Monday, December 28, 2009

Gleanings from the Game of LIFE

Emma got The Game of LIFE for Christmas and we spent a happy couple of hours on Boxing Day growing old together. I firmly believe you can learn a lot about human nature through board games. Don't believe me? Read on:

At first, neither Emma, nor Mouse planned to go to college, especially after learning they would have to take a $100,000 loan to be paid back with interest. Both changed their minds after seeing that I was going to to college. In the end, Emma became a veterinarian and Mouse, a lawyer. I became an accountant (yawn!). Half way through the game, Mouse changed careers to become a teacher. That's my girl! Mighty Mum was the only one of us who bypassed college for a career in hairdressing. She was very successful.

When it came time to tie the knot, Emma made it quite clear that she had no interest in getting married. Unfortunately for her, The Game of LIFE is not so evolved to allow for confirmed bachelorhood. Mouse, on the other hand, while not enthusiastic about the change didn't buck having a little blue man added to her car just as long as he rode shot gun.

Shortly thereafter, we all chose our first homes. Mouse picked a modern condo; Emma, a ranch; myself, a tudor; and Mighty Mum, a trailer. When we reached the family path, only Mouse and I took it. The Little Blue Captain and I had a baby girl followed by a set of boy and girl twins. Mouse also had twins, but chose only girls. Shocking.

To no one's surprise, Mighty Mum played the whole game debt-free. Falling not far from the proverbial tree, Emma paid off her college loans with her first two pay checks only to have to borrow again to buy her first home. I think she would have moved into Mighty Mum's trailer if we'd let her. Mouse, on the other hand, had to be coerced into reconciling her debts. Left to her own devices, I'm sure the twins would have had to pay off Mouse's student loans with their inheritance.

As much as the Colonel and Mighty Mum might beg to differ, The Game of Life ends with retirement. Mouse, even with her mid-life career change, beat us all with a net worth of nearly two million dollars. I took strange comfort in that. Surprisingly, Mighty Mum came in a close second, never having had children or leaving the trailer. I came in third and Emma was last, mainly due to frequent lawsuits inflicted by Mouse. She's little, but ruthless. Maybe I should change her blog name to Weasel.

All in all, it was an afternoon well spent. The Game of Life has changed a lot since I was a kid but is no less compelling. If you're looking for entertainment on a quiet winter afternoon, I'd highly recommend picking it up. You'll learn more than a bunch of rules, I guarantee it.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Stepping out of the woods.

It's been six weeks since the Baby Echos and I have been together. I've finally stopped calling Jamal, 'Miguel.' Considering Miguel is Hispanic and Jamal is African American, this should have been a no-brainer. The others have settled into their names quite nicely, too. Marques is my 'mover and shaker.' He has yet to pass a half hour in my presence without rolling on the floor. Alisha, the only girl, is my emotional time bomb. Last week she came into class and said, "Today, I'm not going to throw a fit." I've never called her teary outbursts 'fits' but apparently someone has. Miguel is my anti-Alisha, so quiet I must make a conscious effort to ensure he's not forgotten. When the rest of the crew get too loud, it's Miguel who covers his ears. Jacob routinely asks to come home with me. "But Jacob, for all you know I live in a cave," I said, the first time he asked. His eyes lit up, "You live in a cave?" He's asked every day since. Tyrone will do anything for a laugh, even if it gets him in trouble, and Jamal is the perfect audience, laughing and cheering the others on, lesson plan be damned. They could drive a person crazy if they weren't so adorable.

I was signing out after a particularly rowdy session when the classroom teacher stopped to talk to me. "I wanted you to know that all of your kids are showing improvement." She went on to explain that the six are retested every week to two weeks on their letter sound recognition using a special monitoring system called DIBELS.

"All of them had scores that showed they were at risk for reading failure back in October. They're all out of the woods now."

I left that day with a smile on my face a bit bigger than usual. We've all made progress. Go figure.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Back to Basics

I arrived at the test center thirty minutes early, not because I'm like that, but because my email confirmation insisted that I must. I was there to take the ICTS Basic Skills Test, the first of three licensing exams that will qualify me as a teacher.

As the name suggests, the Basic Skills Test is a five-hour-long series of questions designed to ensure that I can read, write and do basic math. (Somewhat disconcerting, isn't it, that the public school system of the US and Canada can't be trusted to achieve this.) To be honest, I was more concerned about having enough time to finish than I was about the test's content. Clearly, I can write, but good writing takes time. In any case, I was fully equipped for the long haul. I had a water bottle, two oranges, a banana and a bagel, ear plugs and my antibiotics. I also had four pencils, an eraser, and a pad of paper. I was as ready as I would ever be.

When I entered the test center, there was one examinee already waiting with her mom. I imagined my mom was home getting ready for Bridge. I was handed a copy of the test rules: no food, no water, no earplugs, no paper, no nothing! I would be issued a plasticized tablet and a dry-erase marker. Ironically, I was not to erase. If I filled my tablet I was to raise my hand and another would be issued to me. I would be video and audio taped throughout the exam. If I needed to leave the room for any reason, I had to raise my hand and wait to be escorted. I would be photographed and finger printed on my arrival and every time I entered and exited the examination room. Should I want ear plugs, a pair would be issued to me. I would also be issued a locker in which to place my effects. (At this point I was thinking that the test center could give some great pointers to the Department of National Defence.)

I did everything I was asked and even smiled for the camera. A young woman requested I turn out my pockets before entering the exam room. My personal set of foam earplugs tumbled out. "You can put those in your locker," she said.

A full half hour after my arrival I was escorted into the exam room. I left five hours later hungry, thirsty, and with a raging headache. I was fingerprinted again before I could retrieve my water bottle and snacks. It was over. I'd share more, but then I'd have to...well... you know!

Let the holidays begin!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

First Impressions

Today marked the end of my first semester as a non-traditional student. Over dinner I asked the girls what they thought of university. Mouse's reply was, "Weird."

"What's so weird about it?" I asked, thinking hard about the day I brought her along for a team meeting. For the life of me, I couldn't think of anything too unusual about it.

"The boys don't pull up their pants and you can see their underwear."

You hear that boys? Pull up your pants. Six-year-olds notice!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Nut Cracking

Mouse, Emma and I stand in the lobby of the Peoria Civic Center Theater waiting for Mouse's class to arrive. Students from all over the area parade past us, heading to their seats to watch the Nutcracker. As their teachers present themselves to the ushers they identify themselves by their school's name. Schools from the north of town draw no comments from either girl. It is a school from the south, one I've heard called a 'ghetto school' by some of my classmates, that grabs Emma's attention.

"Mommy, why do all the kids from that school have dark skin?"

"Good question Emma." I'm stalling to organize my thoughts. She's right. Only their teacher is white. "The school a kid goes to depends on where they live. The neighborhood those kids are from must have a lot of families with dark skin. "

"But why?" She asks.

"That's not a simple question to answer, Emma."

Just then Mouse's class arrives, excited, breathless, and all colors of the rainbow, though decidedly white. Mouse runs off to join them.

I put an arm around Emma and head for the door. "Let's go," I say, all the while planning a very different field trip.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Move over, Rudolf!

Make way for Honey!

Sporting her adorable antlers, I was sure she was going to get her picture in the paper. It was the annual Peoria Jingle Bell Run and Walk and Honey was in her element. She was petted more in one day than in the last five years combined. Unfortunately, she only got her name in the paper thanks to an upstart Yorkie who had the audacity to lick Santa's beard. Bummer. Next year I'll dress like the Grinch, hitch her to a sleigh and call her Max.

Read all about her here:
Ringing in a record run - Peoria, IL -

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What's in a name

The classroom teacher has pointed out my students who are scattered all over the room: five boys, one girl. Miguel, Tyrone, Jamal, Marques, Jacob, and Alisha. Try as I might, I can't keep the boys straight. I hate the fact that I fall under the white man stereotype of not being able to tell African Americans apart. They are all unique. I can see that. But still their names shuffle through my mind like the ball in a game of shells. If they would only stop moving.