Life in New Orleans

Kindergarten is over.

Will has completed Kindergarten.

And will enter 1st grade in the fall.

Aren’t I too young to have a child in 1st grade?

Will made necklaces for his teachers as a thank-you for the year.  For a last minute OH SH!T gift idea that came to me at 11:40pm 2 days before the end of the school year, I think we pulled it off well.  It was just enough time to get the kids to make necklaces (“Mommy, can we make cookies?” “NO, YOU’RE MAKING A NECKLACE.”  “But I don’t want to make another right now.”  “TOO BAD.  GET TO WORK.”)

A.H. and Lulu: we owe you big-time.  Your b-day gift for Kate SAVED MY LAST-MINUTE ASS.

Here are Kate’s necklaces.  She got some help from Will (read: Will did it) on the one with some symmetry.  (Will LOVES symmetry.)

We had a bit more time for Will’s necklaces (he was in school one week longer than Kate).  Thank goodness, as we needed a few more ho-has to stretch our necklace-making capabilities.  The necklace to the left was made with pieces from another kit I got to stretch our supplies.  The only reason there is a necklace not done in a symmetrical fashion was because I encouraged Will to mix it up.

I adore the necklaces but what really got my heart was how he drew the flowery circles and hearts when he wrote out the envelopes.  (Can you tell he has a very special place in his heart for his English teacher, Roxanna?)

Will gave them out the day before school ended, which makes me feel pretty certain that he passed Kindergarten of his own academic merit, not for bribing his teachers with jewelry.

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Life in New Orleans

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Things I learned in Parent-Teacher Conference

– Kate is a popular topic of conversation outside of school.  Her reputation extends past all of her classmates to their parents and beyond to even friends and family of parents.

– Kate uses the potty all day long at school without incident.  (Note: she is not on board at home.)

– Kate knows and uses French vocabulary daily.  Just not with us.

– It is possible for Kate to lay on a mat during nap time.  And stay there.

– Despite our frequent discussion of holding Will to repeat Kindergarten (and thus be on the American system in terms of his age and grade level), we are struggling to find a true reason to do so; Will’s academic performance remains one of the best in the class, even when compared to students who have had 3 years of French immersion.

– We couldn’t find a reason developmentally, psychologically, or emotionally, either.  We asked.  We looked.

– When Will struggles with something in English, he has the same struggles in French.

– Things Will needs to work on in both English and French: counting with his fingers (he does it in his head just fine, something about using the fingers throws him off) and listening to break down the sounds in words.

– Will can write very nice cursive.  (Relative to other 5 year olds.)

Life in New Orleans

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Jean Petit

If I completely lose my marbles in the next few days, it’s not because of the three part-time jobs, the conference submissions (one more tomorrow and then today, an invite to apply for this one), the dissertation writing (hah!), the ongoing home renovation, the husband and his penchant for putting t-shirts in the laundry inside-out, or the number of times I have to say “LEAVE YOUR SISTER/BROTHER ALONE” in a day.

It’s because this song will not let me rest:

Family Life in NOLA
Life in New Orleans

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Dancing and Singing at Fete Francaise

Our kids’ school held a huge French Festival last weekend — it’s the biggest fundraiser for our nonprofit and is the event around which the entire school revolves.

This is to say, it’s a big deal.

We’re very invested.  (See?  That’s us — major supporters.)

The kids open Fete with songs.  Will, among the youngest in his grade (and so darn cute), stood front and center for the kick-off song medley — all popular French songs that we parents have heard sung to us a few dozen times a year.

For this first performance, Will (standing smack in the center for all to see) was the kid that sort of stands there while the rest sing around him.  Either he knows the songs so well that he can’t bear to sing them AGAIN, or, this whole thing with his hearing reduction over the past 6 months is so severe that he didn’t quite get all the words to some of the songs.  Or, maybe his nose is just so enthralling he could not leave it alone?

It was actually pretty hilarious, watching him sort of heavily sigh.  Particularly during songs he’s belted out 800 times at home, like “Freire Jacques”.

Really, being the center of attention to several hundred adoring parents and classmates is SO BORING.

And then this started.  Circled for emphasis.

With some more of this.  Again, circled.

Eventually Will took a seat (see him in the audience?) to watch the rest of the classes perform.  His individual class performance came later.

Before he took the stage for his second performance, he told me he was going to sing his class song AS LOUD AS HE COULD and RIGHT TO ME.

Here they are, warming up to the song with a dance inspired by the story, Kirikou.  It’s a story they’d read many times in class and took a field trip to the local movie theatre to see a special showing of the French release of a movie based on the story.

Here they are, getting ready for the song:

And here’s the song:

Kirikou Song at Fete

Kirikou Performance Fete Francaise from Cold Spaghetti on Vimeo.

Kate’s class, the youngest in the school, also performed.  Here she is hanging out in the chaos of students, teachers, and parents… waiting patiently.

Despite all her singing of “Freire Jacques” at home — and perhaps in spite of my maniac practice of it on piano and drilling the words with her so that she’d be able to sing it for Fete — Kate’s class didn’t sing.  They danced.

Three of Kate’s classmates didn’t make it through the circle dance.  Parents were invited to join in, to keep the little ones calm.  We didn’t worry about Kate.  We knew she’d be ROCK OUT, NO PROBLEM.

Kate at Fete

Creche Fete Dance from Cold Spaghetti on Vimeo.

Here’s some more of Will, bustin’ moves.

Still, with the nose.

And whatever else…?

Singing to me(!), as promised.

What a cutie.

Singin’ in French.

School? Mission accomplished. We parents have effectively been brainwashed into believing that the amount spent on school last year (more than twice my total student loan debt and more than the cost of all 4 years of my college education combined)… was worth it.

Work hard, kids. You ARE our 401K.

Family Life in NOLA
Life in New Orleans

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Fete Francaise — this Saturday!

Ecole Bilingue is celebrating its 10 year anniversary!

“Fête DIX” Fête Française 2009

March 21, 2009 10:30 a.m. until 6:30 p.m.

*** Free Admission ***

Fête will be held at our new campus:
821 General Pershing Street (Next to St. Henry’s church)

More information here.Auction items here.
Families drive from Mandeville, Ponchatoula, and Baton Rouge to bring their kids to Ecole Bilingue, Louisiana’s only French immersion program using the French Education Nationale, a national education program highly respected worldwide and a model for many other education systems around the world.
This fundraiser is the largest in EB’s school year and where the funds are raised to support yearly tutition scholarships — next year, our family is among those receiving some of this aid.  We’d love to see you at the Fete!

Family Life in NOLA
Life in New Orleans

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Progress, maybe.

Three more days until the two week holiday break.  Paul and I had lofty goals.  Or, rather, I had lofty goals.  My dream was to surprise the kids Christmas morning with PROGRESS.  In the house.  My dreams included finding the Christmas tree, putting down the floor in the back room, and putting together Will’s bed.

Instead, I get home this afternoon to find this:

The boys are hard at work, all right.  ON THEIR MAN PALACE.

I know, I know.  Who can resist a man putting up siding?  All by himself?

**Okay, honey, forget about that building that we actually live in!  I support you in doing whatever you think is best!**

I’m a wuss.

But then again, look at that assistant.  How can I deny him time with wooden planks and hammers? Especially when it’s 70 degrees outside.

Behold, The Man Palace.  Looks a lot like it did before, huh?  Progress is SLOW, people.  S-L-O-W.

The good news is that Paul only has 12 more hardie boards to move from the front to the back.  (Remember that pile in the snow?)  Six more trips and the neighbors will start talking to us again.  But the improvements to the front hasn’t stopped there!  We also un-stuck the stuck shutter.  We do, however, have some old college-style furniture donations on the porch for the Vets to pick up.  What can I say?  We can only gain so much class per day.

Not to be outdone, I went to work in the kitchen.  My helper was not photogenic today.  She was busy making me coffee on her stove.  Coffee served in a bucket with koosh balls inside, which is really the only acceptable way to drink coffee.

Between buckets of joe, she was helpful enough come around to lick a spoon.  Or three.  But who can blame her?  These grasshoppers are yummy.  Chocolate, butterscotch, noodles, peanuts.  All for teachers and staff at the kids’ school.

I even got all Martha-Stewart and put together little baskets with notes.  But here is the really amazing part: THERE ARE STILL THREE DAYS BEFORE THE END OF TERM.  I finished them early.

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Jekyll and Hyde, you’ve met your match

There’s been a lot of moaning over here lately regarding my first born.  It’s been well-deserved moaning.  Over more than excessive amounts of whining.  More than general not-listening.  More than forgetting to be nice.  More than things that make my head actually lift off of my shoulders.  The sort of stuff that makes me pause and look around for the hidden camera, because it’s way more than conniption causing… it makes me sound like my Mother.*

Then yesterday evening, the Universe smiled down upon me and granted me the greatest wish, one that every parent longs to receive.  The one where we learn that other children are possessed by the same demons as your own.

A saw a friend whose child also attends an immersion school and she lamented on how hard the first few months were… how tired and cranky and difficult and unpleasant her child was for those first few months… AND HOW THE SCHOOL TOLD THEM THAT WOULD HAPPEN.  Yes, I understand it must have been an unpleasant back-to-school note: “Dear Parents, be warned that your child’s behavior over the next few months will turn you into an alcoholic.  In November, we will start an evening AA group with free babysitting to help you get past this hurdle and safely into the rest of the school year.”  Still, it’s a note that would have helped us tremendously as I contemplated how old a kid has to be before Boarding School.  At least I know now and can relish in the relief that my kid is not in need of exorcism, he is simply adjusting to a big transition.  For the record: acting the angel all day long, collecting girlfriends left and right covering 3 grade levels, and excelling everywhere — while coming home to pick fights, whine, refuse food, throw tantrums, miss bedtime, and insult family… THIS is what ‘adjusting to a big transition’ looks like.

Now that Will has set the bar, I have a much clearer picture about what I am going to do when I hit menopause.

*Incidentally, when I share these episodes with my Mom, she finds them HILARIOUS.  As in, snorting milk through her nose, a total riot.  Which I will remember when I pick her nursing home.  (Hi Mom!  I love you!)

Life in New Orleans

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Who knew?

Tonight was our first parent teacher conference of the year. The kids are in a French school, immersed in French all day long, so it’s been a bit of a mystery to us as to how they were doing. For Kate we had no worries; she’s young, she’s in the most primary of classes the school offers, and there are no huge developmental issues that need immediate attention (eventually we’ll turn to pottying and removal of Abby — her pacifier — but we’re currently living in the beautiful world of LATER on those issues).

For Will, it’s been constant worry. Worry that he was struggling with a bully. Worry that he wasn’t able to sit still. Worry that he is the youngest (or almost the youngest) in the class. Worry that he isn’t bringing home points to show good behavior. Worry that he is over-tired without a nap. The worry came from little things that we were seeing: a random bathroom accident around the same time as the concern over the bully, increased difficulty and whiny behavior at home, the fact that he wasn’t bringing home ‘creature cards,’ given when students reach 10 points for good behavior (there is the possibility to earn 1 point each day). Although he seems to love school (he never wants to go home when we arrive to pick him up), he complains about going to school each morning. Was he showing us signs that he was stressed? Were we missing important clues that indicate a problem?

We have been in communication with his teacher and the school director about our concerns. It’s fair to say that I am a high-maintenance Mom when I don’t understand something. (Although I would prefer the terms “engaged” and “involved.”) It’s a new school, the learning curve is steeper than we would have thought, and getting information from other parents has been difficult. Thankfully, the school staff is understanding and accommodating of our questions.

Nana (Paul’s Mom) came yesterday and spent the morning with Will’s class. Via her report, in class, Will is quiet. He fidgets, but really no more or less than any of his classmates. When asked to do something, he follows direction without hesitation, which she felt was strong indication that he understood the commands. At one point, the teacher pulled out dice and some cards. She called over students one by one and asked them a series of questions, rolling the dice and showing the cards — a test of numbers, counting, and letters. Nana couldn’t tell what the right or wrong answers were, only that comparatively, Will seemed to fly through the questions.

So we arrived at Will’s conference a little nervous. I had my notebook out, pen raised.

“Will,” his teacher began, “Will is… what is the word…?” (Will’s teacher is French, she’s searching for the right word) “… he is…”

My hand readies to write.

“… amazing.”

I freeze. Really? I put down the pen. This is not the word I thought she was going to say.

She proceeds to tell us that she had wondered if Will was learning at all, that she sees him looking around the room, daydreaming, not really paying attention. That when they learn songs, she wonders how well he knows the words. That he is shy and doesn’t speak. (This is normal with immersion — in the first year, children tend to primarily listen. In the second year, they begin to speak.) So today, when she checked in with the students in preparation for the afternoon’s parent meetings, she was “amazed” that Will not only flew through the dice and cards, but that he did it faster and with accuracy equal to that of the students who had been in French school for several years. “You should be very proud of him,” she told us with a smile.

I’d love to say that we are simply outstanding parents, dutifully fostering his French learning. But outside of asking him to teach us different words or sing songs for the video camera, we’re not doing much. All this time and worry about Will, when the truth is that he is really, truly learning, completely in stride with his class. It was the first time I’d actually believed that maybe he wasn’t going to be held back from Kindergarten (all my worry had resigned me to this reality, because I was so sure we’d made the wrong choice by putting him in the Kindergarten in the first place.) Could this be anxiety over how fast this kid is growing up?

As we left the school, feeling a bit shocked and surprised, Paul says, “We managed to get through our first parent-teacher conference without the words ‘restraining order.’ I consider that a success.”

Then we exchanged glances and he voiced what we both were thinking, “I spoke too soon; we still have to do Kate’s.”

Life in New Orleans

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Halloween Day

Do you know what the room of a 4- and 2- year old looks like after a morning searching for costumes to wear to school? It’s not pretty.

But we pulled it off. Thankfully, I’d picked up some sale items over the past few years… including a cowgirl hat and cowgirl boots. Both of these were purchased on outings when Paul was not around to glare disapprovingly. I am using this as an example of my Good Shopping Skills, which have now proven themselves to be Very Valuable in a pinch.

Along with a horse-y shirt, Kate became a cowgirl! We worked on “Yee-haw!” all morning. At 9:30, we joined her at school for a little Halloween party.

She was quick to find many good uses for her cowgirl hat. “Daddy? What do you mean I can’t have a pony?!”

Then they had a puppet show. Kate walked herself upstairs and sat in the front row, without thinking twice about her parents, stuck in the back with the babies (they were a little freaked out by the intense cheese brought by the puppet man.) Luck for him, Kate LOVES cheese. All kinds. She ate it all up and especially liked the guy’s cat, Dinah. (His ghost was named Blythe. Chuckle, chuckle.)

She just took it all in, wild horsewoman that she is.

And seriously, it took honest effort.

She didn’t even notice us leave after the performance. She is SO OVER us!

Then, at 2, we visited Will’s BATMAN’s school. He was cruisin’ the play-yard in his Batmobile.

Inside, the kids’ artwork decorated the cafeteria. That face in the center is the work of Batman, himself.

Then, the Kindergarten put on a Maori-inspired song and dance, wearing Maori-inspired skirts that they made. (Their study of Australia has branched out to New Zealand.)

We figured Will did pretty well with the words and movements, considering he’d missed three days of school recently for our trip north.

His favorite part was “aou, aou, aou, aou-aou-aou!”

After their performance, guess who was waiting? Yup, same guy from the morning. His shtick went great with the older crowd, though. And when he needed a BAT, guess who got called up?

See that handsome guy in the background? He recorded it all. A prince among men, I tell ya.

Thanks to Paul’s recording prowess, here’s an incredibly reduced-quality video of the Maori-song and dance. My favorite part is when Will hitches up his pants about 50 seconds in. AOU!

Life in New Orleans

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Different tongues.

We’re in the beautiful northern suburbs of Pittsburgh, near where my parents grew up across the street from each other.  The past day and a half have been a blur of fantastic public parks, fun museums, nostalgic family stories, friendly people, and Eat-n-Park.  Will loves the mountains.  Paul finally explained that ‘we can’t afford mountains in Louisiana’ and ‘they only can be built in places where there is a lot of snow and ice in the winter,’ because Will could not understand why we can’t just build up a few winding mountain roads with bubbling streams through the center of New Orleans.  He is also picking up on the fact that people here say things a little differently.  Words like “yins” (like you all, but not) and “worsh” which is something you do to clean things like clothes and dishes.  We’ve been impressing upon him that there are many ways to pronounce words, and along those lines, that maybe he should be a little more gracious when he corrects our American pronouncation French words?  Or at least not visibly roll his eyes and groan when we make the word “poisson” rhyme with “son”.

The kids’ school called me on my cell phone this morning, while I was leaving the bathroom in the basement of the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum with Will.  It did not take long for them to have me pegged as a sucker who can’t say no someone who likes to be involved.  And now, I’m on the School Council (Conseil d’ecole), which is an elected position (when, in situations not like this one, where more than one person throws their name into the ring) required for accreditation from the French Ministry of Education to act as a voice for the class on school issues.  While that description isn’t the most informative, it’s all I know, and am excited to have the chance to learn more about how these cross-national schools work, although I know little about early childhood education and even less about French educational requirements.  Then I was flashing to the LHAN board meetings, which are often in Spanish and where I can follow along reasonably well but have to use English to speak (so embarrassing, but if I have to take the time to think how to talk in Spanish, the conversation has passed me by) — and I began to have visions of these meetings all in French.  Because that would just make sense for me to be involved in two community volunteering roles in two different languages I cannot speak fluently.

Life in New Orleans

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