Humpty Hilton Dumpty

Today’s dispatch comes to you from the bathroom of our hotel room at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki. The reason it’s coming from the bathroom and not, say, a sun-dappled balcony is because I’m waiting for Maggie to fall asleep and I’m also waiting on fresh towels. I can’t hear housekeeping with the balcony door shut, nor can Maggie see me while she’s trying to fall asleep without thinking it’s playtime and so, I have to hide. When Maggie starts tucking her baby dolls in and singing to them, it’s a pretty reliable indicator that she needs a little nap herself. It’s also pretty damn cute.

We’re here courtesy of our move to England. The movers whisked all our belongings away, except for a few things to head over on the quick boat, and so we’re here until our flight to the DC area. It’s an exceptionally sweet deal, this hotel stay. With a rather nice shaded playground, multiple pools, a saltwater lagoon, and Waikiki beach within a five-minute walk of the room, I needn’t have worried about how I was going to occupy Maggie without her collection of books. We’ve done a ton of outdoor activities and it’s not even 1:30.

Where we’ll really run into trouble is in Maryland. We’ll be evicted from the comfortable bosom of Conrad Hilton’s Hawaiian empire and put in a long-term residence hotel about fifteen minutes from the airport. We stayed at the MD hotel last year and while it has much to recommend it (decent and free breakfast buffet, free wireless internet, en suite kitchens) its only views are of other residential hotels and the Bass Pro Shop sign from the mall across the way. It’s a business hotel, not a hotel intended for families and thus a little harder to entertain a toddler, although I’m prepared to let her spend an hour unseating the tourism brochures from the rack in the lobby and putting them back if it comes to that.

So far everyone seems happy. Overseeing the move and all the dust dislodged from the inner crevices of our apartment has left Tom a bit of a nasally mess and I’m going to become horribly fat from ordering food on a per diem allowance, but we’re happy. Careful monitoring of the State of the Maggie has led me to believe that while she’s in generally decent spirits, she’s also very stressed. More kicking and more hitting, though she stops when reprimanded, and asking “Home? Go home?” which is really tough to hear.

One thing that’s new is the stress-crying. Small setbacks like “This cup is too big for you to drink out of very well, let Daddy help you hold it” will wreck her. Her frustration at not being in control was more than the situation really warranted and was atypical for her generally relaxed nature. Another time I spoke to her about kicking and she lost it completely. It took a good ten minutes of “hic-hic-hic-SOB” for her to get herself under control. It was obvious in Maggie’s eyes that she really wanted to stop, but she couldn’t–she didn’t understand herself or why she was reacting that way. These weren’t tantrum tears; these were the tears of a kid who had been trying hard to keep it together and could not any longer.

Maybe a parenting expert could tell me what I should have done differently or would tell me I’m coddling or spoiling her, but there was no consequence for kicking that time. We found a rocking chair, we had a long cuddle and a gentle talk about touching with kindness, and Mommy kissed all the tears away. Being little is hard enough and while kicking and hitting are not behaviors that are tolerated in this family, it’s occasionally in everyone’s best interest to look the other way.

Other than those few incidents, Maggie’s been a delight and we’ve been loving the family time. Without wireless internet (which is a topic for a whole other post) or reading lights on the balcony, Tom and I have taken to sitting out for two or three hours with a bottle of wine and talking between Maggie’s bedtime and ours. We get to look back and look forward without anything in the way to distract us. We’ve been together for almost six years and he still has stories that I haven’t heard yet, which is delighful. We have also started to discuss details of future plans–another child(ren?), investments, perhaps buying property–in a concrete way.

Big things are happening in 2011 for Team Ninja, and so far, so good. And now that Maggie is asleep, I’m going to kick back on that balcony.

Drawing a blank

Do you know how many times I’ve started and re-started this post trying to think of something to say? I have all these emotions and feelings that I can’t articulate. It’s like going through puberty without the pimples or lack of a driver’s license but with the addition of a rampaging toddler who knows that “Something is up, damn you tall people, and I don’t know what it is but I DON’T LIKE IT.”

It’s no fun for you if I just write about my emotions. It’s like those insufferable people who blog their dreams; nobody wants to see my subconscious put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) in order to facilitate an emotional dump. I’d rather change a diaper.

So we’ve begun our last two weeks in Hawaii, which I have not even come close to internalizing. It’s nonsense. The numbers don’t compute for me. Who just packs up and moves thousands upon thousands of miles for no good reason other than to see what’s there? A lot of people, I guess; I follow a ton of perma-travelers on Twitter and they all seem happy, if often drunk and encrusted with layers of southeast Asian dust. (The dust there is loads cheaper than European dust, you see.) Our dust will be of the British farmland variety, but still foreign.

Since we’ll be in a community of American and British military members, I mentioned to Tom my suspicion about Maggie’s future: we may be grooming her to be a part of the life. I have serious doubts a child of mine would find the motivation to actually enlist herself, but it’s possible. Equally possible is that she marries into the military. It’s our first move with a child and I’ve already started to wonder how it will shape her relationships in the future.

I…guess we’re talking about my emotions after all. Look, my mousy nemesis has long since shuffled off the mortal coil, okay? I’m feeling a little desperate for inspiration.

Ooooh, here’s another topic for your consideration when you submit those Mother Of The Year ballots: as a devout fan, I got the new Lady Gaga single “Born This Way” on Friday (you know, the almost total ripoff of “Express Yourself” with a refrain that goes “Don’t be a drag, just be a queen”) and Maggie LOVES it. Can’t get enough! Can baby’s first Pride be far behind??

Tom just found a flight from Leeds to Pisa for ninety pounds, COMBINED. Be still my heart. Has he read any of those homeschooling websites or articles I’ve sent? Doubtful, but his enthusiasm for planning and executing world travel is, I suspect, vastly more educational than sitting down at home with a textbook. Also, Italian food. Mmmm…

I’m all over the place tonight. I never thought I’d say this, but that mouse was a good muse.

Errata

1. Like the new masthead? That came compliments of Cinnameg, who is discovering all the joys of GIMP. If it looks like I’ve been changing it up frequently, I have; whenever she discovers a new feature I get a new masthead and I am nothing if not accommodating of one’s newfound talents. Plus, let’s be honest, this website nets me a whopping $0.00 so I’m not especially concerned about my branding. It’s all purplish, so as far as I am concerned it’s all good.

2. The post I wrote about forgetting to create a village is a featured post today (this week? all week?) on Offbeat Mama. This is really cool except I was totally unprepared for the site to then scroll to another featured post that profiled placenta. In some circles, I would say my tastes definitely run to the hippie-granola but placenta is another, squishier realm that I do not wish to explore. Ever. EVER. EVAR WITH AN “A.”

3. Anyone else playing Carmen Sandiego on Facebook? You got me, Zuckerberg, you sly minx…or rather, your third-party developers are sly minxes. This is the first Facebook game I’ve ever played and I’m feeling so-so on it. The city clues are easy but some of the identity clues are worded so strangely that I have no idea what they’re trying to get at. There was one about popsicles that I finally figured out was meant to indicate an ice cream truck as a vehicle. I mean really, now.

4. Speaking of The Zuck, I watched The Social Network with Tom last night. It was more entertaining than I had anticipated; Eisenberg did a good job and Trent Reznor’s score was quite compelling. What really pleased me was the script; I’ve enjoyed Aaron Sorkin since the days of The American President but I think his fans can agree that the man has more than a few verbal tics. Anyone who’s seen “Sports Night”, “The West Wing”, and “Studio 60″ knows exactly what I mean: the oft-repeated phrases (“Not for nothing” “Cost of doing business” “You’re a very tall woman” “What Kind Of Day Has It Been”) and the relentless Gilbert and Sullivan references come to mind. The pacing and cadence of the script was such that I could absolutely imagine Sam Seaborn and Josh Lyman delivering Mark and Eduardo’s lines (perhaps with CJ Cregg as Sean? No?), but that provided an enjoyable and necessary frenetic energy to a movie that boils down to people that other people don’t like doing computer coding. Sorkin wasn’t relying on his old crutches, and I for one appreciated it. Hearing Phillip Seymour Hoffman say the line “Not for nothing…” during Charlie Wilson’s War was so jarringly Sorkin-esque that it yanked me right out of the moment; it was distracting. The Social Network’s script doesn’t do that.

5. We bought Maggie an iPad.

6. Um…I should probably go back and elaborate on 5. We didn’t buy it for everyday use; we don’t have cable, she doesn’t watch television shows and the extent of her screen exposure is our weekly family movie night (and a daily viewing of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies”, thank you VERY much Tom for fostering that little addiction). But check it: our household goods move to England this month. We arrive there at the end of March. So at the end of five weeks of traveling, visiting family, going up and down the east coast, living out of hotels with just the items in our suitcases, we’ll have logged close to 30 hours of airport time before we even get to Yorkshire. And then? The real kicker?

Our household goods don’t arrive until the end of May. I KNOW, RIGHT? We can’t get a house without anything to put in it; ergo we can’t get a local library card without a UK address. We’ll be living out of a very tiny hotel room, just Tom and me and Bobby McGeeYou’reBored,Maggie.

Desperate times these are indeed, and while I can physically carry about ten books between us in our carryon bags with everything else we’re hauling (our computers and camera gear are staying on our person. My person. Our people? I shouldn’t homeschool until I figure that one out) I can store 30 (and counting!) free kids’ e-books on the iPad. Plus simple games…and puzzles…and a drawing application. (And, of course, Beyonce’s “Single Babies” music video.) Actually, I made a video for Tom for his birthday that has photos and videos of Maggie and the little narcissist loves watching herself, so I know that will be a hit. She also loves looking at photos of family, so I can’t wait to load a photo slideshow of all her relatives for her to gaze upon. We’ll have other items in her bag, like crayons, the iSpy beanbag, her tractor and her baby doll, but the iPad is going to do the heavy reading-material lifting.

I’ve heard a lot of arguments against getting kids expensive stuff like this (“It’s extravagant, it’s unnecessary, how can you top this?!”) and a lot of arguments against allowing kids screen time at all (“They need the texture of the books, it’s too much sensory overload, it encourages passive participation and not active play”) and hey, I agree with ALL of that. There is not a single argument there that I don’t find valid. But, much like my attitude toward killing the mouse when we could have used a humane trap, I’m afraid that I’m not sorry that I don’t care about any of those arguments. I don’t. They do not move me in the slightest. We’re moving across two oceans and a continent, a span that encompasses almost ten time zones, with commensurate airplane/airport time and shipping delays. If you’ve walked that same path without indulging in a little electronic stimuli, you come tell me how you did it and I’ll get you canonized and maybe throw you a damn parade. :-D Everyone else: iTunes gift cards make a lovely present any time of year, especially when sent directly to Tom’s email! I hear President’s Day is coming! (My computer is so old we can’t sync the iPad to it, thus Tom gets the joys of managing Maggie’s toy. I’m still running my Macbook on Tiger OS.)

7. I finally added a “Share” feature. The three of you that are still out there, do feel free to Tweet, Digg, Facebook and email my musings to your endless delight. (Please. Pretty please.)

That’s all I have in me tonight. Have a glorious weekend, all!

Everything I Know About Education I Learned From Italian Food

Have you ever eaten an Italian meal?

I don’t mean Italian food like the kind you get from your favorite eatery; I definitely don’t mean ordering the Tour of Italy from the local Olive Garden (which is so far removed from real Italian food that I hesitate to even mention it in this post). No, no…a proper, sit-down meal made in the old country-style, served to a delighted and adoring crowd. A never-boring occasion. An event.

When we ate on my trip to Italy, we enjoyed multiple courses, a bite from here and a bite from there and drawn out over hours. My friend K came back from her study abroad session in Corciano bearing a hand still recovering from the chocolate frenzy in Perugia, recipes, cooking styles, and a wealth of Umbrian food knowledge. Everything she made was created from simple ingredients, fresh as can be and of highest quality, served artfully and, most importantly, savored.

There is no finer meal on the planet than one served in Italy…and they don’t mind telling you. It’s okay. The confidence is earned.

*****

In deciding to educate at home instead of in a formal institution, we have spent a lot of time studying the current American model and brother, we are totally hosed. In a rather typically American fashion, we are choosing to glut ourselves at the buffet of fact-drilling in order to vomit those facts into the basin of standardized testing. Our kids are educational bulimics; absorbing a bit of nutrient here and then expelling it in a rush in order to pass to the next level of acceptance. “Do well on this exam, this course, get this degree, start that degree, and it will all be okay. You’ll be loved, you’ll succeed. It will all work out.” Except when it doesn’t.

Few calories are retained, the systemic damage compounds every year, and we still don’t have an answer to Bush’s question: “Is our children learning?” (Raise a hand if you still have a bump on your forehead from hitting yourself in the head when you first heard that question.) No, I don’t believe that they are.

Some are; some always will. But the majority are not really learning, and the real crime is that they don’t care as long as they can stuff themselves, get through the next portion, and forget that they ever had to glut themselves at all. There’s no zest and no passion; just as there is no American food culture and we are killing ourselves with meaningless empty calories, so too are our children suffering an early death of the soul from a bankrupt educational climate. In a society where I just read “Get Live Updates About The Royal Wedding!” in a banner above a news article about the political turmoil in Egypt, we can hardly blame the kids for becoming the empty-yet-bloated products of their culture.

*****

So…back to the food. Our goal is to keep Maggie’s curiosity and passion alive and her desire to learn fully intact. By homeschooling, we can prepare her educational feast ourselves. We know what’s going into it; she can help us as we prepare it. Educating a child SHOULD be just like a good Italian meal: hours of sampling delectable courses, created with the finest ingredients, consumed in the company of those invested in your enjoyment and well-being. If something doesn’t work, we’ll find a different way to serve it. If more time is required to acquire a taste for something, she can have it. If we want to make a cheese plate and spend the day comparing regional specialties while the rest of the world goes through yet another drilling of the times tables, we can do that. Oh, she’ll learn the times tables too; but she’ll learn it on her own time and in between courses of whatever else life has to offer.

This is not a proclamation; I don’t want to say “We will NEVER send our kids to school!!! #^(*#(%@^%@~!!!!” It’s just a goal as we start moving in to toddler years and thinking about things like preschools and classes and activities. I know close to a dozen adults who were at least partially homeschooled, and the ones I’ve asked agree that the internet has made it infinitely easier to take on a project like this. It is nothing to find plans, materials, and last but definitely not least: local homeschooling cooperatives and groups with other kids her age doing the same things at home. Most encouraging is the fact that all of those adults are social, happy and normal people and most would do it the same way again if given the choice. If homeschooling stops working for us, we’ll adjust accordingly and send her off with the knowledge we’ve prepared her as best we can, but faced with a row of American buffet tables and a proper Italian feast, what would you pick? We’re thinking she’ll go for the latter.

And now I’m really, really hungry. We better have some mozzarella in the fridge.