is the cafeteria. It’s usually easy to see all the way from the front door, across the main corridor, all the way back to the far end of the cafeteria, but not today.  Today the entry way was filled with parents, children, teachers, and a variety of school administrators, and we couldn’t see much further than a few feet ahead.  Some of the teachers were handing out pieces of paper to parents, some were just giving directions, and there was a lot of milling around by a lot of parents and children who didn’t seem to know where to go.

As we entered the main corridor, Mr. C grabbed my hand, looked up at me and he suddenly looked very nervous.

We made our way through the crowd into the cafeteria where a teacher asked which teacher we were assigned to.  She then directed us to the general area where the kids in that class should wait for teacher to gather up the kids in their class for the start of the school day, which was still about fifteen minutes away.

We sat together at one of the cafeteria tables with his backpack and a bag of school supplies in front of us, surrounded by other kids and parents either sitting around the table or standing nearby.  As the room filled up, the noise level from all of the conversations grew louder and louder.  It wasn’t clear though where the noise was coming from since there were few people around us who were talking. Most looked a little nervous, parents tried to make reassuring comments to their children who fidgeted on the seats or sat quietly.   Across the table from us was a woman with her little boy, it was clear that she was trying her best to not cry, at least not until after she left the school anyway.

Mr. C sat next to me, still holding my hand.  The minutes went by and it did seem as though Mr. C was right.  As it got closer to 9:00am, it did seem as though neither the teacher nor the principal were going to give any specific instructions to the parents. We sat together and waited, Mr. C sat quietly, looking around every few minutes trying to see if there were any kids he recognized from Kindergarten who would be in his class, pointing out anyone who he did recognize.

Do you think I should leave now?  I asked.

Mr. C sometimes likes to give hugs that we call ‘Head pop off hugs’.  This is a hug where he grabs you and hugs so hard around your neck that it seems as though you are either going to pass out or your head is going to pop off.  He started one of these hugs just then,  just about jumping onto my lap, holding tight around my neck.

I want you to stay until the teacher comes in, he said.

I turn around in my seat and look over towards the woman across from me, she looked over at me and it was then that she burst into tears.

He was still hugging as the school bell rang and the teacher asked the kids to line up.

He finally let go and gathered up his backpack and went over to growing line of kids waiting for teacher to take them to class.

Now you can go home, Dada, he said.

School Choice

As Mr. C quickly approaches Kindergarten, we soon have to decide where he is going to go to school.  It’s a common conversation among the parents we know around town.  Whenever I run into another parent of a kid about four years old, we end up talking about what we’re going to do about school next year.  Yesterday I met two other parents at a local indoor playground place, (a great thing to have nearby when it’s about five below zero outside), and while our kids played, we spent most of the time debating the school choice question.  That would be for close to four hours on that one subject.  Earlier in the week, I ran into another parent at the grocery store, and while we just spoke briefly, it was entirely about school choice.    I used to think that the parents who spent a lot of time preparing for kindergarten were too concerned with something that I thought was a minor detail.    After all, all kindergarten programs must all be the same.  I could not have been more wrong.  Now that I’m a parent, I think the more common fear is not so much trying to pick the absolute best kindergarten possible, but trying to make sure you don’t make a huge mistake and end up with your son or daughter hating school, or exhausted from a program that is not appropriate for them.   We live in a mid-sized city, so there are a few choices available.  We are also allowed to request to attend a school in a different part of town if we want.  Some schools are better than others, and there are entire websites dedicated to ranking the individual schools.

There are so many more choices now, compared to when my parents were getting ready to send me off to school.  A public school ?   A private school ?   A full day program ?  Or half-day ?   If half-day, morning or afternoon ?  If a public school, which one in the district ?   The one close by, which has failed the federal “No Child Left Behind” requirements, or the one further away in the nicer part of town, which has also failed, but hasn’t failed as badly ?  If a private school, which kind ?  Religious ?   Non-Religious ?      A Montessori school ?  A Waldorf school ?   Then there’s all kinds of specialized programs that emphasize one thing or another, ‘Arts’ schools,  ‘Nature’ schools, ‘Music’ schools, there’s probably even a ‘Sports’ school somewhere.  All this just for kindergarten.

The friend I ran into at the supermarket was really considering signing up for the private kindergarten, forty five minutes away,  at a cost of $28,000 for the year.  Despite the fact that both he and his wife are not employed full time at the moment and are getting by on short term and part-time jobs.  He’s not really going to go ahead and sign up, but this is how concerned the parents I know are.

Oh boy, here we go, registration starts tomorrow!    Anxiety and nervousness will continue like this through College, I guess!