Our local paper, Brattleboro Reformer, runs a column written by Jill Stahl Tyler, called "Education Matters".  Jill highlights happenings in our local schools, written through the eyes of a parent with kids in our schools.  The column runs every other weekend in the Parenting Section.  Take in some of Brattleboro's school's events and experience life in our small town!

Flourishing? Floundering?  Or Figuring It Out?  

“And what do you want to be when you grow up?”

It’s such an innocent question–and one I’m willing to bet that every person has asked at least once to a child, somewhere. We start to ask the question pretty young, and we continue to query the kids as they go through their school years.

Around junior spring, and definitely by high school spring, it becomes more direct.

Read more: Flourishing? Floundering? Or Figuring It Out?

Eleven Days 

Eleven days. The first eleven days in the month of March.

That’s all it took to see some pretty spectacular stuff out of our schools.

We started on Friday night, March 1st. It was senior night for the varsity boys’ basketball game.

Read more: Eleven Days

Class Choices 

I am cleaning up the kitchen after family suppers, and our Spanish daughter-for-the-year is sitting at the counter. Her Chrome book is out, and her head phones are off her head. My mind is mulling over mundane, random thoughts, like wondering if I should be “really” cleaning the counter with soap, or if the water wipe down is sufficient? Is there supper in the fridge for tomorrow? Who will be home for eating anyway? Is the basketball team playing?

Suddenly, over these oh-so-important musings, my attention is grabbed by a cheery voice: “And then, after that part of the digestion track, the food particles travel further...”

It’s “Human Body Systems”, a class that seemed perfectly tailored for our special guest this year.

Read more: Class Choices

Parent Lesson #1385 

I have a confession to make. I suppose it’s not a surprise to anyone, and I imagine that many–or even all–parents can make this same confession.

I worry about my children’s grades.

Sometimes, too, I worry that their school achievements are a reflection directly back on me, as their mother.

Read more: Parent Lesson #1385

Why Would Anyone Do That? 

“I just don’t get it,” she says to me, exasperated. “I mean, I am thankful and all, please don’t misunderstand me. I appreciate all that you are doing for me. But... It’s so much. Why do you do this? Why would anyone do this?”

The questioner is our current exchange student, another lovely girl from Spain. She is bright, articulate, honest and open. She holds little back and shares her thoughts and questions without hesitation.

Read more: Why Would Anyone Do That?

Fabric of Our Lives 

It is near nightly scene here at our house. We try to always have family supper together. Oh, we don’t succeed, of course. There are sports practices, meetings and work schedules.

But it seems very important to stick to this routine as much as we possibly can. I find it is often one of the highlights of my day, just reconnecting to everyone and hearing what they have done.

It’s one of those pieces in the fabric of our lives, I think, one of those simple, small moments that makes up a whole.

Read more: Fabric of Our Lives

Fantastic Family Fall Fun 

Friday night, we were all together in our kitchen.

Son number one was home from college; his girlfriend happily joins our family often when he is here, too. Son number two was here, hosting his group of friends at our house that night. They were due to arrive shortly. Our daughter was busy making plans for to attend a Halloween party on Saturday night; our Chinese foreign exchange student guest wanted to make sure we heard about a concert he wanted to attend the next evening, too.

Read more: Fantastic Family Fall Fun

A Bamboo Flute Travels to Brattleboro

The orchestra conductor stands in front, his very presence at once intimidating and calming.

The student is slightly to his side, deferential and yet ready to jump in and lead with his solo. He knows only one person in the room besides the conductor: his American high school band director. Although he later claims to be “very, very nervous,” he doesn’t show it. Instead, he bows slightly to the orchestra players as he is introduced.

Read more: A Bamboo Flute Travels to Brattleboro

The LAX Hurrah 

We have scheduled all of our summer activities around this event for the past three years. Summer camps. Family drives to the Midwest. Visits with friends. Even work responsibilities. All have been juggled and carefully coordinated so that this all-important pilgrimage can be accomplished.

Every family has their “thing”, that activity that brings them altogether. For us, for the past seven years, it’s been lacrosse. We didn’t mean to necessarily go down this road. It sort of happened to us.

Read more: The LAX Hurrah

Irish Smiles

Sometimes, it seems it is better if I go into things with few expectations.

On our way home from Spain this past August, we had a “bonus” trip. It turns out that the cheapest and easiest flight option in and out of Spain was not out of Boston, as I had assumed it would be. Instead, it was out of our normal airport, Hartford–via Dublin.

Truly, it’s genius on the part of Ireland:

Read more: Irish Smiles

Reflections from Spain

They are four abreast as they walk along the sidewalk in Barcelona. My two sons flank their Spanish sister, my daughter leaning slightly forward and into the conversation from the end. I can’t hear their exact words, just the tones of their voices mixing together. They tease and cajole. They push and playfully jostle, and their responses rise and fall between their bursts of laughter.

I am behind them, watching and observing. It’s a weird sort of deja vu. It’s surreal and very much real at the same time. I feel the same as I did while traveling with them on our trek to the Midwest and back.

Read more: Reflections from Spain

End of Summer 

 It’s 11 PM. I was planning on going to bed, and I will. Soon.

But for right now, I am living in the moment and enjoying the noises that rise up to my home-based office from the packed basement below.

At least ten kids are smashed down there, gathered around the ubiquitous X-box and the international phenomena of a game, something called Fortnight.

Read more: End Of Summer

The American Experience 

 The 21 Spanish teens, and their chaperone, come off the plane looking a bit worse for the wear. The trip has been long: from Bilbao, Spain, over to Portugal, and then finally on to Boston.

Some are out of their country for the first time

Read more: American Experience

Picking the Blues 

It’s rainy. And it has been all week, off and on, more on than off most days. My sister and my six-year-old niece are in town, and the family needs to do something together.

“Let’s go blueberry picking!” I suggest enthusiastically.

The kids all look at the ominous sky, and then at me with obvious doubts. “It is not raining,” I say. “Come on. It will be fun!”

Read more: Picking The Blues

Don't Cry Because It's Over... 

The countdown began early.

In some ways, time was always a huge part of the entire academic year for our Spanish daughter.

She was astonished when the first week came to an end, and then the first month followed closely after. Soon, she shifted from counting how much time had flown by, and started worrying about how much time she still had left.

Read more: Don't Cry Because It's Over...

High School:  The Same or Different? 

The exchange students are not all that happy that I have asked them to participate. They are quite nervous actually, as they stand near each other in a small clump.

The Americans pile into the room, taking seats behind their international counterparts. They are clearly at much more at ease, but equally unsure as to what will happen next.

Read more: High School: The Same or Different?

Mother's Day, International Style 

Mother’s Day this year started with a hug from my Brazilian “son-for-a-semester”. His smile–and his arms–were wide with joy at being able to greet me in person on this special day. He remembers all of these types of holidays.

The second “Happy Mother’s Day” greeting I received was from my Spanish “daughter for a year”. She, too, was unabashed in her enthusiasm. This is no surprise. It’s how she’s approached her year with us. Everything is celebrated and recognized for it’s unique, literally “once-in-a-lifetime” value.

Read more: Mother's Day, International Style

Lacrosse Our Lives 

Eight years ago, our oldest son said he wanted to try lacrosse. It was a new program, and it looked like fun.

Eight years ago, we said yes.

And eight years ago, we started on a trajectory that continues.

Read more: Lacrosse Our Lives

Washington, DC, with Teenagers 

The flights were only on sale for two days, and we had to act fast if we wanted to snag them. For only $39 each way, we could fly in and out of Reagan Airport in DC.

I called in the two exchange students in my house; were they interested? Definitely.

Read more: Washington, DC, with Teenagers

Driving to a Playoff Win 

 “I am going to the girls’ playoff game tonight,” my junior son texts me.

I text back the standard questions: “Where? What time? Who is going? Who’s driving?”

He shoots back his replies. “Bennington. 7 PM start. I’m driving some friends.”

Read more: Driving to a Playoff Win

The Grand Revolving Door 

The house has gone from noisy to quiet. Perhaps it’s more correct to say it’s changed from “too noisy” to “too quiet”.

The winter break seemed longer this year, but not because of the high school. It was the college freshman who came home on December 18th, and didn’t go back until January 23rd.

Read more: The Grand Revolving Door

Air Traffic Control (or Getting Home) 

It is 8 AM on any given school day, and my questions are predictable in their seeming simplicity.

“What are you doing after school today?”

I ask each child this question, every day.

Read more: Air Traffic Control (or Getting Home)

A  Great Time for Basketball  

 “Why do you always force me to do things I don’t want to do?” my seventh-grader complains when I tell her she will be doing basketball this fall. “Why can’t you listen to me?”

I decide not to answer that directly, feeling a twinge of remorse. She’s right. I am not purposely not listening to her. I am not taking her opinions into account, and I am making a decision for her when she is expressly telling me she does not want to do it.

Read more: A Great Time for Basketball

The Lure of a Snow Day 

 “Well, what do you think? Will it be a snow day?”

This is the question posed by every child in our house, along with all their friends and all students everywhere.

Read more: The Lure of a Snow Day

The Brazilian Weatherman 

He is outside in shorts and flip flops, his normal house attire. But he’s added on a scarf and a fleece jacket, even a hat, before he’s charged outside.

“Look!” he cries triumphantly. “Look at this! It’s SNOWING!!”

His enthusiasm is so complete and his joy so evident

Read more: The Brazilian Weatherman

Chicks to Chickens, Boys to Men  

“Look, Mom! The catalog came again!”

I look over to my college-age son, trying to figure out what has him so excited. Seeing the magazine in his hand, I smile. It’s the Murray McMurray Chicken Catalog, a delightfully enticing sales piece from a hatchery all the way out in Iowa. And, oh, the memories this little mailer brings.

Read more: Chicks to Chickens, Boys to Men

A Side of Familiarity Within the Slice of Life 

The week of Thanksgiving is special to me. I wish I could claim credit for the genius idea for giving the entire week off to the students in the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union. While my friends from other areas seem taken aback when I mention this, I am supremely happy with this decision. I love the small break before the busy-ness of the rest of the year. I look forward these days.

I reminded myself of that on Monday morning. I pointedly reflected upon how much I enjoy being a part of my kids and their friends’ lives. I refused to let something like spending a full hour cleaning the kitchen rain on my parade. A sleep over of ten kids, still making noise at 2 AM? All leaving ice cream bowls, seltzer cans and pizza boxes on my counters?

Read more: A Side of Familiarity Within the Slice of Life

The Arrival of the Exchange Students 

We drive the three hours home from dropping off our first born at college for the first time.

But we arrive home to a fuller house than we’ve left.

For the beginning of the year at least, we’ve agreed to host two academic year exchange students. One is a boy, from Brazil, and the other is a girl, from Spain.

Read more: The Arrival of the Exchange Students

College Drop Off Day 

The alarm sounds quickly when you sleep little.

It comes even faster when you have to get up at 3.45 and pack the last of the college move into your car.

He’ll be in a triple, a room with the space supposedly designed for two,

Read more: College Drop Off Day

The Final Day 

I woke up with that feeling of impending dread, the way you feel when you know something is off, not right, or not going to be good. Then I remembered: this is the last day for our oldest son to be home. Tomorrow, we’ll get up at 3:45, we’ll leave the house at 4:30, and we’ll drive three hours to arrive at college.

The day starts pretty normally: all the kids sleep in until at least 9 AM.

Read more: The Final Day

Write About Your Summer 

“Write about your summer.”

Remember that question? As school started up for this fall, I had mixed emotions. I love the return to routine. I love the idea of starting over fresh and jumping into a year full of opportunities.

Read more: Write About Your Summer

The Foreign Exchange Student 

Somewhere in the crazy ideas that pop through my head, I thought it would be great fun to take on a new work responsibility... during the spring that my oldest graduated from high school, and my youngest graduated from elementary school.

It was because the job itself is something I so fervently believe in: foreign exchange. But after asking more than 300 people directly, putting up flyers, running ads, sending out emails and Facebook messages, I was still short of enough host families.

Read more: The Foreign Exchange Student

Fast Forward: Student and Family College Orientation

I feel like I’ve been put into some sort of a time machine.

It’s Thursday morning. In the past 10 days, we’ve celebrated the end normal season lacrosse for all three of our kids. Hosted and played tourist with five out-of-town relatives. Said good-bye to the elementary school, the home-away-from-home for at least one child for the past 14 years. Watched a high school graduation of young adults, whom, in a lot of cases, we’ve known literally since birth. Planned, organized and threw an outdoor graduation party for seven young men.

Read more: Fast Forward: Student and Family College Orientation


And before we realize it, high school graduation day is here.

We have spent Wednesday playing tourist with the Illinois-based relatives. With elementary school graduation finished on Tuesday night, our daughter was thrilled to start Wednesday morning by lording it over her brothers. “You have to go to school today,” she noted with glee, “and I don’t.”

Read more: Commencement

Tuesday:  Elementary Graduation 

 “You’re taking me out of school at 12.40?” my daughter asked. “But we are supposed to be practicing for graduation then. Are you sure that I can leave?”

I groaned. No one had told me about graduation practice. She had begged to get her “hair done”, and the only appointment available on Tuesday was at 1 PM. “I’ll talk to the office,” I promised.

Read more: Tuesday: Elementary Graduation

Monday:  Finishing the Seasons

 Some sort of a dish for the potluck? Check.

One child with one parent, already at the Kiwani’s Shelter at the park? Other parent scurrying to get there quickly? Check.

Other two children off to their own lacrosse end-of-season celebration? Check.

Read more: Monday: Finishing the Seasons

And Graduation Week Begins

Graduation week finally arrived.

It’s not like this was a surprise. After all, it’s pretty much standard expectations that a child enters his official school career at age five when he starts kindergarten. Thirteen years later, normally, the same student shakes his principal’s hand as his name is read for all to hear. (It’s really fourteen years, for the official count, since we always start in the fall of one calendar year and end in the spring of the next).

Read more: And Graduation Week Begins

The Independence Parade 

It’s Heifer Stroll weekend number sixteen this year; the first one was in June of 2002.

Sixteen years is a lot of time in the life of a parade. Looking back, it seems the “Strolling of the Heifers” more closely mirrors a “march of time” for our family.

Read more: The Independence Parade

Decision Made! 

We have tiptoed around the decision. We have ignored the calendar. We have not pushed. We have not opined. We have not questioned. We have not listed pros and cons of each choice. We have not asked.

Sure, as parents, we’ve talked about it. With family friends, we have analyzed it. With relatives, we’ve reviewed the options.

We have our thoughts. Oh, we have many opinions. To us, the choice is pretty clear.

Read more: Decision Made!

What's Inside An Egg? 

 “We have left an egg in vinegar for three days now, in my science class at school,” my daughter informs me. “The whole shell is gone, you know.”

I didn’t know. I have never left an egg in vinegar for three days, I realize. I am instantly curious and want more details. “So the egg is floating, like you cracked it?”

“No,” she sighs, clearly frustrated that I wouldn’t understand immediately what would happen in this situation. “It’s still together.”

Read more: What's Inside an Egg?

Accepted Students' Day 

It is a nasty day, full of every type of precipitation possible: freezing rain. Sleet. Snow pellets. Snow. Rain. And back around again. It’s a good day to not travel anywhere–in fact, our schools have already called an early release the night before.

Still, we get up and look hard at the weather between here and Boston. It’s “Accepted Students’ Day”–and it’s coming up on deadlines.

Read more: Accepted Students' Day

Middle School Excitement 

 She came home and marched straight into my office.

“Mom,” she started in, before even saying hello, “Mom! Today they came from the middle school, the principal and a counselor. And they went over all this stuff with us.

“We’re going to have our own lockers. Well, two lockers. There is one for gym and one for regular. Of course, neither of them really can hold anything.

Read more: Middle School Excitement

On the Slopes 

 It’s the first day of winter sports, and as I step into the lobby of the school, the kids are already lined up–and pumped up! Their voices match their energy, as we chaperones wind through their throng to receive our instructions and their Mount Snow ID cards. As soon as our group forms, they blow through the doors and start looking for their vehicles in the line up outside. They grab their boards, their skis, their helmets, their lunches, and they heap it all into the back. Seat belts at the ready, the five of them are all situated before I can even close the hatch.

Read more: On the Slopes


“Mom, we do this every year!”

“Yes,” I say.  “It’s tradition!”

It’s funny.  Sometimes my children claim “tradition” as their right.  Shopping for deals right after Thanksgiving is just not to be messed with, even when I suggest that perhaps we could just look for things on line instead.  Not baking each of their specific Christmas cookie favorites?  Not negotiable.  Decorating an annual ginger bread train, complete with many types of candy? 

Normal (although last year’s near 70 degree temperatures on Christmas Eve caused all of us to let that one slide for a year).   Cinnamon roll making on a snow day?  Cherished--and expected. An annual sledding party, complete with the snowmobiles doing the work of climbing the hill and inviting all the friends they want?  Practically mandated, set in stone--and longed for, all last winter.

Read more: Traditions!

Concert Smiles

“Mom!  I have a concert coming up!”

It’s hard to not get excited when your daughter is glowing and enthused.  I dutifully marked it into the calendar, thinking that it could be a bit tricky for the timing.  December has a lot going on, always, and adding in a violin concert had not been on my agenda.  Still, she was thrilled... and I would be there, no matter what.

A couple of days later, she came home with another paper.  “Look, Mom, we have a concert.”  

I was confused.  “Yes, we already have that on the calendar.

Read more: Concert Smiles

Just Another Normal School Board Meeting

Last night, I spent yet another evening at a school board meeting.

When I joined the board about six years ago, I expected I’d hear regularly about the happenings in our town’s three elementary schools, the goings-on at our infant and preschool programs through Early Head Start, Head Start and our private partnerships with other preschools in the area.  

Our meeting last night, on November 16th, was no exception.  (If you would like to watch the meeting, all of our meetings are filmed by BCTV, and on demand at their website at http://www.brattleborotv.org/ )   We reviewed student numbers, children moving into or out of our area, attendance levels and tardies.  We heard about what I call “the good stuff”: spelling bee championships, special family gatherings and after school programs.

Then we go to the opposite part, the data that brings down the feeling in the room, every single meeting.  

Read more: Just Another Normal Meeting

Teaching English at the High School Level

The high school English teacher asked the visiting parents a basic, should-be-simple question at the BUHS Open House.  “What letter grade, or what percentage, means that someone has achieved proficiency?”

Some answers came quickly.  “60%,” called out one parent.

“75%?” asked another.

“How about 65%?” another dad tried.  

The teacher nodded. “Yes,” he said, “that’s the question.”

He then went on to explain how the high school was switching from the A-B-C-D-E system that most of us were used to....

Read more: Teaching English at the High School Level

Money Talks

“I got paid today!” my daughter announced as she bounced into the house after school.

Completely confused, I asked for some clarification.  “Who paid you? For what?  Are we talking about real money?”

“No,” she laughed, “it’s not real money!  Why would a teacher give me real money?”

Read more: Money Talks

Sports & Work

“How about sports management?” I asked.

My son and I were going over his options for the fall semester.  He wanted to make sure that he had a balance between his core classes (English, math, science) and his electives.  He had thought about how much work some of those would require, and still wanted to have time to play sports.

Life is all about balance, of course.  There is probably no more important lesson that we all learn (and re-learn, often, throughout our lives).  We fully supported our son’s concern, and wanted him to find a way to fit everything in.  “You love sports, so that sounds fun, right?”

Read more: Sports & Work

College Confusion

“What do you like to do?  What would like to be?  What do you want to study? Where do you want to go to school?  What about weather, would you like to be somewhere warmer, or do you want to still be able to ski in the winters?  What about size?  Do you think 4,000 students is big enough?  Should it be 46,000 students?  And sports... did you want to play sports still?  Which ones?  What level, club sport, division three, division one, big ten?”

Honestly, these are the questions we have been throwing at our senior-age son for a long time already... far too long in my mind. 

Read more: College Confusion

Cruising Into That Final Year

Last week on Monday, the two older brothers were tormenting their sister all day long.  “You have to go to school tomorrow!” they threw at her whenever she happened past them.  “And we don’t.”

“You have to go the next day!” she retorted repeatedly.  “You are going back, too.  It’s not just me!”  

“Yea,” they agreed.  “But we get one more day than you do.”

Read more: Cruising Into the Final Year


“Just make sure we are back in time for football,” my youngest son admonished me.  “We can’t miss that.”

“We should have a day to rest, too, after coming back from the drive.  So be sure you put that into the schedule,” his older brother added.

Read more: Hoo-rah!

A World of Experience

He is struggling to understand what is being said around him.  He gets some of the conversation, but some is flying over his head.  I jump in and stop the conversation for a minute.  “Hold on,” I say in Spanish, “let’s check where he’s at.”

I look at my oldest son, his 6'2" frame dwarfed in the majesty of the Andes mountain range all around us. We are in Ecuador, outside of Quito, literally on the equatorial line.  The interpretive guide offered to give us his prepared speech in English or in Spanish. 

Read more: A World of Experience

Driver’s Education For Whom?

“Just wait until there is a break of four seconds between the cars before you pull out,” my 15-year-old son explains.  “That’s how you know that it is safe to turn out.”

I sigh.  This is the instruction number 25 for today alone.   I hate to squash his enthusiasm.  I love that he is learning.  I can’t argue with the logic.  I’m glad he is internalizing all this.

But is it too much to ask that I drive without help from the peanut gallery?  

Read more: Drivers' Education for Whom?

What's Cookin'?

It’s about 4:30 in afternoon when I realize that our daughter has spent the vast majority of her day hiding out upstairs, watching television.  Curious, I catalog her day’s activities.... and then I mentally go back over the few weeks that she’s been out of school.  Besides one week of lacrosse camp, she’s been glued to a screen, the computer or the television.  Actually, lacrosse camp left afternoons free–and she spent any of those moments huddled up in front of the TV, too.  

Come to think of it, her brother has done the same thing.

Read more: What's Cookin'?

Finding the Balance

“I know there’s a balance... I see it when I swing past.”  John Mellencamp, “Between a Laugh and a Tear”

“School’s out! We’re done for the summer!”

All three of my kids–and every single one of their friends–has announced this to me in the last week and a half.  “We’re out on Monday, you know, Jill,” one of them said.  “The elementary kids have to go longer.  We don’t!”

Monday morning of last week was normal routine.  Tuesday morning saw

Read more: Finding a Balance

Heifer Stroll Band Debut

“I see her!  I see her!” my four-year-old niece cried enthusiastically.  “Right there!  That’s her!”

We were standing in front of the library, watching the 15th annual Strolling of the Heifers’ parade.  Parades of any sort are big deals to preschoolers.  Parades with cows in them are particularly exciting.  But parades with her 11 year-old cousin marching with a band?  Clearly, those are the best sort.

Read more: Heifer Stroll Band Debut

The Good & the Bad?

When I said I wanted to be on the school board, I imagined I’d hear about the music program, the reading materials, the field trips and the lunch room.  I figured I would hear about their test scores, the schools’ constant reach for improvement and the winter sports programs.  I imagined heart-felt discussions about our social curriculums, and how our teachers work to instill community values.

I love that part of the meeting. 

Read more: The Good and the Bad?

Rites of Passage

The first Saturday night in May, under an almost-drizzly sky, our streets seemed suddenly taken over by young men in tuxedos and young ladies in long, formal dresses.  There was no mistaking it: prom night was upon us.

We spied a group of six girls with one guy, sashaying their way through the Coop parking lot and up hill into downtown.  Through the window at a restaurant on Main Street, we spotted another table full of them, menus in hands, preparing to order.  Coming home “the back way” from Guilford, our car interrupted an impromptu photo shoot on the top of a hill. 

Read more: Rites of Passage

Learning Stripes

It’s April vacation week for our local schools, and the learning in our house seems to have gone to the dogs.

It all started around 2 AM two mornings ago.  One of our dogs, the Rottie, sat in the hallway, barking about every three minutes.  In her mind, I believe she thought she was being polite, since she was not barking incessantly. 

Read more: Learning Stripes

College Thinking

“Today we visit Keene State College!” our fifth-grade daughter noted on Wednesday this past week.  She was out of bed and dressed in record time, even asking for my approval on her choice of outfits to make sure she was truly ready for this special day.

The fifth graders in Brattleboro’s elementary schools have started a new tradition in this college visit: dreaming

Read more: College Thinking

Making Stew (or Act 46)

This past Wednesday night, in my capacity as Brattleboro Town School Board Chair, I walked the town representatives through a quick explanation of the much discussed Act 46.  Several people told me that they had not understood the law at all until this explanation, and so, I am repeating it again here in this week’s “Education Matters,” with a bit more explanation that we flushed out during our discussion after my start.

Here’s my analogy of Act 46... to making stew.

When Act 46 passed in the VT legislature, it was as if the Vermont lawmakers said to the school boards: “Some of you are having steak, and some of you are having to go without any meat.  So, make stew. 

Read more: Making Stew

A Literacy Breakfast

"Oh, Mom, I’m supposed to remind you of the literacy breakfast.  It’s tomorrow morning.  Well, OK, so I kind of forgot the paper that my teacher said she sent home in my mailbox.  I was supposed to tell you last week.  But I know it wasn’t in my mailbox, ‘cause I check it all the time, every day, really.  There was no paper, I am just positive...

“But anyway, the point is that tomorrow is the literacy breakfast.  You can come, right?”

What mother would say no to such earnest enthusiasm? 

Read more: A Literacy Breakfast

Feeling the Bern

The past few months, the entire family sometimes stands mesmerized by the political coverage on TV.   I’ve even allowed us to eat at the counter a couple of times, letting the smooth tones of Lester Holt from NBC News beat out the normal family dialouge.

The kids, at 17, 15 and 10, have strong opinions on the presidential candidates.  The fifth grader reports nearly daily: “Everyone in my class likes Bernie.”  The freshman snorts at the lowball antics, mud-slinging and verbal sparring between the candidates. The junior listens and shakes his head, unable to believe the promises.

I came up with an idea: I would take them to a political event.  

Read more: Feeling the Bern

A Hoop Story

This past week, in our own high school gym, I witnessed some truly astonishing play.

Even better, I walked out incredibly proud of the sportsmanship I also saw.

Of all the sports out there, there is one game I truly enjoy watching, and that’s the game of basketball.  

Read more: A Hoop Story

A View From Inside the Act 46 Study Group

 “You know, you all look like reasonable people,” the gentleman said.  “You don’t look like monsters.”

We were at yet another Windham Southeast Supervisory Union Act 46 Study Group meeting, determinedly sorting through the details of what a potential “accelerated merger” might mean.  His comments came after about two and a half hours of heavy discussion, filled with thoughtful commentary, punctuated with thinly disguised worry, and smoothed by the occasional joke.

Read more: A View From Inside the Act 46 Study Group

The Weight Room

When I checked to make sure my second son was awake and moving, he greeted me with a complaint.  “I don’t think I should go to school today.”

My standard answer came fast: “Get the thermometer.  You have to have a fever.”  

He argued rather convincingly.  “But you know my friends are sick, Mom.  I think I’m getting the same thing.”  

Read more: The Weight Room

A Christmas (Sheep) Miracle

Like most everything in life, it all started with one small idea: a living nativity at our church. I agreed to find the animals, and called on friends and neighbors, who happily loaned their sheep, calf, goats, and dogs to us. We added our chickens and rabbits, and behold: we had a nativity scene.

On the day of the blessed event, I watched carefully, making sure no animal could break through a fence or slip through some loving child’s arms.  I have these terrible nightmares of cows running down Western Avenue with cars screeching to a halt, and I feel full responsibility for their safety.

But... it was all lovely–a perfect, sunny morning

Read more: A Christmas (Sheep) Miracle

The Songs We Sing

"When are we going to decorate the tree, Mom?  Why is Dad saying that the branches have to come down?  Let’s do it now!”  

My ten-year-old daughter is easily the most enthusiastic about holiday decorating this year.  She bounces around the Christmas decoration boxes that her teenage brothers have been forced into hauling up the stairs, pulling things out excitedly.  “Oh, I remember this ornament!  I made it in preschool!

“Look, Mom!”  She carefully extracts another one. 

Read more: The Songs We Sing

Find Your Passion

“Find your passion,” the guidance counselor urged the high schoolers and their parents one night in early fall a couple of years ago.  “Follow that.  Let that guide you.”

Inwardly, I groaned.  Passion?  These guys are freshman. They can’t decide what to eat for breakfast. What “passion” can they possibly have for doing anything for the rest of their lives at this point?  

Read more: Find Your Passion

A Banquet of Accolades

Imagine twenty kids, aged roughly nine to twelve, all bounding about the gym.  Add in at least one harried parent for each.  Throw in few grandparents. Complete the scene with ten younger siblings scurrying about, clamoring for attention.  

This is the banquet for the Academy cross country team. 

Read more: A Banquet of Accolades

The Big Yellow School Bus

The Big Yellow School Bus: it’s the icon of education in the USA. It’s the object of dreams for my three-year-old niece, who so longs to jump on. It’s the bane of travel to my fifteen-year-old son.  It’s one of the dogs’ highlights, who hope to see the kids. It’s the embodiment of time pressure to my ten-year-old daughter, as the bus insists she bow to the clock’s unrelenting demands.

For twelve years (how could it possibly be twelve years?), our days have been structured around the bus.

Read more: The Big Yellow School Bus

"Who Cares?"

I really hope that my house is not the only place where the phrase “Who Cares?” comes up.  

Because here, it is used mostly to avoid doing something.  “Who cares, Mom?” they all three cry when I point out that they are “living in a hog pen.”  “It’s my room, why should you care?”

“Who cares, Mom?” they chime in, uniquely united in this crusade to avoid the dishwasher unloading and kitchen cleanup duties

Read more: Who Cares

Friday Night Lights

“I’m going to lift weights with the football team, Mom,” my sophomore son announced at the end of the school year.  He said it in that way that teenagers have, this simple telling their parents what they are doing, no longer asking for permission, just merely informing me, keeping me in the loop on what he’s already decided he will do.  

It’s an effective tactic, really, and he’s honed it well.  It limits my choices of response to one closer to what he wants to hear.  I actually sputtered for a moment, processing what he said.  “But...” I started, stopped and started again.  “But....  Wait, you are not playing football.  We’ve talked about this, the concussions, the NFL players that have such brain injuries.  Remember the articles we read?”

“Right, Mom.  I am just working out with the team, no commitment,” he said smoothly. 

Read more: Friday Night Lights

Carpe Diem

“But why do the kids have to go back to school, Aunt Jill?” asks my three year-old niece as she snuggles into my lap deeper.  “Why?”

It’s Thursday of the last week of summer school vacation. She is enjoying her first ever week of staying with her cousins and aunt and uncle--which was all her own idea.  After a full-filled day at Six Flags on Sunday, she just announced to her mother that she was “staying at Aunt Jill’s.”  

Read more: Carpe Diem

Those Flyover States

Back in February of 2014, we adults started putting together our dream vacation trip:  Yellowstone National Park, with its close neighbor, Grand Teton National Park thrown in for good measure.  We’d see the geothermal rarities, we’d search for grizzly bears and moose, we’d ride horseback.

But the bottom line for the ease of traveling by plane was still shocking: $1700 for the rental car. $3600 for flights for the five people. “Well, I will visit family in Illinois anyway, and I was going to drive,” I said brightly to my husband.  “What’s a few more hours in the car?”  

A quick check with Google Maps showed a more accurate picture: 80 hours.

Read more: Those Flyover States

A Sports Mom Reflects

I just tallied up how many weekends we’ve had free from a lacrosse commitment, since the beginning of April through July 20th: two–Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.  (And there were opportunities during the Fourth of July, but I refused to even consider them.)

I often feel like perhaps I am an inadequate sports mom.  I don’t know (or wish to know) all the rules.  I don’t really care if we win (although it’s nice); I just want the kids to have fun.  I don’t really want to watch all the games (but I do enjoy the social aspect).

And worst of all–and here’s the admission

Read more: A Sports Mom Reflects

A New Driver in the Family

The first thing I did was take a photo and text it to my husband.  “We have a new driver in the family!” I announced happily and proudly.  Then I sent it to my extended family, and I shared the news with various friends–most of whom have their own children also taking a driver’s test within the next few weeks.  

“Finally,” I thought.  “Finally.  He has his license.”

My mind raced to the possibilities. 

Read more: A New Driver in the Family

Friendships Count

I did something very important–and very difficult–today.

I stepped away from all of my kid pick-up obligations.  I did not finish all the (smelly, sweaty) laundry. I left clients to wait for an answer, bank deposits to be made and a desk to be restored to order.

Feeling guilty–but determined, I picked up a friend,

Read more: Friendships Count

The Power of Yes, and the Eventual Realities of Life

“Yes,” I answered my daughter.  “Yes, we can still read Harry Potter together tonight.  It’s only 9.”

“Yes,” I said to my eldest.  “Yes, I can take you to go kayaking this afternoon.  What time are your friends meeting and where?”

“Yes,” I agreed with my middle child.  “Yes, you can have all your friends over tonight, on a Wednesday night.”

Read more: The Power of Yes

Enthusiasm Bubbling

Is there really anything better than seeing someone just bubbling over with enthusiasm?

Last week, I added to my nightly request for my kids (and whoever else might be with us–adults included) to tell me their “two good things of the day”.  Perhaps it was the quiet rainfall that made me a bit more reflective, maybe it was the annual wind-down parents with school-age children pass through in late May and early June.  Whatever the inspiration, I ended up delighted that I’d thought to ask them:
What was your favorite thing this year in school?

Read more: Enthusiasm Bubbling

Life in the Fast Lane

Last night was so nice,” I told my sister, “we all actually had time together for a change.”

We were catching up on nieces’ and nephews’ lives, sharing the schedules we both juggle daily.  Overall, it was that one Tuesday night that stuck out.

I dwelled on how important I think that time is for us, and basking in the afterglow of achieving it –and I tried to figure out where it might happen again.  I really analyzed that very specific night and came to a shocking realization.

Read more: Life in the Fast Lane

Tulip Trot Fun

"We should do that,” my friend nudges me.  “We should support Green Street School, you know.”  

Yes, I think to myself: I think it’s a great idea to support Green Street School, or Academy School, or Oak Grove School.  But run a 5K?  Uphill?

Nonetheless, the idea takes hold, and I pester the friend to join me in the “race”, too. She doesn’t answer the emails I send as reminders, which is quite unusual for her.  But once I’m onto an idea, I’m rather a determined sort.  Eventually, she answers yes, and we sign ourselves up for the big day.

Read more: Tulip Trot Fun

April Vacation Education of Mom

It’s Friday of the week of April vacation week, late Friday afternoon even.  

Every year, I try to make something “special” happen in April during this week.  Although once we did travel to the land of Mickey Mouse, and one other time, we went to our nation’s capitol, I don’t need that level of extravagance annually.  Two years ago, we spent one night on a battleship in Fall River, Massachusetts, an event the kids still talk about fondly (and I still shudder to recall how poorly I slept in the four-high bunk beds which sagged so low I couldn’t hold my book up properly to read when my bunkmate crawled in above me).  One year we let the kids do a nearly week-long massive slumber party, at our house, which still places high on their “fun memories” list.

This year?  I looked at their practice schedules at the beginning of the week.

Read more: April Vacation Education of Mom

Jack of All Trades?  

“I don’t know how to get the right answer!  I can’t do this!”

“This is just dumb! Why do I have to do this anyway?”

“Why don’t they write their questions in plain English?”

This was the scene last night in our house. 

Read more: Jack of All Trades

Budget Building 2015

For the informational meeting for town representatives on Wednesday night, I started off by explaining the budget process the Brattleboro Town School Board goes through each year.  

This year, we began by asking administrators for “level funded” budget.  The very idea of “level funded” means that some cuts almost surely have to be made—because a lot of items in the budget go up, annually: things like teacher’s negotiated salary as they gain more experience, the cost of supplies, health insurance. (Health insurance rates alone, for this year’s budget, are up by 4.5%--which is actually better than a few years ago, in 2013, when rates were up by 10%.)

The administrators exceeded our request: they came back with a budget that is actually LOWER than the previous year’s budget–by .36%.

Read more: Budget Building 2015

The Lure of the Mountain

They struggle from bed, bleary-eyed and slow-moving.  They grunt instead of forming real words.  They trip over each other as they stumble into the shower half-awake, and re-emerge some ten minutes later, wet and somewhat brighter eyed.

But they are moving.  Of course, they were still up-and-at-‘em around 2 in the morning, in spite of our admonishments to “go to sleep–NOW” and our threats of “you will not go tomorrow if you can’t settle down now”.  It is a small miracle that they are responsive at all with only five hours of sleep.

One by one, they morph from lumps to their normal, athletic, teenage boy selves. 

Read more: The Lure of the Mountain

Family Time with Uno

“I used to have children, kids who participated in life and family,” I told my two oldest this past week.  “Now, I have teenagers.”

They just scoffed and laughed as they hurried off to their own private worlds, where entirely too much time is sucked up in video games with their friends on-line.  

It was not so long ago when my boys could find things to do that did not involve screens. 

Read more: Family Time With Uno

It Takes a Village

Whenever anything went wrong, my father said, “The best laid plans of mice and men...”

It was the Sunday of the ice storm–Brattleboro’s freezing rain.  This was the day which the forecasters had assured us would be full of rain, plain ol’ annoying rain. Based on the predicted wetness, the Brattleboro School Endowment canceled the “Mt. Snow Express Bus”; we thought people wouldn’t want to go.

But of course, my second son’s die-hard snowboarder and

Read more: It Takes a Village

Technology Rocks!

“Did you know you can email me now, Mom?” asked my 9-year-old fourth grader excitedly.  She headed straight to Google Docs.  “See?” she exclaimed, infinitely proud.  

The eighth grader (always eager to top her) chimed in.  “Yeah, we’ve had that for, like, years.  We have Chrome Books.”

His brother rubbed it into the middle child. “Well, you can’t take yours home.  But the freshman do.”

Technology in the schools is serious business.

Read more: Technology Rocks!

Writing Papers In a Digital Age

It’s an icy Sunday afternoon, right before the dreaded return-to-school on Monday, after a long--and thoroughly–enjoyed holiday break.

Now reality is setting in.  The eighth-grader must write a couple of historically-based paragraphs on slavery for social studies. The sophomore must complete his biology capstone project.  I am determined to organize several cupboards.  

With all of us in the same room, it’s both oddly amusing and highly informative to observe. 

Read more: Writing Papers in a Digital Age

The Gingerbread Train, a Holiday Tradition

Back when my two sons, now 14 and 16, were only around 2 and 4, I attended a Pampered Chef party.  The company featured a new gingerbread mold, to go along with their traditional house mold: a train.

Now, like most boys around that age, trains absolutely fascinated our children.  They based their choice for preschool on the play trains.  We read “Thomas the Tank Engine” stories over and over and over again.  My father’s final Christmas gift was a Christmas train.  Twice, we took Amtrak from Albany to Chicago, complete with sleeping accommodations.

“Get the train, Jill,” my friends urged.

Read more: Gingerbread Trains: A Holiday Tradition

Snow Day Slow Down

“No one is going anywhere today.  Period.”

This is how my husband started his day on Tuesday this week, clearly deciding for everyone in the household what our plans would be for the foreseeable future.  “I can’t even stand up in the driveway on the flat part,” he explained at 6 AM. “No way am I attempting the hill. We’re all staying home.”

We let the kids sleep in, I made the required calls to their respective schools to report their absences. We turned on the pellet stove, and enjoyed a cup of tea

Read more: Snow Day Slow Down

With Gratitude We Go Forth

It's only November, and I’m freezing.  There are no leaves left, the ground lays bare, the winter looms.
While I know many who adore this season and cheer the advent of the coming winter snows, fall remains dead last in my seasonal preferences.  

For me, there is but one highlight in November:  Thanksgiving.  But it’s not the food (although I do like a good piece of pumpkin pie).  It’s the forced act of gratitude.

Read more: With Gratitude We Go Forth

All School Sing

It’s 8:40 AM, Tuesday morning at Academy School.

All 380 students have entered the gym.  Their teachers and paras have either joined them on the floor or taken a chair right behind them.  Grandparents, moms and dads, and young siblings scurry between the chairs and the floor, figuring out which suits them best for the next thirty minutes or so.  I’ve come in almost late, hurrying to a seat just in time.  

Suddenly, the controlled chaos calms, and the students are quiet as their principal raises his arm.  He cries out heartily:  “Good morning, Academy School!”, and they respond with equal gusto.

Read more: All School Sing

Homework Realities

A piece of yellow yarn was 230 inches long.  After 90 inches had been cut from it, the piece of yellow yarn was twice as long as a piece of blue yarn.  How much longer than the blue yarn was the yellow yarn at first?

Welcome to fourth grade math.  That question

Read more: Homework Realities

To Play or Not To Play

The second week of school, our fourth-grader brought home the paper she’s wanted to see since first grade: the band sign-up sheet.  

“Which one should I play, Mom?  What do you think? I always wanted to play the flute, like you are learning.  But the saxophone is good, like my brother plays, and you play.  And what about the clarinet, like my other brother plays?  Which one, Mom?”

Read more: To Play Or Not To Play

Whose Responsibility Is It Anyway?

At what age should kids get themselves up in the morning?  Make their own food?  Clean their own clothes?

I’m rather a firm believer in the idea that a large part of any parents’ role is to prepare their offspring for the real world. 

Read more: Whose Responsibility Is It Anyway?

A Rabbit Story

It wasn’t really supposed to happen.

I suppose a lot of stories which feature rabbits as main characters begin this way.  As our neighbor points out, “You were raised on a farm, right?  You do know how these things work?”

I’ll start at Mother’s Day of this year.  Oh, there are more humorous escapades with this tale that happened before May; there are poignant moments, and there is even drama and pain if I recounted all of our rabbit adventures. 

Read more: A Rabbit Story