Conversational Circle of Death


While riding in my parents' minivan, King and Curtis were having an all too familiar circular conversation.

Pointing at the video screen on the ceiling, King said, "I could play Xbox on that."

Curtis responded, "No, you couldn't."

"Yes. I could."

"No. You couldn't."

King finally realized that he was caught in his dad's conversational circle of death.

He tried to break free, "If I was the only one in the minivan, I could. I mean it would be possible."

But Curtis delivered what would normally be the conversation-killing death-blow, "And if my aunt had balls, she'd be my uncle."

Then Michael jumped in and turned the conversation on its head, "Well… not necessarily."

Back to [Home] School

The lazy days of summer are over. We are back to the school-week routine. (Well, we are trying to adjust to it.) We started school on Labor Day, because it seemed appropriate and because we could.

This picture was taken by our A.V. Club President, King, using a timer and a tripod.

My class size has doubled this year. My roster includes, King, now a sixth-grader (ouch), and our homeschool-newbie, Mike, who is in second grade. It has been both wonderful and challenging to add another person to the mix. Our conversations have livened up considerably, as Michael usually has some keen insight into most everything and is always willing to share.

For example:

While trying to figure out where to hang Laura Ingalls Wilder on our timeline:

This timeline is jacked-up!

In answer to the question, "What did you find interesting about Little House in the Big Woods, so far?":

I like Pa because he is a combination of Grandpa Mike and Pop. Grandpa Mike kills animals. Pop kills fish. But Pa kills both animals and fish. That's what I thought was interesting.

In answer to the question "What strikes you about the early history of astronomy?":

It struck me that Galilleo invented* the telescope. I thought Einstein invented the telescope, because he invented light**, so I thought he would have also invented the telescope. That really surprised me.

One of our new routines this year is for us all to take turns fixing lunch. Mike and King each prepare lunch two days a week, and I am responsible for Friday's lunch. Apart from Mike wanted to serve a lunch consisting entirely of pretzels and Nutella dip, it has been a great success. The boys seem to enjoy the task, and I enjoy the break.

King's lovely lunch stylings.

I have also decided to try to spend more time outdoors this year, so when weather and time permit, we take our lunch outside.

Homeschool recess.

We've had our share of challenges, as well. In general, it has been difficult for all three of us to get back into the rigor of school. King has taken exception to the fact that Michael get's let out of school early, while he has to continue with more classes each day (like grammar, citizenship, composition, etc.).

I laid out the reasoning for him:

You are in sixth grade; he is in second grade.

Mike chimed in,

That actually makes sense.

King strongly disagreed.

There were even a few tears. 

These were Mike's tears on his math book, however they were not shed because of math. The class before math was Bible and Mike was complaining about how tired he was. As I was reading aloud, I glanced up at him to find his head tilted back and his eyes closed as though sleeping. He was pretending to sleep. Seriously?

Before school that morning, King couldn't find his shoes. It's an eternal problem, it seems. It's time to go somewhere or start something and suddenly all shoes head for impossible hiding spots. I couldn't even find them. We were so perplexed as to where they could have gone that I actually put a call into Curtis at work to see if perhaps he had thrown them away because they were left lying around the night before. He didn't answer, so I left a message. Later, King suddenly remembered that he had put them in the costume chest in the closet. Of course.

When Curtis finally did call back regarding the shoe issue, I put him on the phone with Mike. That's where the tears came from. Dad has little patience for boys who don't "handle their business" (like not paying attention in Bible and pretending to fall asleep). He especially doesn't like it when said boys' lack of discipline makes for a stressed out wife that he has to deal with when he gets home. Dad's little talk to Mike over the phone could be heard by me and even by King in the next room. I clearly heard Curtis' parting words to Mike,

"I love you, now go work your ass off!"

Welcome to Homeschool, boys.


*Galilleo did not invent the telescope, but he did make his own.

**He meant "lightbulb".

Blogs Never Lie

Conversations with King:


The whole family was in the car coming home from Blue Ridge. Curtis was annoyed with the headrest on his seat, frustrated trying to adjust it, and saying angry words.

King asked if he wanted him to help fix it.

Curtis said, "No! I want you not to dick around with it anymore in the first place! That's what I want!"

King replied,

I didn't DICK around with it!

We had to give him a pass on that one. We were laughing too hard, anyway.


I was reading old blog entries to the family yesterday. Some happened so long ago that we didn't even remember them. [I laughed so hard I cried reading this one.]

After about the third one Curtis said, "You made this stuff up! Didn't you?! I don't remember any this!"

King quickly responded,

It's on the blog; it must be true!

Passing the Test

King started third grade last week. Monday and Tuesday of this week started and ended with King in tears, exclaiming:

This is the worst day of my entire life!

I must admit, my first inclination was to laugh and say,

Oh, Son, you have no idea what real trouble is.

But I held my mother hat firmly in place and tried to see things from his perspective. King's third grade stressors include:

  1. All his books won't fit into his backpack correctly, including this huge new third grade three ring binder (he informed me that he now categorically hates three ring binders).
  2. His homework load has seemingly doubled in both quantity and difficulty.
  3. Mad Minutes: a timed test of thirty math facts to be done within a minute.

King has to take a Mad Minutes test every day of every week and it has been the bane of his third grade existence, so far. The problem is not the math facts. He's got the math down. The problem is the test. More specifically, that it is a timed test. Unfortunately, King inherited from me a mutant test-taking-deer-in-head-lights gene, that shows itself whenever fast thinking is involved. Some people excel under pressure, others crumble. King and I are crumblers. You put a stop watch on us and we seem to forget everything, even our names.

I grew up in the shadow of my brother, the quintessential test-taker, and I always assumed I was slow, as in kinda dumb. It wasn't until much much later in life that I came to entertain the idea that this might not be true. Perhaps I wasn't the dunce I thought I was. Maybe I just sucked at taking tests.

Timed tests are a fact of life in today's educational system. The standardized (timed) test is used across the board to gauge where you are on the smart curve throughout your educational career and ultimately decides where you can go to college (SAT) and then grad school (GRE, MCAD, LSAT, etc.). But do these tests really measure how smart you are, or do they measure how good you are at regurgitating facts under pressure? Tests like these may be useful in pointing out those individuals who might be better suited as air traffic controllers or floor traders, but they shouldn't be the main mechanism by which we decide academic success and placement.

As much as I'd like to take a philosophical stand against the tyranny of the standardized test, I must get off my soapbox and back to King. He's still got to get through his Mad Minutes. The whole class is working towards a pizza party based upon each child's ability to pass these tests, with each level achieved being marked by a slice of pizza plastered on the classroom bulletin board next to their name. If King can't earn his slices, everyone will know that the pizza famine is his fault.

How to proceed? Curtis and I started by watching him take a practice test at home. We immediately noticed how carefully King wrote his answers. We took the test away and asked him to write the numbers "1 -10" three times as fast as he could, only to discover that he could not even do this in one minute. Of course, King had been taught in school that you should have good penmanship, not to rush or write sloppily. This led us to our first lesson for King: The Mad Minute Penmanship Exception.

Back to the test.

Okay, try it again and write your numbers fast this time.

Curtis stood over him with the stopwatch, checking his progress and giving him status reports:

You're doing good.
You're halfway there.
Pick up the pace.
You're running out of time.

This scene was really horrible to watch. As the test went on, King's agitation increased, his lips pursed, his face got red, his pencil was slipping in his hand from the flop sweat, until finally he couldn't see the paper through his tears. This was not working. We took the test away again and sat down for a talk. It was time for Lesson #2: The Proper Importance of Mad Minutes in the Grand Scheme of Life.

We had always stressed to King how important it was to do well in school, but it was time for some perspective. I wasn't going to let King suffer the same fate as myself, living under the idea that he just wasn't quite as smart as every body else. We emphasized to King that he was a smart kid who was good at math. Mad Minutes just wasn't that important.


Why do they make me do it then? he asked.

Good question.


Because it is important and helpful to be able to look at a 2 and a 4 and just know that it's 6, without having to think about it. The teachers at your school need to find out if you know these things and this is the way they have decided to do it.

It worked! The pressure is off and he has passed a mad minute test almost every day since. He's one test away from his first slice of pizza.


Are you Fun-King Serious?

Curtis loves to torture the children. The more they protest the more he needles. He's like a bear; to avoid attack, it's best to play dead.

One of his favorite harassments is tickling. He threatens King: "I'm going to tickle you 'til you pee your pants." So far, he's succeeded twice.

Through gasps and laughter, King will yell, "Stop! I'm serious!"

"Hi, Serious. I'm Curtis."

This gets King totally exasperated, which I have to admit, is very entertaining. A few weeks ago, we were teasing him using this tried and true method.

King: I'm serious!

Curtis: Hi, Serious.

Mama: I don't like Serious. I like King much better.

King: I am King.

Mama: Are you Fun-King? I like Fun-King.

Curtis: Are you Fun-King Serious? (He starts laughing and staring at me like he's trying to send me brain waves.) Are you Fun-King Serious?

Mama: What?

Curtis: Are you FUnKING serious?

Mama: Ooooooh.

We have gotten a lot of mileage out of this one. We laugh like first graders sharing a good fart joke. The best is when you get him to say it, which I know is going to backfire when he uses it outside the family.

The Dog House

Mike and King were taking turns sitting in the dog's kennel.

"Look, Mom. Now Michael and I have two homes."

King locks Mike in the kennel and says, "Michael, aren't you late for something?"

Intentional irony or accidental nonsense? I'm not sure.

It's time for school*. King picks up the dog kennel to bring it upstairs with him.

Curtis says, "No. No. No. Leave the kennel where it is."

"But it's my cage." He sounds so sad and disappointed. 

"No, the cage is not for school; school is for learning."

"But I will; I will learn in the cage."

I am absolutely fascinated by the ridiculousness of this conversation.

"I said, No."

"It doesn't make sense. How can I not learn in the cage?"

"Because it's RETARDED!"

"What does retarded mean?"

I think Curtis realizes the depths to which their argument has fallen.

"It means you're not bringing it upstairs. Now get up there."

*For those of you who don't know, King is homeschooled by a tutor during the week. It's not that I wasn't willing or able to homeschool him myself, it's just that our personality traits are such that it would be a disaster if I were to do it.