Monday, April 30, 2007

Monday - don't trust that day

Don't trust Monday. John Phillips told you not to. And Cass and Michelle backed him right up, along with that other guy. Denny? Was that his name?

I knew we were off to a bad start when I came downstairs singing and both girls looked at me, not with a look that said O Mommy! O happy day! O how happy we are that we are here at our home with our math books and our pencils and our shining morning faces!

Meelyn and Aisling got out their math books, both of them as cross as two sticks. The dogs settled down for their early morning naps. I stopped singing and went to the kitchen, noting that it was already too hot on this last morning of April to even consider having a cup of coffee or even tea. I got a diet soda out of the fridge, slurped a serving of leftover Italian Wedding Soup into a bowl, and put it in the microwave to heat. It turns out that ninety seconds isn't nearly long enough.

After heating the soup for another two minutes, I sat down to eat, prayed and lifted the first bite to my mouth, pausing at the halfway point for what I knew was coming.

The swinging door between the kitchen and the dining room burst open. "I hate math, I just hate it," stormed Meelyn, near tears. "I don't understand these dumb problems."

Aisling was right behind her, carrying her favorite new Build-a-Bear Workshop acquisition, a white plush dog named Isabel. "Do you want to give Izzie a kiss?" she cooed, neatly stepping in front of her sister and putting the dog perilously close to my frowning face.

"Hey! I was here first!" said Meelyn indignantly, thumping Aisling on the head with her Saxon math book.

"Ow! Quit!" Aisling hissed like an angry goose, clutching her head with one hand and Izzie with the other. She switched back to the cooing voice. "Mommy, do you want to ki-...."

"Aisling, I will put that TOY in the dryer and tumble it if you don't get back in there and get on task. Meelyn, I will help you with your math when I am done with my soup."

I ate the rest of my soup in gulps and went back into the dining room where Meelyn was obediently bent over her math book and Aisling was balancing a sheet of paper on her head. I snatched the paper and, mindful of the open windows, clenched my teeth and said, "Do. Your. Work. NOW."

"Yes, ma'am," said Aisling meekly.

I sat down next to Meelyn and we worked through the five problems that were giving her fits. What I usually find when I help her with her math is that she already knows how to do the problem, but for some reason has convinced herself that she can't. Math is my most-hated subject and I'm afraid that I passed this on to Meelyn, perhaps by osmosis. Heaven knows I spent enough time when she was little dancing around the room like a fool with a protractor in one hand and an abacus in the other, chanting, "Math is fun! Math is so fun! Math is fun-fun-funnikins-fun!"

It didn't work. Kids can smell hypocrisy on adult like wild beasts can smell fear.

It usually takes us about an hour in the morning to do math and that is our longest time we spend on any one subject. We put forth the extra effort simply because it is not fun and there is a tendency with the girls to rush through it as quickly as possible, making many careless mistakes along the way.

After math, the girls can choose what they want to work on. The next subjects up today are U.S. geography (worksheet covering New Mexico), a Greek and Latin roots workbook (one page), their Seton reading comprehension workbooks (one lesson) or piano practice (half an hour).

Meelyn opted for working at the table on the academic subjects while Aisling went to the piano. It was very pleasant, sitting at the computer and catching up on my email while Meelyn sat in her chair just behind my left shoulder. We made occasional remarks about people or cars passing by outside, the unseasonably hot weather, a funny thing Wimzie had done that morning while Aisling played sweetly. At the end of her half-hour of practice, Meelyn was done with U.S. geography and part of her Greek and Latin roots pagel she decided to finish that up before going to the piano herself.

Meelyn is learning "The Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet" on the piano and she plays it very nicely. The problem is, it always makes me tearful. I love Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 version and the girls and I have seen it a hundred times, probably, and the love theme is always so sweet and sad, with Romeo and Juliet standing palm to palm behind the curtain, his eager smile, her big, innocent eyes...waaaaaahhhh. It's always so nice to know that Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey are both still very much alive and doing just fine.

"Are you crying again or is it your allergies?" asked Aisling, the little cynic, looking up from her reading comprehension workbook. She acts just like my brother.

"Allergies," I replied with dignity.

With the morning's work complete, the girls broke for lunch. They both had a little freezer meal, heated in the microwave (I can hear Kayte and my cousin Susan simultaneously gasping in horror and I know, I know. I usually don't feed them that garbage but the meals were on sale and I was in a weak -- cheap? -- moment at the grocery and I know.)

After lunch, we sat back down together at the dining room table and did two pages from their Saxon language arts text. Meelyin is a seventh grader and Aisling is a fifth grader, so I compromised and bought the sixth grade text for each of them. This is really the first year I have ever bothered much about grammar and usage, other than the basic nouns, verbs, capital letters and periods. My theory has always been that they both read so much, they'll know proper grammar without knowing that they know it, and so far, I've been proved right. We occasionally have a bit of a tussle over things like plural possessives, but it doesn't take long to sort it out.

We also have a sentence diagraming workbook, which is my favorite thing. I could diagram sentences, like, all day. The girls aren't quite as excited about it, but that's probably for the best. I'm at an age where I can afford to be a loser in a few select areas of my life, and my love of sentence diagraming is one of them.

After language arts and the diagraming, we have one brief hour to relax before heading off to Tipton for art lessons. I find myself thinking how lovely it will be to go for a drive in the air conditioned car. It is hot. Hotter than homemade hell, as my friend Beth's dad used to say.

Meelyn and Aisling have been taking art lessons from their teacher, Kendra, in Tipton for three years now. Kendra is a professional artist and the most awesome art teacher in the world. She has made my kids produce art that has frankly amazed me, considering that when I first apologetically took them to her studio, both girls were still drawing stick figures with no necks for people. Tipton is the dullest, most forgettable little city I have ever seen ( although they do have an unaccountably beautiful Catholic church, St. John the Baptist - the picture doesn't do justice to the gorgeous pale pumpkin stucco interior with accents of terra cotta and gold. It positively glows in there) but Kendra makes the forty-five minute drive through flat and uninteresting farmland worth it. I'm embarrassed to even tell how much she charges per child for these fantastic lessons. Let me just say that if she were based in Fishers or Carmel instead of Armpitsville, Indiana*, she could be quadrupling her fees and parents would be lining up at her door, holding out wads of cash.

Forty-five minutes is a pretty long drive, time that I am not willing to waste on just staring out the windows at the barns, sheep, cows and farm machinery we're passing. At least on the way there, I'm not. On the way home, we stop at the Tipton McDonald's for some iced tea and talk and laugh all the way back to Anderson, but on the way to art, I'm all about learning.

Right now, we are engaged on learning a set of facts about the United States. This is a curricula I kind of invented, which often turn out to be the best kind. I found these geography/history/general knowledge cards at a little shop for about $12 and we've had a lot of fun with them. We've learned facts about D-Day, Ulysses S. Grant, why the building that houses the U.S. State Department is called "Foggy Bottom," and what U.S. city is known as "America's Cereal Bowl."

While the girls are at art, I sit in the van and blissfully read. My cell phone battery hasn't been recharged in a couple of days, so I am completely without interruption. It is heaven. HEAVEN.

We don't get home on Mondays until about 5:45 and by that time, we're all wiped out. I started dinner, a very nice hot-peppery stir fry with grilled teriyaki chicken and the girls staggered upstairs to play PlayStation. Hot. Hot in the kitchen, hot in the rest of the house. Wimzie and Hershey come to keep me company while I worked in the kitchen, their tongues lolling, their muzzles wet with water from the cool water they lapped up.

It's Monday, it's nearly over, and it hasn't been too bad, except for the heat. And the math.

My husband came home, stepping into the house via the back door. He's been at work all day in the air conditioning. "I know it's only April but I thoug-...."

"I'll start closing the windows," I interrupted. He turned on the central air and before I could say "popsicle," cool, calming air starts pouring out of the floor registers. I silently blessed the former owner who installed not only a new gas furncace in this barn of a house, but also that great, big sturdy condenser unit that is discreetly tucked in a back corner of the house, partially obscured by a burning bush to spare the delicate sensibilities of the neighborhood's historic preservation code.

Another Monday, done.

*I feel safe saying that Tipton is Armpitsville, Indiana because I come from the other armpit, New Castle.

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