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Sunday, September 25, 2011

On turning 95

My gramma turned 95 today. Ninety. Five. Even without this particular milestone, she's an amazing woman.

She went to college when it wasn't exactly the thing to do for young women and then taught in a 1-room schoolhouse for many years.

She met my grandfather at a church picnic. Their courtship began when he asked her father if he could give her a ride home, then told her he was taking her home. I still ponder the fact that they spent their wedding night at his sister's house.

Grampa was the love of her life. He passed away in 1996, but she still keeps a valentine from him on her nightstand. I've always loved seeing that valentine, even as I mourn her lonesomeness for him.

Grammy was named, aptly enough, after 2 queens: Queen Esther of the Old Testament and England's Queen Victoria. Only recently have I realized the royal connection between her name and her being. Fittingly, she loves the color purple. But I learned things of much greater importance at her knee.

Gramma knows without a doubt that she is the daughter of the One True King. She'd sing hymns while washing dishes or cleaning house; her Bible was always within reach.

One year, I asked for a new Bible for Christmas, which tickled her. Her inscription reads: "I can think of no better gift at Christmas than God's word. . . . Treasure the 'Word' in your heart. . . ." She's taught the Word to me all her life, as my Sunday School teacher and Whirly Birds leader. She loved me into the Kingdom.

As a young girl, I sometimes accompanied Gramma on her monthly visits to the nursing home in Lincoln, Ill. We never did much -- washed laundry, visited with the residents, sometimes helped in the kitchen -- but she was unwavering in her time and efforts there. In fact, she went to help "take care of the old folks" every month until she was in her 70s (or was it her 80s?) herself.

My gramma has made the most beautiful quilts you've ever seen. The Star of David she made for my 25th birthday graces our upstairs hall and is one of my prize possessions. She helped make quilts for both my boys.

And, of course she could cook like no one's business. I'm often asked for her recipes for sugar cookies, homemade caramels and other treats. Around our hometown, her noodles, angel food cakes and tapioca pudding are renowned. She'd put a roast in the oven before heading to church on Sunday morning, then my siblings and parents, cousins, aunts and uncles would gather around their dining room table. (I'm still trying to master her art of burning the carrots just enough without turing the meat to charcoal.)

Gramma read the scripture at our wedding, and the bride and groom cake topper on our cake had first been on her wedding cake. Much of who I am I owe to that sweet woman who invested so much of herself and her life in me and mine. I can't adequately describe the satisfaction of knowing that my children love her almost as much as I do.

These days, I don't get to see her nearly as often as I'd like. But, just like when I was a kid, she's always glad to see me. I get a fierce hug and kiss on the cheek, and she tells how much she loves me. Some things never change: I'm always welcome at Gramma's.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Where's the opt-out button for homework?

Boy #1 is in 3rd grade this year. That's nothing extraordinary.

But the amount of homework he's been bringing home has been exceptional. If I remember correctly, 2nd grade gave us about half an hour of homework most nights, plus 20 minutes' required reading (of whatever the Boy wanted).

We've been in school for 4 weeks now and we spend about 1 1/2 hours a night plus that 20 minutes of reading. There have been nights it's taken more than 2 hours to finish the work. (I don't even bring up the reading on those nights because, frankly, he couldn't have done any of the other homework without being able to read. He can read. Well. I know it and I think the mandatory reading log stuff is bogus.)

I realize that some of his workload has to do with being in advanced classes, but still. I'd like him to be able to run off to soccer practice or Cub Scouts or, geez, even just out the door to play. . .but no. Not 'til the homework's done.

Perhaps The Husband and I are too strict. If we didn't insist on a decent bedtime -- one that lets his little, overworked brain rest well while enabling him to get up in time for the bus in the morning -- perhaps it wouldn't be such an issue.

But what's really got my goat about the whole thing is the amount of "creative" work required this year. This week, it's creating a magazine about how kids can save the earth (recycling, green practices, etc.); last week was a poster about a swamp animal (after studying habitats) and a book for math class that included a story about how he and 2 friends had gone to the Burger Hut to eat. He had to choose the friends, draw the 3 of them at the burger place, write about each person's order and then do the math. The math, I can understand. But a story? Really? He got dinged because his cover wasn't "creative enough."

We've done newspaper articles and small posters, too. There's been lots of drawing and cutting and pasting. Or taping in our case: he prefers tape to glue.

Could someone please tell me how this benefits the kids? Unless he's going to be a professional math story writer or poster designer -- neither of which I'm seeing, since his graphic design skill is about as honed as mine -- I'm missing the point here. Seems to me it's little more than exalted busy work, but keeps the kids out of the teachers' hair and the teachers out of trouble because it seems unique. Yeah, you and all his other teachers. Real unique.

Couple this with the disturbing news that the kids watch movies. A lot. The day he came home and said they'd watched a movie in music class about pushed me over the edge.

I just hope this forced march of creativity ends soon. I can't take much more.