Monday, February 20, 2012

Saturday, February 18, 2012

What a scary night....

Yesterday I took my middle two kids, Matt and Carrie, to a gymnastics place that was having open gym. My husband was already home from work, so he had stayed home with Beth, who had cheerleading practice later in the evening, and Katy who was napping. The gym is only about fifteen minutes away, but we do have to get on the beltway to get there, and there was a lot of traffic. Typical DC traffic I guess, although I am still not used to it. Right before I arrived I noticed my van was making an odd noise, and made a mental note to mention it to Big Matt when we got home.

When it was time to go my van wouldn't start. I called my friends, who had come along and were parked in another lot, and said "Don't leave me here...wait!" After a few minutes I got it started and called her to say I was going to try to make it home. By then it was about 5:45, so right in the middle of rush hour traffic. I drove a good ten miles I'd say before I noticed another issue. The van was rattling loudly, and I was unable to go about about 45 mph. It then started to go slower and slower. I was in the middle lane of a five lane road, and was trying desperately to get to the far right lane. People were just flying around me though. It then started to smoke heavily and cut out, and I made it to the shoulder just as we coasted to a stop. I got out by crawling out the passenger's side, as people were flying by so fast on the driver's side. I popped the hood and let it cool down for a while. I called my husband and told him the issue, and he mentioned that we were only like three miles from base. I told him that I would at least try to get it off the interstate and to an exit. After letting it cool a bit I restarted the car and took off. This time we barely made it any distance at all before the heavy smoke returned. Unfortunately I had come to a point in the road with no real shoulder, so I tried to drive a bit farther and look for a safe place to pull over. At that point I noticed actual flames licking up under the hood and I absolutely panicked. I got off the road, screamed at my kids to unbuckle, then grabbed them and ran up the embankment and away from the van. I thought for sure it was going to be engulfed in flames or blow up. That didn't happen though, and after a few minutes I saw the flames were gone and the smoke level had lowered. I left my kids in the woods, with strict instructions not to move a muscle, and went to pop the hood. At this point we had lost the last of our daylight and were sitting in pitch black. The only lights were the other passing motorists. I also hadn't brought coats for the kids, as the weather had been quite mild earlier in the day. When I was sure the van was in fact no longer on fire I carried the kids back over and put them back in the van.

My husband called our insurance company to send a tow truck, but it took an entire hour. Luckily my friend, the one who had been at the gymnastics center with us, had room in her van and came to get us. Matt would have come of course too, but he would have had to find someone to watch the other kids since we can't put six people in his Jeep. In any case, I felt so relieved to get into my friend's van and get off of the side of the road. It was truly an awful place and an awful time to break down.

We had the van towed back to our house for now. My husband is going to look at it himself, and then have it towed to a mechanic if needed. So far his guess is a burst coolant line combined with a surface oil fire. The oil was very low when he checked it, which it shouldn't have been since we changed it not long ago. I just hope it is not a huge problem. This van is almost ten years old, and we just put $2,000 of work into it this fall. We really went back and forth as to if we should just replace it at that point, but did decide to make the investment. Obviously that no longer seems like it was the best decision. It's always been a good van, but I want to feel like I am safe when I am out with the kids. I'm just so thankful it wasn't worse than it was. I was also fortunate that I only had two kids with me, and that one wasn't my toddler.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day!

Matt, Beth, and Carrie all won a contest with their homemade valentines. Okay...they "won" because the housing company decided that all fifteen entrees were very well done and deserved a prize. We went and saw them on display at the community center this afternoon, and I can honestly say I wouldn't have had the heart to tell any of the kids that entered that they weren't the big winner either. They were all too cute!

The kids all received a giant Hershey's Kiss. Just what we need in this house, right? More sweets! The kids were so excited though, you would have thought they won a $100. Who doesn't love a prize? Especially if it's a HUGE piece of chocolate.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Wait

This is the time of year where people in DC and Maryland enter their kids into lotteries for charter schools. Depending on where you live, these charter schools may be your only option for a decent public education. We have entered our two school-aged kids into two different lotteries. One is for an on-base charter school, and the other is for a school for the gifted. If they get in, that is likely where they will go next year. If they don't get in, then we have decided to homeschool them. I've been doing a little research trying to decide what curriculum I'd like to use, but really we are just in a holding pattern until I hear back from these lotteries. It is rather depressing when I look at the numbers of children entered, versus the number of children who actually get in. We have had a lot of issues with the kids' current school, and definitely don't want them to return in the fall. It hasn't been all bad. Matthew has a fantastic teacher who has made his kindergarten year a happy one. And there are lots of sweet children and nice parents who have been very welcoming to us. In the end the severely short budget and poor administration has forced us to make a hard decision. The final straw was this past week when my kindergarten son was bullied by an older boy. Not only did the school take no action, they were also very rude when I went in to file a report.

Despite the stressful year we've had, I do find myself feeling fortunate that we do have options. I am of course not a single mother, and I have the ability to homeschool my children. My husband is very supportive of that option. We also could choose to move to another school district. It wouldn't be easy, but if we really felt it was necessary we could pull it off. For so many families though these charter schools are their only hope. I feel like the desire for a good education and environment for your children is universal, and my heart goes out to those who aren't able to find that. I watched a movie called "Waiting for Superman" recently, and it really showcased the struggle inner city families go through for a good education. It also profiled some schools who have managed to be successful, despite facing the usual obstacles. The documentary is on Netflix if anyone is interested. It really was well done, although it left me feeling rather discouraged. There are people out there who understand education and have the desire to help children, and it is just too bad that they are not typically the ones in power. I remember being shocked when I did a report in college and discovered that the Secretary of Education (at that time) had a BA in Political Science, and that was it. No educational background at all. She was also a mother, and had used private schools for her son's entire school career.

Well, those are my school thoughts for the day. We will hear back on April 1st about our lottery results, and then we will finally be able to move forward with next year's plans.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Beth the Cheerleader

Yes, despite my lifelong tomboy ways, I have managed to raise a little cheerleader. Beth loves it, and she is pretty good too! This winter she is on a squad here on the Air Force base, and cheers during basketball games.

Little Carrie is enjoying her first session of ballet and tap lessons this winter. She can be pretty hit or miss. Some days she is really into it, and other days she just wants to run around and good off with her friends. Her class is for ages 3-5, and boy are they cute!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

TV in schools

I posted on facebook yesterday how I was shocked at how much television my kids watch in school. They're in kindergarten and first grade, and they watch everything from music videos for music class, to "The Magic School Bus" for science, to "Reading Rainbow" for reading. The list just goes on and on. If it is wet or chilly outside ( is winter) they watch tv for recess. While they wait for the buses to be called, it's time for more tv.

Since our current county isn't exactly known for it's great schools, I was sure this was a pretty isolated occurrence. I was surprised to see that this morning I had lots of comments, from friends all over the country, who had similar concerns about their own child's school.

Is this really what elementary school is coming to? I don't see any reason in the world kids should need to watch a video at school more than once or twice a month. Maybe the occasional educational film, and also the occasional movie for a class party or other celebration. If they have all this extra time, why not just send the kids home after a half day and save the tax payers a lot of money? I feel pretty certain that everyone could watch tv at home for free. Everyone would hate that idea of course. It would be very hard on working mothers, and I can certainly sympathize there. However, it does beg the question...are public schools in the business of providing daycare or education? If the answer is in fact education, shouldn't they be doing something worthwhile with their instructional hours?

On another note, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours of total screen time for children each day. My first thought when reading that is "Who watches tv two hours every single day?" We're not really tv people, so two hours seems like kind of a lot. However, when you add up the entire day, and also include computer time, it becomes extremely easy to meet and surpass those two hours. I think most parents would assume that their children are not spending even more time in front of a tv at school.

I really am just curious as to why this is becoming so widespread and acceptable in our schools. I guess it requires limited supervision, and no real materials, and that in itself is appealing when so many of our schools are in a budget crises. I really implore you though...if you work with children think outside the box. The pay-off is so worth it.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Happy Birthday Beth!

Yes, it is already time for another birthday post! My little Mary Elizabeth turned seven yesterday. Beth is our oldest, and is such a good big sister. She'll always have a special place in my heart since she is the one who made me a mommy. We spent a great deal of time alone together early on, as her Daddy was away with the Coast Guard nine months out of the first year of her life. Instead of it being a difficult time though, she made it a very happy time for me. We had a beautiful home right near the beach in Florida, and I felt like I was on a vacation with just my little baby. Our days were filled with long walks, trips to the park, and visits with friends. She was very happy and a great sleeper and eater right from the beginning. Older people we met on the Air Force base often asked to hold her, and she always gave them a big smile and went right over. It wasn't until our second child that I realized none of this was really typical. It was only Beth that slept through the night very early, and had a smile on her face everyday. She had some health concerns that first year as well, but even that couldn't keep her down.

As a seven year old Beth still has a smile on her face everyday. That is the one thing that has not changed. She is quick to laugh and is definitely the silliest of the kids. She is also very loving and smart though. We're very proud of her, and as she is getting older she is becoming a big help to me. She makes friends easily, which is great since she has lived in four states during her short life. She loves to read, and is an excellent reader already. We bought her a little booklight a few months ago, and now she reads well into the night. She also loves art, and is always drawing or creating something. I love to see the products of her imagination. Her greatest love is probably animals, particularly her pet cats. She says she wants to be a veterniarian when she grows up, and I think she just might. Beth is a girly girl in most ways, and already loves to shop. None of that describes me, so I think that particular gene must have skipped a generation. Luckily for her, her grandmother and great-grandmother (GG) also love to shop, and they keep her supplied with cute outfits. She also loves to be outside though, and spends her summers hunting for worms and bugs. I guess she has a little tomboy in her after all.

We celebrated Beth's birthday with a double party at a local indoor playground for her and Carrie. In our family we do a party for the kids every other year. On off years we do a small celebration with just the six of us. This year was a party year! The girls had a lot of fun, and overall I think it was a big success.

Happy Birthday Beth! We love you!