One of these is not like the other.

Today was Fete Francaise, the yearly French Block Party that serves as the major fundraising event for scholarships for our kids’ school.  Each year, all the kids perform at Fete.

Remember how the last time Will performed at school, he exceeded his previous stage-related penchants of yawning and nose-picking in favor of giving out wet-willies to other kids?  Right.  Well.

I’ll show you how it went.  Let me set the stage, so to speak.

There’s a lot of people there.

And the kids are all lined up on stage with parents crowded in as close as possible.

Cameras are everywhere.  All kinds of  Serious.  Cameras.

And it’s Fete, the most important day of the year for the school, so folks are really into it.

The kids are lined up on stage, ready to sing all sorts of deep philosophical things about Sartre and Voltaire.  All in French, of course, which is important because, as Fancy Nancy says, “everything in French sounds Fancy.”

So sweet.

Wait.  Except.  What?  That kid on the end?

Right, that one.

Yes, that’s the same one.  Good.  I’m glad he can be seen from all sides, then.  Just so everyone can experience it.  Who is he, anyway?

Oh, WILL.  Good thing he has that notebook so clearly marked.  Just so EVERYONE can know EXACTLY who he is.  No question, then.

Okay.  So, what’s that kid, Will… what is he DOING?

What is he doing indeed.

Okay.  Click on the video below.  Sound recommended. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.

That kid on the end of the school performance. from Cold Spaghetti on Vimeo.

Still, I’ll take this over wet-willies. I’m calling it a success.

Life in New Orleans

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School Mardi Gras? Oui!

Too cold for the parade in the park, so the kids’ donned their class-made costumes and home-brought throws to an indoor audience.  Paul made Will’s parade (bonus: live band); I made Kate’s (bonus: singing by Kate’s class).

Family Life in NOLA
Mi Familia

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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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“Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.” (Albert Schweitzer)

The year I struggled the most was right after college.  I was working for the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, DC, and had living expenses that were crippling.  One month, desperate for a suit I could wear to some of awards ceremonies I had privy to attend, I purposely used my overdraft protection to write a check that I knew I couldn’t cover on overdraft — knowing that I was to be paid two days later and therefore would not bounce.  That following month, already starting in the hole because of my $50 suit, I gave $10 to a co-worker in the mail room who was collecting money for his daughter’s school.  Initially after I gave it, I regretted it.  It was the same $10 that was suppose to be my lunch money for the next few days.  But ultimately, when I thought about it, giving that money became one of my proudest moments.  I’d be feeling so strapped for months — living paycheck to paycheck — and it made me feel better about my situation and myself to give to others.  Didn’t Anne Frank say that no one ever became poor by giving?

I’ve written before about the importance of spending a little more to lend support to local organizations, local business owners, and local products.  As 2008 drew to a close, I was thinking more and more about the things I’m most proud of this year and wanting to talk about giving… but I felt like it would come across as showy or superior, which is not how I feel about it nor how I want to come across.  So I stayed quiet about things like money and giving.  Then Jen and Mad posted about giving and encouraged it from others.  So here I go.

I’m proud at how we give.  And each year, we strive to give more.  I’ve read a lot about folks trying to get back to basics, reusing and recycling, all that jargon that is so popular these days.  But what about giving your time and money?  That, in my opinion, is the giving that matters.  If you’re just giving away stuff from your attic or closet or basement that you don’t use anyway, is it really an effort to be a better person and community member, or just to improve your own life?  And while that’s good in it’s own place, what about setting examples for our children on giving more than our old things: our time, our attention, our energy, our talents, our hard-earned money… to help others?  Isn’t teaching compassion and empathy the whole point of living simply — and if it isn’t, well, then shouldn’t it be?

This year, we gave more than 5% of our total income in cash donations, donated our services to local fundraisers, served on nonprofit boards, sponsored local events, volunteered on committees, showed up for work days, assisted with computer help to organizations and individuals, wrote grants, taught English, and offered translation.  All of these called for our time and took us away from paying work.  We don’t have money to burn or family inheritance safe guards.  If we just had made our donations in-kind and saved the cash, we could have done all sorts of things we’d have loved to do: spent more time at the beach, gone to Disney World, finally replaced that 12 year old mattress with a king-sized set, upgraded my 6 year old camera, or hired help to finish some of the many renovations we’ve been working on for years.  But we believe that the only way to give is to plan for it every month as a necessity.  There is never enough for anyone to feel secure, it’s always that way.  So giving has to be a priority.

No one has ever become poor through giving.

And really, what will happen if you gave an extra $20 or $50 or $100 a month?  Would you starve?  Would you lose your home?  Because within that month, there are many many many many many in our world who will.  What will you have lost?  I’m not trying to be preachy… this is what I feel, what I say to myself when I feel frustrated or stretched thin or like I’m denying myself or my family things that could make our lives easier or brighter.  Because in the end, we are better than great.

And ultimately, when we came to the end of the year, I didn’t regret the things I hadn’t bought or done.  (Even if I still wish we had that big bed and am bummed that we are stepping over construction debris each day.)  All that really doesn’t matter.  Instead, I wished I would have given more during the year and encouraged others to do the same.

When you come right down to it, we live extravagantly compared to most of the world.  So we should do more.  There is so much more to do.

In the first few months of this year, we are giving monthly donations to Abeona House, the preschool we helped start after Katrina.  While Abeona House is just one of the organizations we give to, it’s one of the ones closest to our hearts and the one we pledged to give the most to.  Having helped start the organization, we know how it works, where the money goes, and how it is managed.  We know that the people employed are being paid a good wage (although childcare professionals are paid a pathetically low salary across the board everywhere) and full-time employees receive benefits, which is rare in this field in our city.  There are Abeona employees who lost homes in Katrina; one is still living in a FEMA trailer.  Abeona is one of the only preschools in the city to offer a sliding scale tuition.  Donations to the school help it offer placement to more lower-to-middle income families (teachers, social workers, nonprofit organization workers, artists) who would otherwise not qualify for State-based assistance programs.  If you are looking for a 501c3 organization that will use your donation in the service of children’s programming and family support: this is one that applies.

Other organizations we feel similar about and give to are Ecole Bilingue (where our kids currently attend school) and Planting Magic Beans (founded and run by good friends of ours in Peru).

No matter what happens, I know that we will be okay in the ways that matter.  And ultimately… No le hará rico; no me hará pobre.

Mi Familia

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School Daze

The kids are a few weeks into their new school and Paul and I are finally getting adjusted.  The kids figured things out pretty quickly, but us?  We have new kids, new teachers, AND new parents to get to know with only a few minutes each day to sort it out.  It’s a big step for us.

So last week, we attended the first parent-group meeting for the kids school.  We got there early, so that Paul could hang huge curtains on the massive windows upstairs while I navigated the waters of a strange new parent group below.  A few minutes into the meeting, the 10 foot ladder that Paul was on the Very Top Of collapsed on it’s bottom rung.  Consider first, the danger: the damage of a 10 foot fall, coupled with the collapse of a huge metal ladder, and school tables and shelving lining the floor beneath.   Then picture the amazing response: a teacher happened to walk by the room at the very instant the ladder buckled, bearing shocking witness to Paul RIDING THE LADDER TO THE GROUND AS IT COLLAPSED UNDER HIM.  Yep.  He walked away just fine.  I’m placing a bet that Paul’s next job is with Cirque di Soleil.

Despite Paul’s near-death experience at our first official school volunteerism event, we are now officially volunteers with committees and such.  We have met a lot of very nice, down to earth, unpretentious parents… and a few who have given us well-intended lectures about the importance of parental involvement in school, how rewarding it is, and how we really should find a way to get involved.  It gives us a good laugh.

Will is picking up French like a sponge, randomly throwing out French words in conversation.  The best is the word “bleu” pronounced by Will as “BLEGH” and taking the place of where he would normally say the word “blue”.  Like, for example, “Mommy, when I wear my Superman sunglasses, they make everything look BLEGH.”  Kate’s French comes from repeating whatever Will says.  This means that the most commonly heard phrase in the house is “BLEGH.”

What is most definitely NOT BLEGH is the school hot lunch program.  We signed up both kids for a song, considering that now I know that school hot lunch is The Most Amazing Thing in the World, and that I would rip my kidney out with a spoon, eat ramen for a year, and even say something nice about Sarah Palin if it meant keeping my kids in the program.  And it’s not just that I no longer have to worry about going to the store for lunch supplies, or packing lunches, or making sure containers are clean, or juice is made, or freezer packs are frozen… I also don’t have to stress over whether or not they eat dinner.  I know that they are getting a good lunch at school (or, at least, I make myself believe this by dutifully ignoring the school lunch menu) and therefore, have officially stopped having to panic over whether or not dinner is something they choose to eat.  Or, more aptly put, my desire to stuff food down those ungrateful whiny throats encourage them to eat is greatly diminished.

This Thursday, while Paul and I board a direct flight to Boston, Will is going on a field trip to the New Orleans Museum of Art.  I’ve made it a point to be at every school event before, and I am pretty disappointed to miss the trip — where Will is going on his first ever school bus (not counting the school buses he rode as an infant in Honduras) and his first ever Art Museum.  But once Paul and I are on that quiet airplane, deciding whether or not to read novels, gaze into each other’s eyes, take in a few moments of restful sleep, or basque in the comfort of hearing someone else’s kid howl through the flight… I don’t think I’ll be as bothered by it.


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Back to life.

Our plan to divert Ike to Texas by steadfastly preparing to evacuate a second time paid off!  Ike is going to the nearby Red Stet and just to make sure it continues to do so, we are keeping our storm shutters firmly latched, the inside walls bare, and the fridge limited to 5 items within it’s pristine clean interior.  The more we are prepared to leave, the less the likelihood of needing to leave.  It’s a predictive model with textbook correlation.

But even though our living arrangements speak of a family on the verge of evacuation, our days this week have been the slow return to Normal Life.  Kids running around with underwear on their heads.  Me walking halfway to the store before realizing I forgot to put on shoes.  Paul coming to terms with coffee as the key to his salvation.

This week brought on several BIG EVENTS.

The first and Most Important was the start of school.  I was the only parent without a camera when we dropped Will off for his FIRST DAY OF KINDERGARTEN.  Will’s teachers came to my aid and emailed pictures home that they, themselves, took of the kids during different parts of their first day… reading books, playing with toys, singing songs, having recess, eating lunch, and just generally looking cute in their uniforms.  From these, I have proof positive that Will is making friends and having fun at school.  Further, he does not seem to be acting the part of gangsta kid, a character behavior he appeared to be adopting over the summer, as shown by this class picture taken on the last day of his summer camp (note: although I cropped out the other children in the photo, I can promise that they are all smiling sweetly and most definitely not grabbing any unmentionable parts.)

Sometimes, my pride as a Mother leaves me speechless.

Quick on the heals of the first day of school was Will’s First Ever Gymnastics class.  At last year’s Fete, I won a credit for a class at Audubon Gymnastics via silent auction.  Will, who had once been enthusiastically in support of gym class, did a radical 180-degree turn on us Monday morning, announcing how he “HATED GYMNASTICS”.  This is when Paul called “NOT IT!” making me the default parent to take him to the class.

True to their website, Will was the only boy in a sea of pink-tutu clad girls.  After class, I had two big surprises.  First, Will did not once ask for either a pink leotard or a tutu even though he was the only one not wearing them.  Second, he bounced out of the class expounding on his LOVE FOR GYMNASTICS.  Could we come back tomorrow?  How about before school?  After school?  Everyday and forever, ’cause I really love it?  Oh, and Mommy, I REALLY WANT TO TAKE BALLET, TOO.

My heart actually stopped beating for a minute when this came out.  BALLET?  Did I hear that right?  When pregnant, I fantasized about Will being my Billy Elliot, but since then have humbly embraced him for the impressive sports-dude that he seems to be.  Now he wants ballet?  Or maybe he quickly saw the benefits of being a group’s only boy?

I called.  Ballet class was full.  He’s on the waiting list.

Keeping with our summer promise of staying with swimming, Paul took Will to his first Swim Team class today.  The deal is that for $50/month, Will needs only attend two sessions a week (offered M-F) and they teach him what he’s missing from the four basic strokes and work on endurance.  The report from Paul was that the prodigious-ness he showed in the summer was not a fluke; Will continues to astound and amaze in the water.  Proof positive that guys who like ballet can also be kick-ass sports dudes.  And gangsta.

UPDATE! As I wrote this, another email came in from Will’s teacher with more pictures (!!) and details of their activities today:

Dear parents
Today, Elodie (the other kindergarten’s teacher) went to our classroom to do a science activity while I went with the other class to play hide and seek (cache-cache) with Ouille the frog (grenouille) puppet. She went under (sous) and above ( sur ) a chair like the children did this morning in PE. And then we exchanged, so each class had the 2 activities. They also started some painting and counting activities and they colored the letters of their name. It can seem a little difficult for the new students but don’t worry they do great and they will catch up in French.

Here are some photos from yesterday for PE (motricite) and from today.

Tomorrow they will dance the fish-dance and they will have their first music class.


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