Thursday, April 30, 2015

Zoe vs. Standardized Testing

If your first thought when you see the abbreviation G&T is "gifted & talented" and not "gin & tonic," then you are the parent of a school-age child. (The latter, however, will always come in a close second.)
Zoe starts kindergarten in September, and in January she took a test to see if she was eligible for the Gifted & Talented Program. What's that you say? Not every PS (precious snowflake) is G&T? If only grandmothers were in charge. Then there'd be no question. Alas, the NYC Department of Education has no grandchildren.
Considering Zoe is only four and a half, I had to wonder if it was really possible to measure her talent. Or maybe the test just measures the small child's ability to sit still and follow directions. Maybe that's an indication of giftedness.
I'm no expert. However, I do plan to read just enough about early childhood education to be irritating to her teachers. Similar to the tack I take when I go to the doctor and inform him of the latest headlines kicking around the Interwebs. All professionals love amateur opinions! That sour face is just masking their respect for you!

The Gifted and the Damned

In any case, as Zoe is in constant motion---I have the blurry pictures to prove it---we figured it was a 50/50 chance whether she'd actually sit still long enough to take the exam.
The weekend before the test, I downloaded a practice version and sat down with her to get her comfortable with the types of questions they'd ask. The test was divided into two sections: nonverbal and verbal.
The first hurdle was having her understand what a test was. She didn't understand the concept of multiple choice and thought the answer to each question should be "1" no matter what. I asked her why and she said, "Because one is first." Can't argue with that logic. 
Eventually she caught on, and she did pretty well, even if I had to bribe her with juice so she'd finish. 
On test day, we took her to the school where the testing was to take place. The husband and I had to remain in the auditorium while she was escorted to a classroom. So there'd be no way for us to know how she really did.
Aside from asking her, that is. . . .
Okay, just came back from laughing.
Anyway, we did ask her, but all she said was: "Teacher let me walk around the room." Hmmm. Did she answer any of the questions at all? we wondered. Or did she just go exploring?

Good try, children, and now let's throw your art project in
the fire so no one has to look upon it with their naked eyes.

Last week we got our answer. We opened the envelope, read the results, and both the husband and I burst out laughing.
The upshot: Zoe was not eligible for the G&T program. Children have to score above the 90th percentile (compared to kids their age) in order to get accepted. Zoe was at the 83rd.
What made us laugh was the breakdown:
For the nonverbal part, she was, impressively, in the 98th percentile. But the second part, the verbal, she bombed: 43rd percentile. Kids for whom English was their second language probably did better.
Though I've always endeavored to keep our relationship professional, I have come to know Zoe pretty well over the past four-and-a-half years---more if you count the time she gestated inside me for 42 weeks---and I know there's no way she would've scored that low unless she just didn't answer the questions, probably preferring to hunt for toys. Or maybe she suspected the proctor was holding out on her and decided to wait for a bribe in the form of juice or candy. She's trained me well, after all.
I'm left to conclude that if the G&T test had measured craftiness, stubbornness, and all-around willfulness, Zoe would've aced it. In those areas she's ahead of the curve.
Zoe: 90; Universe: 0 

For more of Zoe's hijinks, follow me on Facebook and on Twitter at @zoevsuniverse
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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Zoe vs. Three Disney Princesses

A couple of weeks ago my mother and I went with Zoe to the Three Disney Princesses Show at Madison Square Garden. The three princesses were Snow White, Cinderella, and Belle from Beauty and the Beast.
With my degree in Advanced Curmudgeon, I was a little wary, prepared for a nightmare of capade proportions. As I expected, we had to swim through a sea of mini Cinderellas, Snow Whites, and Belles, as well as a few Rapunzels and Sofias the First. (Zoe was dressed as Queen Elsa because she had to be sure she outranked everybody.)

Perpetrators of the Great Tulle Massacre of 2013.

Navigating the crowd of princesses, you had to be careful not to run up against any of the stalls selling light-up toys or princess dolls. If you hit them head-on, you'd surely hemorrhage money and sink your bank account.
I expected Zoe to want Everything, but she fell under the spell of a glittering plastic horse a la Cinderella's carriage, and so sixteen dollars later she was satisfied. 
Next was the concession stand, where the only size popcorn available had the dimensions of a shirt box. Odd because you'd think they'd need the boxes for all the shirts they were taking off parents' backs (drum roll, cymbal crash).
Finally we found our seats, and Zoe played happily with her horse, which she'd christened Star, till the show started.
I have to admit, Disney knows how to put on a show. The costumes were perfect. There was the right level of scares for little kids. And the sound effects were well done.
Zoe had been familiar with the stories of Snow White and Cinderella, but not Beauty and the Beast. So afterwards I had to explain that although Gaston was good looking, it did not mean he was a good guy, even though that had been true regarding the nameless princes from Cinderella and Snow White
So Zoe loved it, and I was glad she'd loved it, but something was bothering me. I had known all the stories, of course, so maybe it was something about their juxtaposition, or the quick progression from one to the other, but overall the show left me in an odd mood.
Like the one that hits me once a month.
You know what I'm talking about? Every month it begins with a vague unease, but it quickly escalates into a high level of annoyance that can only be by assuaged by banging out a Sociology 101 term paper. Right? Glad I'm not alone in this, ladies!

What if I want a bicycle, Gloria Steinem?

It turns out the Disney Three Princesses show provides quite the micro history lesson in feminism. From Snow White in 1937 to Cinderella in 1950 to Beauty and the Beast in 1991, we've come a long way, Bambi.

Snow White
Debuting in 1937, Snow White the movie features the ultimate passive victim. Snow doesn't have much ambition besides waiting for a prince, who may or may not arrive within some ill-defined timeframe. Meanwhile, she lives to scrub floors and whistles a happy tune while doing so.
Career goal: She's already a princess. Other than that her goal is to stay alive and marry a prince. It is assumed he'll be good-looking and virtuous because those two things always go together.

At least, she hates to clean. This makes her "relatable." She can make her own clothes (crafty!). And she has some self-direction. Unfortunately it surfaces only when she asserts her right to attend a party. Girls just want to have fun, y'all. For this fifties gal, marriage is a ticket out of a miserable home life.
Career goal: Princess. Failing that, dressmaker with a sideline in pest control through vocalizing.

An active participant in her own life and in her fate. Loves to read---mostly romances (don't judge!). Motivated by self-sacrifice and compassion. Unmotivated by a pretty face. Smart and self-actualized, which doesn't mean she can't, on occasion, enjoy a spin around the dance floor with the bad boy who's cleaned up his act. 
Career goal: Librarian, political activist, or investigative reporter.

I'm sure I can change him.
More women should try that.

In the end though, they are all just princesses, not queens, like Elsa. And like Queen Elsa, Zoe rules a kingdom (or thinks she does), has magic powers (or thinks she does), and her emotional outbursts cause untold damage. She is truly the female royal for the new millennium.
Career goal: Evil Mastermind or Savior of the Universe, depending on one's point of view.

Zoe: 89; Universe: 0

For more of Zoe's hijinks, follow me on Facebook and on Twitter at @zoevsuniverse
I need a win here, people. 

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Friday, April 17, 2015

Zoe vs. Shameless Self-Promotion: The BigGER Book of Parenting Tweets

So Mommy is in a book. It's called The BigGER Book of Parenting Tweets, and it's a collection of tweet jokes, snarky one-liners, and real-life conversations with kids like me. Also, there are drawings. What's a book without drawings, after all? (That wasn't rhetorical. I really don't get it.)

Buy it here.

Anyway Mommy's supposed to be promoting the book, but she's acting as if she's humble and it's difficult for her to toot her own horn (a phrase that has nothing to do with farting, by the way). So she's left it to me.
Because, according to Mommy, I am shameless. Evidence for this is how I like to run around naked shaking my booty. Also, I am fast and the best ever at spinning, jumping, and the general Doing of Things. And I've got super dance moves. Not sure why this should be considered shameless when it's just the truth.
The other reason I'm doing this is to set the record straight. Mommy thinks she's funny but really it's all me. I'm the one she's either directly quoting in her so-called humor or whose wacky antics she's detailing. So I'm the source. 
Mommy may joke about how thankless motherhood is, but we both know who should be thanking who. Let's face it, the woman owes me everything. Every moment with me is a constantly unfolding gift of LOLZ interspersed with tableaus of glistening gauzy-veiled contentment.
I am an angel. Just look at my face when I'm sleeping. (And only then--Editor's note) No, wait, don't do that; that's creepy. 
Anyway back to The BigGER Book of Parenting Tweets. It comes out today and it's filled with tweets from Mommy, along with about 50 other moms and dads who also fancy themselves to be funny. Forgive them their sleep-deprived delusions.
It's the second volume, the first being The Big Book of Parenting Tweets, and was again edited and compiled by three all-star mommies: Kate Hall from Hall of Tweets and Norine Dworkin-McDaniel and Jessica Ziegler from Science of Parenthood. Jessica Ziegler also did the illustrations, including one of me, so she's my favorite. (Holla!)
In case you're living under a rock and you don't know what tweets are, they are bite-size blasts of humor originally appearing on Twitter, whatever that is.

The original Tweeter, relaxing @home.

Here are 7 reasons why you should buy this book if you're a parent, or if you like things that are funny, or if you want to support my candy habit:
1. Tweets are short. Your children are short. You love your children. Presumably. Therefore you will love these tweets.
2. Speaking of short, children have short attention spans. Just like . . . whatever I was talking about.
3. Daddy's patience? Short.
4. Mommies are short-tempered. Especially by bedtime or if they miss a snack.
5. Tweets have a maximum of 140 characters. Your child displays the same number daily.
6. Tweets are good if you're pressed for time, and who isn't these days? Maybe if I don't get a turn on the tricycle right now, Emma, the world will end. (Or yours will, Emma. #NotAThreatAPromise) Maybe, as a parent, you only have a few seconds between answering our demands and whatever it is you do when you're not answering our demands, and you need a humorous jolt to the system, like word-caffeine.
7. Or maybe your short person needs you to sit next to them, quietly, while they're on the bowl, musing over whether their butt is finished or not, and if they really need to wipe, and who should do the aforementioned wiping, and so you need to hide behind some reading material. Or maybe you're on the bowl or pretending to be---I know your tricks---and need to laugh so you don't cry.
Still don't think this book is for you? Should I point to my need for candy again? You don't want to disappoint me. Trust me on this. Better yet, ask Emma.
Zoe: 88; Universe: 0
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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Zoe vs. the Eighties: "Livin' on a Prayer"

I was a child of the eighties. Before we got our Panasonic with the built-in cassette player, my sister and I had to hold a tape recorder up to the radio to record hot hits like "Always Something There to Remind Me" by Naked Eyes and "I'm Still Standing" by Elton John. The first 45 I ever bought (older folks will know what I'm talking about) was "The Warrior" by Scandal. I used to sing it in the shower. Still do. (Bang! Bang!)

A long time ago . . . this device took
sounds from the air. And played them back.

Zoe was born in 2010. So she'll never know the particular pleasure of catching a song you like on the radio just as it starts. Or the suspense as you wait for the DJ to stop talking so you can press record. She'll be able to download her favorite songs for 99 cents.
She's growing up in the age of iTunes and DVRs and everything On Demand. By the time she's a teenager, I imagine, there will be hovercrafts, interactive holograms, and robots that can make your tea just the way you like it.
In such a brave new world, will Zoe ever know what it is to wait for things? Will she know the suffering of always missing the beginning to "Say It Isn't So" by Hall and Oates so you end up with several truncated versions on your mixed tape? Will she know good music?
Like Freddie Mercury said, she wants it all, and she wants it now.
Waiting in general is bad enough, but waiting her turn? Sharing a toy?
Because no matter how much technology has advanced, I suspect that having to share will always be "a thing."

Deploying the Keds-to-crotch maneuver,
Billy recovers his truck.

As I often do when I'm brooding about the future and feeling as if time is just slipping through my hands like something slippery, I turn to Bon Jovi for wisdom. 
Speaking of slippery (segue alert!), Bon Jovi's album Slippery When Wet came out in 1986. And one of its big singles was "Livin' on a Prayer."
So in honor of the eighties and Zoe's aversion to sharing, I've rewritten the lyrics.  And retitled it "I Don't Wanna Share."

A tale of two hairdos.

"I Don't Wanna Share"
(to the tune of "Livin' on a Prayer" by Bon Jovi)

Tommy's sitting playing with blocks
She knocks them down
Then takes his truck
Says, tough, kid, tough

Sophie rides her trike in Z's way
Z demands a turn
Pushes her off
She shoves, and shoves

Says, I'm gonna hold on to what you've got
Doesn't make a difference if it's yours or not
It's in my hands, you little snot
Hands off, or I'll give you a shot

Whoa, I'll pull your hair
Whoa-oh, I don't wanna share
Take back your toy? I'll break it, I swear 
Whoa-oh, I don't wanna share

Justin's sitting spinning a top
It lights up, she's there
She's grabbing it now
She's rough. So rough. 

Sophie tries to take it away
Zoe cries out her plight
Mommies yell: 
No way! Fair play!

She's gonna hold on to what she's got
It doesn't make a difference if it's hers or not
It's in her hands, along with some snot
Toys: She wants them a lot!

Whoa, no halvsies, I swear
Whoa-oh, I don't wanna share
About taking turns, you know I don't care
Whoa-oh, I don't wanna share

I don't want to share.

She's gonna hold on, her toy or not
She lives for the fight, as if this toy's all she's got.

(Chorus till fade-out)

Zoe: 87; Universe: 0

For more of Zoe's hijinks, follow me on Facebook and on Twitter at @zoevsuniverse
I need a win here, people. 

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Thursday, April 2, 2015

Zoe vs. Zen

Sometimes the readers I imagine I have don't write me to ask: What is Zoe's Buddha nature? Finally, today, I answer the question that no one who actually exists is asking.
So, what is Zoe's Buddha nature?
Answer: It depends. Can screaming be zen? 
For screaming is the main feature of Zoe's playing. There's always the Good Guy and the Bad Guy and, as tends to happen when these two knuckleheads get together, their exchanges get heated.
Not only does Zoe play the parts of the hero and the villain, she also plays myriad victims, performs all the sound effects, and is the narrator/Greek chorus.
Not what I think of as Zen. But then I'm no expert.
My impression of Zen Buddhism can be summed up thusly: chubby guy sitting under a tree, seems happy enough. He meditates, occasionally asks questions (koans), spouts proverbs, has a head that's paradoxically full of enlightenment yet empty of thought. Karma. Dharma. Greg. Something something clapping one hand. Nirvana.

What's the sound of one amputated
hand hovering in midair?

So I knew I'd have to do some research. First thing I learned was the original Buddha is not the fat Buddha, aka the Laughing Buddha, we often picture in the West. That's a common misunderstanding.
But I decided not to worry too much about things like facts since material matters keep you from reaching nirvana. And anyway, all is one, which is an excuse that covers a lot of ground. 
Now as a parent, I'm supposed to be guiding my daughter on her path to wisdom, among other responsibilities, like clothing her, feeding her, and making sure she doesn't get her head stuck in a banister. Occasionally, however, she'll seem wiser than I.
You know how sometimes children say things that blow you away with their profundity, making them sound like pint-size Buddhas, closer to the source of all things? Well, the other day Zoe told me her pain hurt. Deep, right? Of course, right after that she demanded I smell her butt, which might be Zen, by way of the Three Stooges.
In any case, let's examine some Zen proverbs and koans and see how they apply to child-rearing.

You know how when you get a haircut you feel
freer and lighter and use less conditioner and
want to wear orange and bare one shoulder?

Let go or be dragged. ---Zen proverb
Here's one that resonates with the parenting experience of trying to take a toy away from a child. Or my phone, or the iPad, or the washcloth at bath time because she objects to having a clean face. It becomes a tug of war, and if she doesn't let go, she gets dragged. The times I've taught her this lesson should make me an honorary  monk.

A journey of a 1,000 miles begins with a first step. ---Zen proverb
What they don't say is that the journey is that long only because a four-year-old chose the route, one that takes you out of your way a million times, so yeah, what should be one or two miles turns into 500 and feels like double that because the kid stops every minute to commune with another rock. If that's meditation, I want no part of it. What if there's a bug under that rock? Or what if what you thought was a rock turns out to be petrified poop?

If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. ---Zen proverb
Probably because you're jealous that he has no kids and still mad that he burned you with that last proverb. On further review, I discovered Siddhartha Guatama, aka the original gangsta, actually had kids but that he abandoned them. Nice one, Buddha.

What is the sound of one hand clapping? ---Buddhist koan
Here's where we're supposed to be contemplating silence but I'll need to wait about twenty years for this one to even be possible. In any case, my husband has big hands with long fingers, and he really can clap quite effectively with one hand, so I consider this "settled science."

Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional. ---Zen proverb
So quit your whining! I intend to broadcast this one on a loop under her bed.

Better to see the face than to hear the name.---Zen proverb
Clearest one yet. With direct applications to my life. If Zoe sees my face right before she does something bad, this will, usually, be enough to stop her. By the time she hears her name, she's already done the bad thing.

What did your face look like before your parents were born? ---Buddhist koan
Your mother!

One too many ice cream koans.

I'll end with a couple of Zoeisms.
On space . . .
(Said while trying to jam her Elsa doll into her pants pocket): "Big things won't fit in my small pocket."
On time . . .
Ever since she turned four she's been saying, "Am I still four years old? Later, I'll be five. . . . Will I be five today?" If there's no such thing as time, then yes.

Zoe: 86; Universe: 0

For more of Zoe's hijinks, follow me on Facebook and on Twitter at @zoevsuniverse
I need a win here, people. 
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