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Mary Anne Mohanraj
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September 20, 2016UncategorizedMary Anne Mohanraj
Ironic that one of my favorite classes to teach each semester is the post-colonial one where I take them through 8000 years of Irish history, given how much I disliked history in high school. I just didn #8217;t get it back then #8212; in my mind, it was all dry facts that I didn #8217;t care about. Now, it is so much more clearly a cascading series of events, one leading to the next, and all about the everyday struggles of actual people, struggles that map sharply onto the current day.
For example, we talked about how in 1613, the overthrow of the Catholic majority in Irish parliament led to creation of numerous new boroughs, all of which were Protestant-dominated, and then I taught them about gerrymandering in the Democrat / Republican context, and I may even have gotten a bit exercised, as interfering with people #8217;s right to vote is a topic that makes me a tad angry #8230;
I don #8217;t know #8212; maybe there were just as bored and drifting off as I was in high school with this same sort of material. But hopefully not #8212; I had fun, anyway.
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September 19, 2016UncategorizedMary Anne Mohanraj
Saturday afternoon, we took the kids with Kirsten to Oak Park #8217;s local fall festival, Oaktoberfest. My second favorite part was the root beer float #8212; yum. My favorite part #8212; watching Kavi have fun building and racing a zucchini car.聽馃檪聽She came in second, and was very proud.
We #8217;ve always gone to the Garfield Park Conservatory (free to the public) in winter, so I hadn #8217;t realized that they had several outdoor areas that then connect to Central Park. It #8217;s huge. This Saturday, they had haystacks set up for a timed obstacle course (my kids are not fast, but had fun), and there #8217;s a great outdoor playground they really enjoyed, while I grabbed ideas for my own garden from their outdoor plantings and urban vegetable garden. I want pole beans next year #8212; edible and pretty.
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September 19, 2016UncategorizedMary Anne Mohanraj
Ahoy, mateys! It #8217;s talk like a pirate day, ye scallywags of the sea! As for me, I #8217;ll be settin #8217; my sails this day towards readin #8217; subs and revisin #8217; the novel, tryin #8217; to get it all shipshape. I can see the end of the novel in sight #8212; thar she blows! My great white whale #8212; hopefully she #8217;ll bring me a better fate than Ahab #8217;s. Wish me fair winds for the day #8217;s endeavors and safe harbor at sunset, and I #8217;ll wish the same to ye all. Let #8217;s weigh anchor and hoist the mizzen! Heave ho, buckos! All hand hoay!
(Also, you can get free donuts and / or free fish:
#8220;In honor of Talk Like a Pirate Day on Monday, Sept. 19, the chain is giving away a free glazed donut to every customer who channels their inner Jack Sparrow. As in years past, customers who come dressed in full pirate regalia will get a dozen free donuts. This year, though, they can make a far saner move, and use Krispy Kreme鈥檚 Snapchat pirate filter to digitally 鈥渄ress鈥 like a pirate and get their free dozen.
Krispy Kreme has offered Talk Like a Pirate Day deals since 2012,聽but this campaign marks the first time the donut chain has worked with Snapchat on a national campaign, according to a press release. Not to be outdone, the seafood chain Long John Silvers is celebrating the day with a free piece of Alaskan Whitefish or chicken for customers who talk like a pirate, and a free 2 piece fish or chicken basket for those who dress like one. #8221;)
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September morning
September 17, 2016Garden JournalMary Anne Mohanraj
September morning in the garden, after rain. Rosa Eglantine, morning glory (which I know many of my neighbors consider a weed, but I love it, even if it does insist on climbing my hydrangea instead of the porch railings), Pinky Winky hydrangea (love that shift of colors as it mixes white and green and pink), dahlia.
Sitting on my front porch, tucked up in a blanket with Ellie at my feet, tea in hand, reading SF/F stories for the Survivor anthology, most of which are quite decent (though also many of which are not actually good fits for the anthology as it turns out, which makes the job of choosing between them marginally easier). I #8217;m planning to spend some of the day on reading subs, and the rest of it hanging out with my college roommate Kirsten, who is visiting. Life is good.
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Anand school update (much better)
September 15, 2016UncategorizedMary Anne Mohanraj
So I feel like my last post about Anand #8217;s school stuff was sort of misleading. 聽It did capture how we felt at the start of the year #8212; super-apprehensive, and ready to pull him out if things went badly. 聽Kevin and I had some bad nights, and I think Anand did too. 聽But we #8217;re now almost three weeks in, and overall, he #8217;s doing much better than last spring. 聽Anand goes to school cheerful and comes home cheerful, he #8217;s generally been getting good behavior reports most days, and聽he #8217;s聽also learned to read short sentences, finally! Basically in the last two weeks. 聽Something has clicked, and I think that #8217;s contributing to Anand being a lot happier than he was last spring. 聽I suspect a lot of his trouble back then was frustration-driven, in one way or another. 聽He #8217;s coasting through the math, too.
I appreciate all the advice from people, though I should note that for those of you drawing mainly on experience in school forty or more years ago #8212; things have really changed, at least if you #8217;re in a relatively affluent area like we are, with good funding for support resources at the school. 聽(And even if you #8217;re not in an affluent area, some states do mandate that funding be provided for these kinds of supports, if you have an appropriate diagnosis. 聽I wasn #8217;t aware of that before all this started, so passing it along.)
The whole attitude towards restless or otherwise challenging behaviors in school kids is 聽changing, on an almost daily basis. 聽I #8217;ve been really impressed with how hard Anand #8217;s school is working to make school work both for him, and for the rest of his class. 聽Rather than trying to force cookie-cutter conformity on him, they #8217;re trying to figure out how the school environment can adapt to his personality and needs. 聽It #8217;s kind of amazing to watch, from a teacher #8217;s standpoint. 聽(From a parent #8217;s standpoint, it #8217;s a bit nerve-wracking, but hopeful).
Several people suggested getting Anand comprehensively聽tested, and that #8217;s definitely still on the table as a possibility (whether or not we chose to share that info with the school). 聽Apparently, there have been insurance changes recently that make it much more likely that insurance would cover the quite expensive testing, so if that was a concern for you, you might want to check with your insurance. 聽If I were to make a guess, I #8217;d expect that Anand would聽come out mildly ADHD and with some sensory issues.
But I admit, I #8217;m kind of skeptical about that entire framework, especially since in just six months, many of those behaviors in him have diminished or disappeared. 聽Anand chews his clothes much less than he used to, for just one example. 聽I #8217;m inclined to think that a lot of this is just that everyone develops聽at different speeds for different聽aspects of mental and physical capability, and Anand聽mostly just needs time to catch up a bit on the sensory / ADHD aspects. 聽Kavi had trouble with her fine motor skills when she was that age, and was behind her classmates, but she just #8230;caught up, eventually. 聽As long as we and the school can keep him relatively happy (and non-disruptive), I kind of think it #8217;ll sort itself out.
I #8217;m aware, of course, that there #8217;s a lot of value to early intervention, and that some of the most effective interventions actually happen much younger than Anand is right now (almost 7). 聽Maybe we should have done more along those lines a year ago, when the issues were most noticeable. 聽But his pediatrician didn #8217;t think so, and we went along with that, and so far, things seem to be improving with what the school is doing. 聽Knock on wood.
Just to clarify, the school is totally willing to have us do an IEP, etc. if it seems necessary, so they can budget for things like a para to help him in the classroom, but I #8217;m not sure Anand聽actually needs that. 聽He #8217;s already self-conscious about the fact that he #8217;s the only one in his class that is getting this sort of accommodation, and I think having a para there might actually increase his anxiety.
We #8217;ve been impressed by how many accommodations they can and will do without a diagnosis and IEP. They #8217;re going to try a wiggle seat and therabands on the chair legs, for example, to see if that helps with his need for movement and developing his spatial sense (right now, one of the issues is that Anand聽tends to spill out beyond his expected space #8212; even when eating, somehow a lot of his food ends up on the table, rather than on his plate). Some of this has already improved as he #8217;s gotten older, so he may just age out of much of it soon. Kids change fast!
We met with the school yesterday, and are meeting again in six weeks. We saw the motor room at the school and it has a cushioned swing thing and a trampoline and space to dance, which apparently Anand likes to do there, and he gets to go there twice a day, for ten minutes each, which is helping to make school tolerable, so we are very grateful that the (public) school has the funding for this space, and is willing to commit resources to it.
Everything is basically still on the table right now (including private schools and homeschooling), but we #8217;re not rushing to change things yet. Kev and I want to give the current set-up time to process, to see what #8217;s working or not. 聽I think if we change anything soon, it #8217;d likely be signing Anand聽up for some outside OT to supplement and support what they #8217;re doing at the school. We #8217;ll see how the next six weeks go. We have聽local聽friends who really like Kids Unlimited ( But we #8217;re also wary of over-scheduling him #8212; lots of downtime with the family seems to help keep Anand聽centered and happy.
Another thing we talked about with his team facilitator yesterday is that they #8217;ve added #8216;chill zones #8217; in some of the classrooms, including his, and apparently there #8217;s some discussion about making that standard practice across the district. (I #8217;m not surprised they #8217;re considering it district-wide #8212; it #8217;s an intervention that doesn #8217;t actually cost money, assuming you already have a little space you can dedicate at the back of the room, and a teacher who can cope with the extra management effort.) 聽The idea is that any kid who needs a break can get up and take one.聽聽Chill zones here are聽still very much in development as a concept #8212; right now, the kid needs to raise a hand and get permission to go back there, just as they would to go to the bathroom, and there #8217;s conversation happening in the schools about balancing asking that of a kid who #8217;s already distressed, with teacher management of the classroom, and their ability to keep track of what #8217;s going on. I sympathize, as a teacher!
Mostly, I #8217;m glad they #8217;re so actively working on all this. We really seem to be in a transition period re: how public schools handle divergence from the previous expected #8220;norm. #8221; 聽I went to a talk a few weeks ago, and a colleague who works in disability studies mentioned that #8216;normal #8217; as we use it now (for people) didn #8217;t exist as a concept until, I think he said, the early 1900s.
For Chicagoland parents in the midst of similar issues and considering private schools, I wanted to mention two schools that have been recommended to us (and this way, I have them written down). 聽The Children #8217;s School and The Science and Arts Academy.
Two things we #8217;ve tried I wanted to mention #8212; we tried meditation (a book and CD, Sitting Still Like a Frog), and while I think that might help eventually, he #8217;s not quite ready to sit still for it yet! We #8217;ve also started watching a half hour show together every night, all piled in our bed, and both kids seem to really value that as a way to re-center as a family. We #8217;re working our way through Legend of Korra at the moment.
That #8217;s it for now. 聽Onwards.
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Pokemon park walk
September 15, 2016UncategorizedMary Anne Mohanraj
Anand was super-excited to find an Exeggcute! 聽(Pokemon joke.)
Anand caught a Pidgey! 聽(Another Pokemon joke, this time by Kavya. Kevin and I thought this was quite clever of her.)
We must mark the occasion of Anand #8217;s first gym takeover (with Kavi #8217;s help), of Unity Temple. He is striking his victory pose for you here.
This one is a mommy joke. #8220;Hug Kavi! Hug Kavi #8217;s legs! #8221; For some reason, they thought that was hilarious. I live to amuse.
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Dear Anand
September 14, 2016Letters to my ChildrenMary Anne Mohanraj
Dear Anand, I wrote this as a letter to you, and then ended up rewriting it to a different voice. 聽But it #8217;s still basically a letter to you, to explain why we #8217;re making the decisions we are, why we #8217;re keeping you in the school that is doing much better than last spring, but is still stressing you out. 聽Love, mama.
I phrased and rephrased, trying to find a way to tell my son鈥檚 first grade teacher what was likely to work with him, without making him sound like a troublemaker.
鈥淎nand is high-energy, full of enthusiasm and full of ideas, many of which he thinks are funny. Unfortunately, not everyone finds those ideas funny, and his energy can be hard to manage in a classroom setting.鈥
A few weeks ago, my son started school, and all of us were nervous. Kindergarten was rough 鈥 though Anand tried to be a good student, sometimes his ways of participating (enthusiastic shouting out of answers without raising his hand, interrupting his teacher, falling out of his chair with wiggly excitement) were challenging. He was hardly the only kindergartner having trouble with the new patterns of expected behavior, but as the weeks went by, most of the others adapted. By January, it became clear that he was having the hardest time in his class, which broke our hearts a little.
鈥淲hen he鈥檚 done something wrong, Anand often needs a little time to process what鈥檚 happened; immediate consequences sometimes lead to either him arguing with the adult, or bursting into tears and running away.鈥
He would get off the bus, and I鈥檇 ask him and his sister, Kavi, how their days were. All I wanted was to hear a little bit about what had happened at school 鈥 something cool he鈥檇 learned, a conversation with a friend, a fun game at recess. But every day, the first thing Anand reported was how 鈥榞ood鈥 or 鈥榖ad鈥 he鈥檇 been that day. 鈥淚 only got three boxes today,鈥 he鈥檇 sadly report. His kindergarten teacher realized partway through the first semester that it was challenging for Anand to stay 鈥榞ood鈥 all day, so she鈥檇 broken the day into thirteen sections. If he behaved appropriately, he would be rewarded with some time playing a game. It helped, but we wished that our son鈥檚 whole focus wasn鈥檛 on trying to be good, on knowing that he was often bad. Kavi loved school, and so had I; we wanted that for him too.
Some of our friends鈥 kids have had trouble with public school. The class sizes are often large (Anand鈥檚 class was about twenty, which is a vast improvement over the thirty that was typical in my own elementary school, but is still a lot of wriggly little bodies for one teacher to manage). Lots of our friends have ended up with kids who are bored by a standard school curriculum, which then results in frustration, misbehavior, weeping. Several friends have ended up pulling their kids from public schools and either homeschooling or moving to private schools instead.
We鈥檝e certainly considered our options, grateful that we have the financial ability to make such choices. If we homeschooled, we could get by on one income, though we鈥檇 have to have a serious conversation about which of us would step back from our career. Kevin鈥檚 job pays better than mine does. That鈥檚 typical for men and women, so even in an otherwise egalitarian relationship, it鈥檚 often the woman who stays home, sacrificing her own career in the process. Society tells us that mothers should sacrifice for their families, and of course, we do, all the time. But we should also ask, why do we so often ask women to make sacrifices we would never ask of men?
I dream of my ideal school 鈥 smaller class sizes, five to ten students per teacher. A curriculum that follows their interests flexibly 鈥 if Anand obsesses about video animation for a few weeks, letting him follow that interest would help keep him engaged in school, excited about learning. But that鈥檚 expensive 鈥 if wanted our public schools to look like that, we鈥檇 have to pay for more teachers per grade, so they鈥檇 be able to develop flexible and individual curricula to best suit each students鈥 talents and needs. I鈥檇 also love a lot more time spent outdoors 鈥 we know that human bodies thrive on regular movement, and that children鈥檚 bodies want to run and jump and twist, not be forced into stillness for hours. We should be building schools that accommodate and work with those natural instincts. There are private schools that look like that, but it鈥檚 rare to find a public school with those resources and that approach.
鈥淩ight now, Anand鈥檚 very conscious that he鈥檚 had difficulties in a school environment, and is worried and ashamed about it; he sometimes gets upset when an adult tries to talk to him about what he鈥檚 done wrong.鈥
We鈥檙e holding the possibility of moving our son out of school if we have to, but we鈥檙e still hoping that he鈥檒l find a happy and productive space in the public school here. We moved to this leafy suburb for its schools, after all, which are well-funded (art and music and gym, a host of student service personnel). They鈥檙e great public schools, and we want to support public schools with our property tax dollars (at least until we manage to uncouple property taxes from public school funding, but that鈥檚 a political argument for a different day).
We think it鈥檚 better for society if the kids who live in the apartment building next door, the bright, sweet kids that are our kids鈥 friends and classmates, have access to the same schooling that our kids do. Excellent education for all children builds a better society for everyone. We could afford private school for both our kids, though we might have to sell our house to do it. But we鈥檇 rather pour our money and parent volunteer energy into the public school, as part of our commitment to growing a better community overall.
That said 鈥 we love Anand more than we love society. If it comes to it, we will absolutely pull him from that school if it鈥檚 making him miserable. We鈥檙e going to spend some time and energy on trying to find a way for him to be happy there first, though. Which is why I ended up spending a solid hour with his dad and his dad鈥檚 schoolteacher sister, trying to fill out the little personality form for the school, to help them place him in a first grade classroom.
鈥淲hat usually calms Anand down is having some time away from class, either walking or sitting, to quiet down by himself.鈥
We were worried that an overworked, harried teacher would write him off in the first weeks as a difficult child, a 鈥榖ad boy.鈥 And that he鈥檇 then be struggling with that label all through first grade. Age seven seems young to have that hung around his neck, weighing him down.
鈥淟ast year, Anand was allowed a fidget, a little toy that he could play with at his desk. They gave him his own special chair, to make it easier for him to sit still, and that did seem to help. He wears a chew toy on a necklace sometimes, because without that to chew on, he often ends up chewing his shirt, or a pencil, or the tv remote 鈥 whatever鈥檚 at hand.鈥
A lot of these accommodations are designed to help students on the autism spectrum, and if Anand continues to have difficulties at school, we鈥檒l be getting him tested, to see if he fits onto that spectrum. I suspect he may be borderline 鈥 but I also think our understanding of mental structures is in its infancy. We tend to speak as if the range of human intellectual ability is like a line from normal to disabled, or from typical to atypical. But I suspect it is more like a map, or a globe, or perhaps some four-dimensional structure like those his mathematician father studies. We all have different needs and abilities, and we cluster and separate along a multitude of intersecting axes. Introvert / extrovert. Silence / stimulus. Visual / auditory / kinesthetic learner.
A few weeks ago, my own semester started, and I faced a classroom of young adults with their own anxieties about school. I tried to set a good tone for the semester, making clear the academic standards they鈥檇 be expected to meet, but also encouraging them to come to me if they have problems; we鈥檇 work on them together, try to find accommodations and approaches to make it possible for them to succeed. After just a class, I was already starting to get to know them. By the end of the semester, I鈥檒l know them well, and even love them a little, these young people who want to learn, who can learn, if they get the right help along the way.
That鈥檚 really all I hope for, as Anand starts first grade. That his teacher sees聽the smart, funny, anxious, affectionate boy who hates to be alone. The child who enjoys wordplay and math games and climbing places he shouldn鈥檛 go. Yes, he may have licked the door to the classroom because he thought it was funny; yes, he planted his tiny kindergarten feet in the lunchroom last year and argued loudly with the principal over a point of perceived injustice. But my son wants to be good, and he wants to learn. In this country, we ought to be able to build public schools that can teach all our children well. Even the ones who aren鈥檛 easy, who don鈥檛 fit the standard mold.
We will fight for that dream of what public schools can be, and we will fight for our son. Hopefully, we can do both at the same time.
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September 14, 2016Food and RecipesMary Anne Mohanraj
Using up leftover veggie tray cauliflower and carrots: Dice an onion and saute in oil with ginger, garlic, cumin seed, mustard seed. Cut up leftover cauliflower and carrots from veggie tray and add. Add a bit of chili powder and salt, a bit of turmeric. (If you happen to have some leftover cooked chicken, this would be a good point to add it, or most other proteins.) When mostly cooked, stir in some milk and yogurt to make a sauce. Stir in leftover cooked rice (or serve hot over fresh rice). Enjoy.
Usually I would use potatoes instead of cauliflower in this kind of thing, but this is healthier (cauliflower has a much lower glycemic load) and tastes delicious.
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I think I #8217;m fighting off a cold #8230;
September 14, 2016UncategorizedMary Anne Mohanraj
Tired, peoples. A long day yesterday #8212; up at 6, home at 7, with teaching and writing and errands in between. On the roster for today: Herceptin infusion? (I don #8217;t have it in my schedule, but it #8217;s been three weeks since the last one, so I probably forgot to write it down, but I #8217;m not sure, have a call in to the hospital to find out, hopefully they #8217;ll call back soon, and hopefully if it *is* today, I can move it to Friday), meeting with Anand #8217;s support team at school @ 10, meeting with independent study student @ 11, garden club 12 #8211; 2. Then I #8217;m unscheduled for the rest of the afternoon, and am hoping to power through much of the novel revision for the rest of the day, but am a little worried that if I #8217;m this tired now, I #8217;ll be crashing by 2. We #8217;ll see.
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Surprise cupcakes
September 13, 2016UncategorizedMary Anne Mohanraj
After teaching, joined Mary Robinette Kowal for lunch and writing at City Winery (where her husband, Rob, is the sommelier). This is our second time meeting here #8212; last time, Rob took us on a tour behind the scenes, where vast vats actually make wine, right here in the heart of Chicago. Wacky! I had the petite syrah last time, delicious, and the syrah this time, which beautifully accompanied my middle-eastern sausage sandwich (with grilled onions and chimichurri sauce) and a side of pita with beet-feta spread. (Tons of food; taking half of it home for Kevin #8217;s dinner.)
The star of the meal remained the delectable burrata with roasted tomatoes and basil that we shared last time and couldn #8217;t resist repeating #8212; I think I was probably at least 30 before I tasted fresh mozzarella for the first time, and probably past 40 before I had burrata #8212; I wonder how many other deliciousnesses I #8217;ve been missing.
After lunch, we settled down to writing; I finished and sent off the revision of my Wild Cards story, and then, as if by magic, a complimentary cupcake materialized to reward me for my diligence. It was actually left over from a staff birthday celebration, but let #8217;s pretend that the finishing of every major task is accompanied by surprise cupcakes. What a lovely world that would be.
And now #8212; the novel. It has been waiting, so patiently, for me to finish everything else. I won #8217;t finish the revision today, but if I start it, I actually hope to finish it this week. Along with finishing the first pass of Survivor subs. And will there be more cupcakes to follow? Quite possibly.
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