Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Curious Jesse

Tonight, Jesse asked me, "Mom, wouldn't it be weird if mealworms smelled like cinnamon?"  How do you even answer a question like that?  Jesse is the greatest question-asker in the Cottle family.  Typically, he asks questions that I have no answer for.  I know I'm in for it when he begins his questions with, "Mom, wouldn't it be weird if...?"  

I have learned to say, "Yes, Jesse.  That would be weird." 

Lately, I am learning lots of facts about mealworms.  Jesse was shocked to learn that I actually knew what mealworms were.  He was even more shocked that I'd seen them.  When I told him that we'd bought some a few years ago to feed to Jacob's bearded dragon, Smaug, his eyes got really wide.  I had taught him something that he did not know:  Mealworms are food for lizards.  He informed me in the middle of dinner that mealworms look like maggots.  As it happened, we were eating dinner at Chick-Fil-A, and he announced that little fact in a loud voice.  See, you can't teach that.  That's breeding, right there. 

We had a little chat about how maggots are not dinner table discussion. 

Jesse is my sweet boy, who has a sensitive and whimsical nature.  He also likes weapons, and aspires to work as a policeman or border patrol agent because they get to carry large-caliber guns.  He's a little ray of sunshine, that boy. 

We call him Jesse Bear, because when he was a baby he'd growl like a bear.  We'd say, "Ooooh...scary!  Jesse's a bear!"  It just stuck.  There is a whole series of Jesse Bear books that we discovered, and read to him nightly when he was small.  He thought that those books had been written about him.  Tonight, we were reading a book about dangerous animals, and he asked me what my favorite bear was.  When I told him it is a grizzly bear, he said, "Me, too.  Can you call me Grizzly Bear instead of Jesse Bear?"  Hmm...I'll have to think about that one.  It's just not the same.  I think he'd have to have a mountain man beard and weigh about 250 pounds to pull that nickname off.  Come to think of it, the way he eats lately, he might make that weight in a few years...

Many blessings,


Friday, April 15, 2011

The Princess Generation

Morning car rides are usually pretty quiet, except for the radio. This is because the majority of my family is male.  I have learned that the boys really are not interested in conversation until they've woken up.  I can gauge from my sons how interested they are in discussion by the look on their faces.  Some days, they're chatty; others, just give 'em something to eat and walk away.  I don't tolerate disrespect; however, I get that not everyone wakes up with a song in their heart.  Unless, of course, you're Lily.  If Lily is tired, she may not be in a great mood.  But most of the time, Lily has LOTS to share.  With everyone.  As she's getting older, she is learning that the boys are not receptive to conversation early in the day.  Mostly.

Little girls just can't help it:  They are compelled to talk.  It's part of that inborn desire to be the center of attention.  Little girls are way worse than little boys about interrupting and being rude.  I work really hard with Lily to reign it in.  To be honest, I have to work really hard myself to control my own urge to interrupt and to talk too much!

Lately, I am seeing an alarming trend as I go about from school to school.  I am noticing more and more that girls are becoming difficult to manage in class.  I think it's a universal understanding that boys are more active than girls.  It seems like most people get that.  With girls, though, it's different.  I really think we've carried this 'princess' thing too far.  I've winced as girls have had the audacity to try to boss me.  I've had girls stand in front of the class, prepared to tell everyone what to do and how to do it.  Recently, I was in a classroom in which a little girl did everything she could to get the attention of the children around her.  This wasn't an early elementary class, either.  She was old enough to know better, one would think.  I had observed her shenanigans all morning.  She had been fussed at by her classmates and by other teachers.  I'd reprimanded her myself a few times.  At recess, I watched, dumbfounded, as she walked beside each one of her classmates and made the most horrible noise with her mouth.  She would walk beside a student and say, "GAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH....".  The student would turn and say, "Betty! (not her name, but what I'll call her)", with the most disgusted expression they could muster.  She would just walk on to the next student and do the same thing.  Over and over again.  By the time she was done, she had succeeded in alienating two entire classes.  No small feat, if you consider that they're kids, and kids do annoying stuff all the time.

Finally, when we came in from recess I pulled her aside to talk to her.  In as diplomatic way as possible, I told her what I had seen.  I told her that I cared to much for her to allow her to alienate herself from the other students.  We talked for a bit, and then she sat back down.  I didn't hear another obnoxious noise, she didn't kick her partner's desk again, and she didn't blurt out in class.  At the end of the day, she was my best helper.  I was shocked.  I don't know whether I was the only one to share the information that other people don't like it when you annoy them.  Maybe she was just receptive to hear it. 

The thing is, with girls the compulsion to seek attention is so strong that it drives them to do the most outrageous things.  Lily is almost 6, so the attention-seeking behavior amounts to interrupting and singing when the boys want her to be quiet.  Jacob looked at me in utter exasperation one afternoon while Lily was in the midst of one of her long discourses on life and said, "Girls talk a lot."  Tell me somethin' I don't know, Brother.

Sincerely, you have to nip this thing in the bud.  We work with Lily a lot on good manners.  It's tough.  If we don't work with her and keep working with her, she'll only get worse.  If your sweet little darling doesn't learn when she's young to be polite and respectful, someone else who does not love her as much as you will teach her.  And here's the thing:  If you didn't know it, girls are mean.  If little Betty doesn't learn her lesson, the other girls won't play with her and will talk badly about her behind her back.  I ain't saying it's right; it's just how it is.  My boys will look at Lily and say, "Lily, be quiet!"  Boys tell each other to stuff it right to their faces.  Girls don't do that, though.  They are sneaky. 

The other thing about attention-seeking behavior, is that even negative attention feels good to a girl.  Little girls don't necessarily get that the disgusted look on their classmates' faces means they don't like what they are doing.  To the obnoxious girl who wants attention, she has succeeded.  That little girl will graduate to tight dresses and short skirts someday.  I think that every girl at least once in her life has acted a fool to get attention.  What she needs to hear--preferably from a loving father--is that the kind of attention that foolishness gets is not the kind of attention you want.

Back to the 'princess' thing:  I believe that Jesus is the King of Kings.  I know that I am a child of God and a joint heir with Jesus.   BUT, my Lord has taught me to be humble and kind and loving and to put others first.  I am teaching Lily this very thing, and I think more parents should be doing this as well.  Don't tell your daughter she's a princess unless you first tell her that she has been created to serve the King of Kings.  I'm very concerned that we are raising a generation of girls who expect to be adored.  God help the boys....

Many blessings,


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Making the Most of My Situation

Some days I think substitute teaching is great.  Other days, I am not as enthusiastic.  I find that if I focus on the difficulties of the job, I am dissatisfied.  But today, I am choosing to find the blessing.  I think it's easy to do that today, because I am off! :)

Seriously, I've had a pretty good couple of weeks.  I've encountered obstacles, but each one seemed to work out in my favor.  I like when that happens.  Last week, I got to go on a field trip with my daughter, Lily, and the Kindergarten classes at her elementary school.  In our former life, prior to Brian's lay-off, he was always the one to go on field trips.  That, and he took the kids to school.  Those days are gone, or at least they are gone for now.  I got to attend Jesse's field trip to the theater a month or so ago, and the zoo, well, I love the zoo.  I was so happy to get to go!
Lily and her best friend, Jazlynn, were buddies on the trip, so we got to go at our own pace.  She especially got a kick out of feeding the birds in the aviary.  I tried to talk her out of going in there, because I just KNEW we were gonna get pooped on.  (We didn't.)

The Ft. Worth zoo is spectacular, and it was a beautiful day to be out.  The zoo is doing a special dinosaur feature, so I got some cool pictures of the animatronic dinosaurs:

As it turns out, Lily is scared of animatronic dinosaurs.  I'm sure glad I was there!

Last night, Lily performed as a dancer in the Kindergarten's musical program.  I didn't think we'd all fit in the car, what with Lily's head growing so big.  Let's just say she was confident in her abilities.

She did well, and truth be told, I was pleased as punch.  I thought Brian was going to have a stroke, though.  We arrived at the school almost 45 minutes early so that he could set up the video camera.  That man adores this girl.  I'm so glad he does, too.

At any rate, I'm glad that I have a flexible job.  I am happy that I am available for my children, and I am pleased that I have a job that I enjoy.  The students are a lot of fun.  I have resolved to myself that I may as well make the most of it, with the budget concerns, I will probably be subbing for a while, God willing. 

But who knows?  When Brian was laid off, we didn't realize just how close he was to having a new job until he got one.  I may be closer to the career God has planned for me than I realize.  I just can't see around the corner...

Many blessings,


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The State of Education

I have mixed feelings about this proposed budget submitted by the Texas House of Representatives for approval by the State Senate.  On the one hand, I abhor debt.  God knows, we should not be riddled with the kind of debt that we have as a state and as a nation. I understand and sympathize with the lawmakers' dilemma:  Cut spending or get us further into debt.  On the other hand, as a mother and hopeful teacher, I am distressed by the proposal to cut $8 billion from schools statewide.  Conservatives say the wildest things in print--where so many are capable of saying awful things without fear of reprisal.  On one conservative message board, one poster suggested that the budget cuts were necessary to get rid of the tenured, poor performing teachers.  I'm not sure where this guy was getting his facts.  Others have pointed to highly-paid superintendents; others suggest getting rid of school boards and the TEA (Texas Education Agency).

While I agree that generally speaking, education can be improved, I think that a lot of the folks--legislators included--who decry the state of education in Texas really haven't spent any time in the schools.  I've been substituting in the east side of our school district for just over 5 months.  In that time, I've been impressed by the majority of teachers.  I would never suggest that I am either an expert in education or that I have wide experience in the education system.  I can't even boast a lot of experience in my own district.  However, we've had children in the school system now for eleven years.  I am impressed by the knowledge that my children have gained.  Jesse, who is in second grade, has been receiving introductory lessons into algebra.  He has been struggling with reading this year, but thanks to remedial instruction and getting new glasses, his reading is on par with his classmates.  I understand that not all parents feel this way.  To be honest, since I've been subbing, I'm shocked with how well teachers cope given the obstacles that they often encounter.

In my experience, both personal and professional, teachers as a group are some of the most giving and generous people I've seen.  Most of the teachers that I work with purchase resources with their own funds.  They work very hard and spend a lot of their own time researching strategies to educate their students.  As a group, they are thrifty and resourceful.  In one special education classroom I have subbed in, the teachers were saving milk jugs to create an igloo for their students to experience.  For the most part, teachers are conscientious and want to make sure that the students in their care receive the best instruction that they can give them.  Most of them have families of their own, with responsibilities to boot.  They are involved in their churches and communities.  Most of them are troubled by the challenges that their students face and they try to mitigate them as best they can.

Yes, there are classrooms in which the teachers are unprepared.  Yes, there are teachers who have lost their joy for teaching.  But, those are the exception, rather than the rule.  Most of the time, when I see a struggling teacher, I see some underlying reason.  Usually, the teachers that struggle are those who are brand new to the profession.  In our current state of affairs, many school districts are offering incentives to teachers to resign or retire before May.  I read recently that 38% of the teachers in Texas have less than five years experience in the field.  So, we are going to encourage the teachers with the most to give to give up.  Does that sound right to you?

Recently, I subbed at a school that is designated as a Title I school.  This is a shorthand designation for a school that receives funds from a federal grant program, due to the fact that a large percentage of the school's population are low-income.  During the course of the day, I discovered (by accident) that one of the school's staff members was sending food home with some of the students who were most in need.  I don't know if the food was purchased with grant money or if it was donated.  Honestly, I have no idea.  I was truly humbled and touched by the compassion of the act.  I have learned so much about the needs of the children in my community.  Not only do teachers educate the children of our state, but oftentimes, it is put upon them to care for them and sustain them, as well. 

Much to the chagrin of the hard-line out there, the food programs exist because children in schools would go hungry without them.  Children suffer when we cut funds to programs like Head Start, Medicaid, and public schools.  Children.  There are legislators and Tea Partiers and liberals alike who will sleep in a warm bed with a full stomach.  I will, and I thank God for that.  But tomorrow, thousands of children will go to school hungry and will leave well-fed.  In graduate school, I learned that the cause of roughly 85% of mental retardation was environmental.  This is explained by poor nutrition, lack of medical care, and poor living conditions.  Are more children at risk now than ever before?  It sure seems that way to me.

Deuteronomy 15:11 says, "There will always be poor people in the land.  Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land."  Over and over again, I hear comfortable people complain about the poor bilking the system.  I've heard people say that there are too many free-loaders.  I don't know about that.  I really don't.  I don't know the circumstances of the folks out there who seem to be poor.  All I know is that God tells us to be openhanded to the poor and needy.  It seems to me that children from low-income homes definitely qualify as both poor and needy. 

I don't have all the answers.  Right now, I'd say that I have more questions than answers.  I do know that our government is obligated to provide a free and equal education to the children of our nation.  (And for those of you out there who just got your dander up and want to rail against illegal immigrants getting a free education, hold your wad.  I don't want to hear it.)  I'm curious to know how our legislators will propose to make that happen.

Many blessings,