Vikings and Common Core

I had a decent long weekend (long due to the snowday- one school had both thurs and friday off), even helped my 4th grader with math. Her school, like most schools these days, uses a kooky common core approach for basic math. All these weird grids, charts, nebulous instructions and strange doodles for simple division. Was this some kind of sick joke? Anyway I showed her how to divide the way I was taught in school, the ‘tableau’ method.

After just ONE example her eyes lit up! ‘That’s so simple,’ she said, sounding genuinely surprised, and she abandoned her crazy charts, quickly polishing off three workbook pages. I warned her to keep trying the way her teacher instructs math… I don’t want to piss anyone off.

I don’t like to discuss politics but suffice it to say I’ve seen nothing good since the catholic school converted to common core standards and tests.

Anyway I spent much of Saturday watching vikings season 4. I absolutely loved vikings season 1-3 but season 4… well it sucks. Much to my heartbreak. The plots are erratic, there are weird nonsensical sex scenes, and I highly doubt vikings spent much time pondering their inner true selves, but apparently season 4 vikings are filled with ontological doubt.

Then I started to feel sick. At first I was in denial but by midnight I was awake with a fever, body aches, and a killer sore throat. Not again!

I could barely sleep and sunday morning limped into urgentcare. Sure enough I have strep AGAIN! This time the doctor prescribed a stronger AB, I limped back home and spent the remainder of the day languishing in bed.

I have a few theories. 1) god is mad at me 2) I re-infected myself somehow (I did buy a new toothbrush!!) 3) one of my children is an asymptomatic carrier- a few days ago I ate a few bites of leftover chicken off one daughter’s plate. What can I say, I was starving!

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The Rarefied Few

I overshot yesterday based on what I thought was fast returning vim and vigor. After barely eating for days I prepared a “normal” lunch- scrambled eggs with blue cheese. Ate it with relative ease (remember it was agony to swallow water two days ago). Topped things off with two glasses of ice water. This is more food and water than I ate all three days previous.

I felt pretty good! Took a shower, changed my clothes, got my three year old bundled up so we could fetch his older sisters from school. Then… a proverbial truck hit me. I was suddenly shaky, weak, horribly nauseous. I managed to get the two of us into the car and preemptively brought along a metal bowl.

I sat in the parking lot watching the minutes tick by like molasses; normally I enjoy this small hiatus, waiting for the doors to open. I pressed my face against the cold window willing myself not to throw up. When the kids began to trickle out I walked back and forth in the courtyard, found my older daughter and whispered (I have completely lost my voice) in her ear I was sick, could she bring her sisters to the car? I made a beeline back to the car and started puking my guts into that metal bowl.

As all this unfolded I reflected I was joining the rarefied few of humanity who have vomited in church parking lots. Really, how often could this happen? People don’t use church reception halls for weddings like they used to. It couldn’t be many of us.

I kept puking and puking and puking. Out of the corner of my eye I saw one of my daughter’s friend’s mother- I dearly hoped she couldn’t see what was going on. When all was said and done I had three girls plus my three year old staring at me aghast.

Mommy… asked my oldest daughter. Are you okay? 

Uh not really I managed in hoarse whisper, staring at the bowl brimming with vomit. I looked around blinking. Where to dispose of it? To my right was the grotto of the virgin mary; people leave roses and other flowers there. Nope. To my left was the backyard of the convent, modest snowbanks abutting the chain link fence. That might be a good spot? I’m sure the nuns would understand.

Bowl in hand I made my way through the exiting cars and neatly poured my stomach contents into the snowbank. I was surprised how watery it was; I must chew my food really well.

Back at the car I wiped my face with a towel, then wrapped the bowl in that towel, carefully placing it in the trunk. We drove home in silence… I guess the girls were in a state of shell shocked disgust.

Once home I dragged/ carried the uncooperative three year old up the stairs, asked my older daughter to man the ship and I collapsed into bed. Three hours later I woke with the song “Anthem” from Chess in my head.

So what happened? The penicillin doesn’t make me nauseous, I’ve repeatedly taken it on an empty stomach with no ill effect. Did I experience a mild version of refeeding syndrome? When a person goes a long period not eating, food must be reintroduced gradually or they can experience a nasty assortment of symptoms ranging from vomiting to edema. Or maybe I drank too much water after days of dehydration?

I guess it doesn’t matter because today I AM on the up and up! I can swallow food and water with minimal pain. Thank god for antibiotics.

I L L I D I A N and S T O R M R A G E

Yesterday I was watching TV with my husband- or rather I was re-re-rewatching Game of Thrones while he was buried in his iPad, periodically giving gleeful play by plays of the latest sex scandals plaguing hollywood- when my 6 year old daughter trotted into the room.

Her: Mommy, I just fell in the lava.

Me: Can you talk to the angel? (running back to her body is, as of yet, too complicated)

Her: But I didn’t die.

Me: Oh… [pondering advice. Find the ramp to climb out? is there a ramp? I’ve never fallen in Ironforge lava. But Undercity has ramps and steps to climb out of sludge. Jump? Jump really, really high (slamming the space bar)?]

Uh… I finally said, Just click your hearthstone.

Okay! she said brightly, and trotted off.

My husband looked up from the iPad, blinking. That has to be the strangest conversation I’ve EVER heard.

I laughed because you know what? He’s right. Say what you will about the game, but once within the warm embrace of World of Warcraft, no matter how amateur or deep your involvement, you have migrated to a different dimension with its own lingo.

And don’t knock video games for little kids! My now 18 year old learned to read playing WoW. As a young child she struggled for years with reading. Despite our coaching she could barely sound out words, much less understand what she was struggling to pronounce.

Anyway… I think she was 8 or 9… World of Warcraft entered our house. She was transfixed!  Mesmerized! And absolutely desperate to read those darn quests.

It took a while but within 6 months she was, for the first time in her life, able to read with meaning. By age 10 she could read with complete fluency and tore through books as though they were going out of style. She read through the entire young adult section of one library branch (just as my son read through the entire adult history section) necessitating that we switch to a different library branch.

All my kids learned to read at different ages. My oldest son could read before he could speak, and could read fluently by age 5. We caught him reading Money Magazine over my husband’s shoulder at that tender age of 6.

My two next youngest daughters learned to read around age 5 with fluency. Then the next daughter- she struggled terribly and couldn’t read at all until age 9 or so (Minecraft, not WoW was her inspiration) but once up and running she too burned through books with alarming speed. The next daughter after that struggled, not quite as much as her older sister. She prefers graphic novels and draws her own snarky comics depicting the horrors of math class.

This 6 year old appears to be in the “struggle group.” She developed an aversion to books and refused to let us to read to her.

Recently I decided to renew my subscription to WoW. Not sure why- I mean I’m two expansions behind, don’t have much free time, and I occasionally find the game tedious. But the 6 year old took an instant liking to the game- as her sister before her, she was absolutely mesmerized and desperate to understand what exactly was going on.

She can now read and spell a number of emotes- you know, /sleep, /dance, /sit- meticulously typing them out at the keyboard. She listens intently as we read the quests, copies down server names (imagine I L L I D I A N and S T O R M R A G E penciled in cute little girl handwriting) and has learn to navigate the maps. She began asking about other words outside the game. How do you spell “look?” What does c-l-i-c-k spell? She no longer has that aversion to books, spelling, or even her homework. Yesterday she was pestering me midday to hit the books- usually homework with her is a last minute, teeth pulling enterprise.

So if your kids love video games, don’t panic. Look for games that are language heavy, require map navigation, and make sure to have a little faith. As far as my WoW subscription, can you say CLASSIC SERVERS??? I’ll gladly hand over my non-existent paycheck for that.

Escape From New York

Yesterday I left Staten Island for the first time in nine years. That’s right, I hadn’t stepped foot off the island, even for other boroughs, in nine long years. Actually that time went by rather quickly.

The drive was surprisingly non-horrific. With two and five year olds in tow I braced myself for the worst. A couple older kids came along for the ride and Mom did the driving, which was heaven sent- I dislike highway driving to the point of phobia.

We went over the Goethals, the turnpike, various parkways. We stopped for lunch at McDonald’s; I had a double quarter pounder sans ketchup and I threw out the bun (not before offering it to the rest of the family, they declined). It was awkward but doable eating the floppy hamburger patties with my fingers, the meat was terribly overcooked. It was edible, but barely, to the tune of $5. My little guys shared french fries and chicken nuggets, mom had a salad, older kids had an egg mcmuffin, more nuggets and fries. For drinks we had water (me), lemonade, mocha latte and diet coke.

I was surprised how many black people and hispanics are now north of NYC. Nine years ago non-asian minorities faded out a certain radius beyond the metro area with the exception of Springfield, MA. Most of the diners at that connecticut McDonald’s were black or hispanic, and it didn’t turn all/mostly white until Vermont.

After five hours we reached my hometown; I didn’t move here until age seven but it’s essentially my hometown. I wondered if I would start crying after all these years. But it was anticlimactic. There were the gorgeous mountains, lush green rolling in distant landscape. There was the guns-n-ammo shop. More lush greenery, an auto shop. Some kind of manufacturing plant (the sole one in the area, industry here has been decimated). The veterinarian where our sick pets were euthanized so long ago. Pretty colonials and victorians, many but not all in disrepair.

We arrived home to my very grouchy father. Grouchy is my dad’s version of happy, it only goes downhill from there. My little guy was all over the place while we unpacked- I tried to lock him in a playroom via baby gate but he howled pitifully so I let him escape.

My parents had dinner but I told them I would eat later. I went for a walk around local roads and hopped briefly into the woods, climbing a steep incline padded with pine needles and thin weeds. Pine trees towered overhead like solemn angels. I sat under one and patiently slapped mosquitoes as they landed on my skin. Later I ate some salmon and semi-raw hamburgers. My mother was horrified as she packed them out of sight into the fridge, asking wasn’t I worried about eating rare beef? Nope.

This morning I went to walmart. I needed shampoo and razors, my five year old requested pretzels. My mom warned me: the town looked worse than ever, but as I drove it looked the same. There was a new CVS. There was an abandoned something or other. There was the middle school where I was mercilessly tormented by my peers. I peeked down the street to my childhood best friend’s house- I considered driving past but that would feel stalkerish. I have no idea if her parents are even still living, and she has long since moved away.

Walmart… it looked exactly the same as nine years ago, except the shopping carts were in terrible shape (nothing irks me more than lousy shopping carts) and the walls were dinged up, in need of repainting. Two women said hello and politely asked how are you? This jarred me. They don’t do that in Staten Island, not that Staten Islanders aren’t friendly in their own way.

I am here for my aunt’s funeral. It’s all very sad. She should have lived a good twenty, thirty years further. God gives and god takes away.

Zootopia Looks Like Staten Island

After all the hype, after my mother raved about it, after my children raved about it– including my 19 year old nerd son with ice in the veins– after my daughter put the dvd on view for her psych ward– I watched Zootopia once it was on netflix. I’ll reserve my observations for a future post, but I could not help but notice that the city of Zootopia greatly resembles Staten Island.

zoo1

zoo2

staten-island

I’ll note this: if having a tiny bunny on the police force is novel, how does Zootopia police its rodent population? That doesn’t make sense.

Vikings Better than Vikings

When I wrote my review of BBC’s The Last Kingdom I had not yet finished the 8 episode season. Binge watching is difficult with so many kids nipping at my ankles, my four year old being the absolute worst in this regard. When she’s awake she asks for something or requests my audience at regular 1-3 minute intervals. Sometimes she just wants to stare at me like a creepy stalker, or press her face against my stomach. It may sound cute- and it is, for the first few hours- but after 14 straight hours of being followed, demanded upon, and clung to, I’m ready to lock myself in the bathroom with shaking hands. Then she crams her hands through the space under the door, like the clever velociraptors in Jurassic Park.

Anyway, while in the midst of trying to watch The Last Kingdom in three minute intervals I recommended it to my 14 year old daughter who is the one who clued me in to Vikings (which she watched while in Game of Thrones withdrawal). I warned her it wasn’t as good as Vikings and seemed much lower budget. However, like Vikings, it includes a wonderful bromance- between Uhtred and Leofric. She managed to burn through all 8 episodes in 24 hours and returned the next day with the pronouncement: Mom, it’s better than Vikings!

But what could be better than Vikings when it comes to vikings? Maybe I just wasn’t ready to be unfaithful to King Ragnar, but by the time I did finish The Last Kingdom I realized she was correct. The Last Kingdom is far more cerebral, nuanced, and sophisticated in terms of characterization than is Vikings. I’m going to assume this is because the book series it’s based on is well written- next time I place an order on amazon I’m going to buy it.

King Alfred (played by David Dawson) comes to the fore in brilliant manner as the season unfolds, both while in exile and in a decisive battle against the viking hordes. While my husband kept accusing me of watching yet another viking series to ogle the hunky danes, King Alfred is by far my favorite character in the series and is beautifully played by Dawson.

the-last-kingdom-alfred-david-dawson
world conquest in his eyes

A surprise close favorite to Alfred is his nephew Aetholwold. I won’t give anything away, but Aetholwold is faced with a moral crossroads that could have altered the course of human history. And the scene where Aethelwold deflects attention from Uhtred during their dual punishment is priceless and not to be missed.

The vikings are given less screen time in this series, though The Scariest Viking Award goes to Skorpa (played by Swedish actor Jonas Malmsjo). For some reason he always has blood on his mouth and a deranged look in his eyes.

skorpa
someone had a low carb breakfast

So, if I haven’t yet convinced you to watch Vikings, I better have convinced you to watch The Last Kingdom! On that note the four year old just woke up. Like Skorpa, I think she would eat me for breakfast if she could.

Barbie Heaven

Yesterday we had the incongruous family outing of heading to the beach– the psychiatric facility is right by the one I take the girls to. So I dropped off my husband at the psych unit, then continued to the water with three girls in tow: the 14, 12, and 4 year olds.

“If there’s no garbage in the water,” I announced [you know you live in NYC when you have to preface statements with if there’s no garbage…] “I’m going swimming.”

The older ones took bets on how far I would go (to those unfamiliar with the beaches around here, the water can be chilly). “I bet she’ll go up to her knees,” said Dea, the 12 year old.

“Waist at the most,” quipped the overachiever.

Well there was no garbage in the water so I took off my sunhat and waded in. It was chilly but not unbearable, I dove underwater to the accolades of my girls still on the sand. I swam back and forth, dove under again, did a backstroke. It dawned on me I couldn’t remember the last time I went swimming.

“Hey mom!” shouted the overachiever. “I didn’t know you could swim!”

I wanted to tell her– I had forgotten I could too, but I dove back under, surfaced like a seal and floated in the gray waters of the Atlantic. There was the Verrazano; there was a passenger jet heading to JFK; there was the gaggle of fat russian men, lounging in lapping water (I don’t know if it’s a Staten Island thing, but it’s mainly men who go in the water at the beaches). They chatted to and fro in Russian while I dove under again. Salty water streamed down my face when I resurfaced; I wiped droplets from my eyes and pushed back my soggy hair. This was paradise!

My 14 year old got the 4 year old on her back, piggy back, and waded in to her waist. I shouted Mommy shark! went under, and grabbed at their ankles to the 4 year old’s sheer delight. Dea darted in and out of the ocean, looking like a starved, wet rat.

I don’t wear bathing suits. My reasoning is, I wouldn’t walk around in public in my underwear, so why would I walk around in public in a bathing suit that probably shows more than my underwear? No thanks! So I wore leggings, a skirt to my knees, a tank top and a long sleeved shirt for good measure. I figure if nothing else it will protect me from UV rays. I may have gotten a few curious stares but didn’t care.

The girls either followed suit or were too lazy to find their own bathing suits. So there the four of us were, fully clothed, horsing around in the water.

Later we went to the playground where the 4 year old misplaced her Barbie. Back in the car, noting Barbie’s absence, Dea gibed She went to Barbie heaven. This satisfied the 4 year old who spared us a torrent of tears, and she fell sound, sound asleep on the way home, her cheeks flushed bright red from sun.

 

The Pelican People

After her first psychiatric stint my daughter stabilized somewhat on a cocktail of anti-psychotics. She continued to pace, talk to herself, but was far less paranoid and accusatory. She stopped picking out her gorgeous hair and it grew back in short, pretty tufts.

A few months ago I noticed a decline. As did her grouchy psychiatrist, who prescribed an array of new anti-psychotics to no avail. My daughter reverted to constant pacing, constant chattering, and picking out the new version of her hair. The grouchy shrink eventually gave up. Perhaps she should go back to the psych unit.

So off we ventured one bright saturday morning. By this point I was accustomed to the double locking doors (the second locked door doesn’t unlock, until the first door slams shut) and even remembered the names of most of the nurses and doctors. My daughter was bright eyed and chipper throughout. I’ve gradually learned she has two modes: happy crazy, and paranoid crazy. Today she was happy crazy.

“I am not a goose to swim in murky waters!” she announced gaily to the empty waiting room. “I fly with seagulls in salty skies, I sing with the pelican people!” She pronounced those last words, pelican people, with great flourish. We sat together in the waiting room, endless episodes of Sponge Bob on television, her eyes darting to and fro like a cat watching bugs. She laughed, frowned, cocked her head to the side with serious expression as though listening to god’s secrets. She nodded her head, smiled warmly, and relaxed into her plastic seat.

They brought her in. They brought me in. I went through the whole spiel yet again. She was normal and happy until age 14. She grew withdrawn. She started pacing incessantly. She stopped sleeping. She began talking to invisible people. She picked out her gorgeous hair until nearly bald. She accused us of conspiring against her, accused us of poisoning her food. Whatever hair grew back she refused to wash or comb, and she hadn’t showered in months. Her hair was tangled in thick mats. Like you see on homeless people.

She looks like a homeless person,” I said flatly. Because this was it: defeat. Game over. Your turn.

They admitted her to the psych unit which housed just one other patient, a surly african american kid who kept sticking his hands in his pants, even in front of me. She was oblivious, cheerily playing Uno and watching movies with him until his discharge. Then it was down to just her on the unit, the lone adolescent patient.

She chattered incoherently to the nurses at their station. She read aloud classified ads in case they might need a new job (waitressing! that might be fun!). She explained to me, during visiting hours, that we are the construct of a mathematician in a simulated reality. She penned rambling letters to her psychiatrist and social worker. In one she ended succinctly: Finding myself here I realize I am easily confused and have great difficulty with basic functioning. I hold no ill will against you.

She decorated it with hearts and curlicues.

The unit psychiatrist, an almost handsome man with glittering eyes, likewise surrendered. She was on an elephant’s dose of seroquel with no effect. They lacked the resources to help her, he said, and perhaps she should transfer to the long term facility.

And that’s precisely where she went, carried by two young EMTs glued to their cell phones. My daughter smiled and chattered as the ambulance tumbled. She would meet turkeys! (The wild turkeys of Staten Island originated at this psychiatric facility.) She would receive turkey hugs! Nothing like genuine turkey hugs! And we saw them- the wild turkeys- as the ambulance barreled over locked grounds. Males with feathers outstretched, brown mothers, fluffy chicks scampering.

“Turkeys!” she cried in elation, “They waited for me!”

Yet another intake interview. Yet again the same spiel. Though this time I recalled a few details. “She says she has Jesus powers,” I explained matter of factly, as though the notion weren’t ridiculous.

The psychiatrist and social worked nodded, scribbling in notebooks.

“When Jesus died on the cross, he granted a select few special powers, she is one of the select few.”

They continued to scribble.

The unit coordinator took me on a tour of the facility; in the distance I could hear my daughter chattering happily with her fellow inmates. Then they ushered me out; the facility is located near the beach and the salty breeze washed over me, bright perennials nodding in the wind. Crows soared overhead like watchmen; I was reminded of the Norse mythology I learned from Vikings (an excellent series, highly recommended) where ravens operate as the envoys of Odin.

 

She No Trouble

Two years ago, when my daughter began to devolve psychologically, I was offered a glimpse of the future. At some point- probably in a couple years- this would all come to a head, and some crisis would compel my husband to acknowledge she’s profoundly troubled, and the school would be forced out of denial to recognize this is a young woman in dire need of help. Until then there wasn’t much I could do, since she herself didn’t want help and my husband stonewalled me. I thought that crisis arrived last year when she wandered off campus before the end of a school day, not knowing who or where she was. But she found her way back to school after snapping back to reality, and the theology teacher bought her excuse of rummaging through her locker.

Then she started picking out her hair. By midsummer a third of her hair was gone. Three weeks into the current school year, half her hair was gone. She looked like a bald mannequin with a central mohawk. What little hair remained was gnarled into hopeless tangles. She paced incessantly, up down and around the house, chattering to- I don’t know to whom or what. If we approached her she shrieked to leave her alone. And this morning it finally happened: after 2 hours of pleading that she go to school while she paced, shrieked, and pulled out more hair, I told my husband: Enough, take her to the ER.

To my surprise, he did.

She was promptly admitted to a locked psychiatric unit- no shoelaces, no glass containers, no hoodies with ties. I later brought her some clean clothes, like an offering to a quixotic goddess.

“Hi mommy,” she said, quiet and tired. She was wearing a crumpled hospital gown, slumped in a chair as vitals were checked. I asked the nurse about visiting hours and allergy medication. Then I left.

Some hours later I returned for one of the two visiting hours allowed. Again, Hi mommy! We were ushered into the “common area” by an Indian nurse- yes I asked if she was from India, and told her I’d watched many documentaries about India- and then a Haitian “tech” watched our every move. “She good,” assured the tech. “She no trouble!”

At first my daughter was cooperative. She wanted to know what precisely I’d explained to the school. I described the phone calls with the vice principal- how worried sick they were because they had found her pacing and talking to herself, in weeks previous, in the hallways during classtime.

“Well I told you that,” she said, nervously scratching her arms and rocking back and forth.

“No you didn’t.”

“Yes I did.” Her eyes were darting, like a cat watching bugs.

She then asked what would happen after two weeks. This facility, apparently, is equipped to house patients only for two weeks stints. Her fellow “inmates” had already informed her of a south shore facility that could take on long term residents.

When I de-tied her hoodie I found the following poem scrawled on a piece of paper in her pocket:

I am a person
I am a human being
But can’t but I am
You could but you couldn’t
And but you wouldn’t and
Shouldn’t (shouldn’t)
I am not a violent…
Person but wouldn’t
And couldn’t
And shouldn’t
We be left
All alone

Moogle

This morning I had the dubious honor of shepherding four girls to Costco. Two of them were over age 10 but the other two were 7 and almost 4. I should have known better.

During the drive I was bombarded with an array of questions from the 7 year old on up (the almost 4 year old still doesn’t talk, at least not coherently). My kids treat me as though I were a personified google. They even have a word for it: moogle (mother + google).

Is glue really made from dead horses?

If someone time traveled from early 1900s to today, what would they think?

Who made God?

What exactly is chalk?

Who invented the first television?

If you bought the same stuff at Costco elsewhere, what would it cost?

Would it be possible for the sky to rain upside down?

And then came a question I could answer: What is the best part of having eight kids?

Ah, that I can answer!

“You know those nature shows about wolves?”

“Yeah…”

“And the wolf pack relentlessly torments the outcast wolf to make her miserable?”

“Uh-huh…”

“Then the outcast wolf runs off to be a lone wolf, and encounters a male lone wolf in the same situation?”

“Uh-huh?”

“They get together and have wolf babies, form their own pack, then return to the original packs to kill off the adults and steal the wolf pups as their own?”

“Yeah?”

“Well that’s the best part of having 8 kids!!”

My 12 year old looked confused, but accepted the answer.

Then came the Costco parking lot. We were almost run over by an extremely elderly driver backing up a huge van. Inside the store the non-verbal nearly 4 year old kept ducking away and darting from one side of the cart to another. More than once I screamed her name, thinking I’d lost her forever (I’m sure we were quite the spectacle).

The girls devoured samples- popcorn, chicken nuggets, ice pops, crackers. And amazingly we emerged from the cavernous store still intact. We bought a huge sheet cake for the 12 year old who celebrated her birthday with a new clothes and jewelry. Despite being brainy, she’s a slave to fashion.