Thursday, April 21, 2011

a keatsy chat

I was wrapping up a shower two days ago and Keats, who was apparently waiting for the water to stop making it's wonderful-mom-can't-hear-anything noise, began chattering.

"I wish I could go down there [he points to the sink drain]. I wish I could get really tiny and go down there. [Keats rests his chin atop his folded arms and continues to stare at the drain.]

"I could call Phineas and Ferb and have them bring a small-inator over to our home. Then I would be really tiny. So I could jump like this [he mimes a leap onto the counter and into the sink Dukes-of-Hazzard-style] and then go right down.

"When I'm finished exploring, The Sucker could get me back out. [glances over to me with a very serious look] He lives down there and doesn't like company, so he'd be really happy to help.

"I wish I could go down there."

And, my Keats, I wish I could go into your brain to see the world you see.

Friday, April 15, 2011

a tale of three dreams

This morning I was again reminded that homeschooling produces unusual results.

Dawson, 12: "Mom, I had the most horrible dream. I had a huge page and I had to find every single synonym and antonym. When I did, they turned into numbers and then I had to divide everything by two. I didn't think it would ever end. Talk about a nightmare!"

Abigail, 3: "Mommy, I had a dream about two princesses. One was a good princess and she was kind and pretty and I loved her. The other was a bad princess and she was married to Hitler. I don't like Hitler."

Keats, 5: "Mommy, my dream was awful! All of the letters came to life and were chasing me! I couldn't get away and they wouldn't stop until I read their sounds!"

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Usually when I click into our internet, I skim the Yahoo page for news. Today, I stumbled upon an article that literally turned my stomach, filled me with frustration, and strengthened my resolve all at once. I have been waiting for this to happen somewhere in our country. I knew it was only a matter of time, yet I really did hope my unnaturally pessimistic thought would be, well -- wrong.

It began when the Philadelphia school district decided to eliminate their free lunch program for children in need and instead provide free lunch for all students. I looked at Scott and warned him that this was the first step in schools declaring that parents could no longer send lunch for their own children to school. That schools would either say that they could feed our children better or that they were worried kids who eat the school lunches might feel singled out for not bringing a lunch of their own. And so today the article was finally there. A Chicago school district has banned lunches brought from home because they believe they can feed our kids better.

I ate a few school lunches as a kid and I certainly didn't die. But they paled in comparison to the meals my mother sent. The institutional cheese (with added food-grade plastic) pizza and lukewarm fries with a soggy milk carton was never my cup of tea. Left-over soups in a thermos, special sandwiches made my favorite way, sliced fruits and chopped veggies, a small baggie of chips or cookies, a mostly thawed box of 100% fruit juice. Then there was the treat meal on field-trip days: a sandwich, bag of chips, and a soda all in disposable packaging because the school said we weren't allowed to take lunch boxes to the museum.

At what point are we going to say enough is enough? That yes, some parents don't provide for their own kids either because they aren't able or they choose not to. But that we as a society we can't continue to let the lowest common denominator determine the best choice for all. If you, the school district, feel the need to provide a lunch: fine. But stop complaining about being overworked, underpaid, and your resources being stretched too thin while taking on more and more of our responsibilities as parents.

Any questions which I had about having the energy to continue to homeschool (which I always feel this time of year) are officially over.

For those interested, the original photograph of a healthy lunch being served was a white bread hot dog bun with accompanying hot dog and sliced processed cheese, tater tots, and chocolate milk. A new link takes you to something much healthier looking but completely unrecognizable, which the accompanying article states most children threw away because they stated "it tastes bad." Nice.

Chicago school bans homemade lunches, the latest in national food fight 
by Liz Goodwinn

"Nutrition wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school," principal Elsa Carmona told the paper of the years-old policy. "It's about ... the excellent quality food that they are able to serve (in the lunchroom). It's milk versus a Coke."

But students said they would rather bring their own lunch to school in the time-honored tradition of the brown paper bag. "They're afraid that we'll all bring in greasy food instead of healthy food and it won't be as good as what they give us at school," student Yesenia Gutierrez told the paper. "It's really lame."

The story has attracted hundreds of comments so far. One commenter, who says her children attend a different Chicago public school, writes, "I can accept if they want to ban soda, but to tell me I can't send a lunch with my child. ARE YOU KIDDING ME????"

For parents whose kids do not qualify for free or reduced price school lunches, the $2.25 daily cafeteria price can also tally more than a homemade lunch. "We don't spend anywhere close to that on my son's daily intake of a sandwich (lovingly cut into the shape of a Star Wars ship), Goldfish crackers and milk," Northwestern education policy professor Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach told the paper in an email. She told The Lookout parents at her child's public school would be upset if they tried to ban homemade lunches.

"I think that lots of parents at least at my child's school do think that what they pack is more nutritious [than school lunches]," she said.  A Chicago public school teacher started a blog to protest the city's school lunches, and last year the schools tightened their nutrition standards for cafeteria-served school lunches. Every lunch must contain whole grains, only reduced-fat salad dressings and mayonnaise are offered as condiments, and the meals must feature a different vegetable each day. Meal providers also must reduce sodium content by 5 percent annually. About 86 percent of the district's students qualify for free or reduced price school lunches because their families live close to the poverty line.

Change in Chicago's school cafeterias feeds into a larger effort to combat the country's childhood obesity epidemic. About a third of America's kids are overweight or obese, and since children consume at least 30 percent of their calories while in school, making lunches healthier is seen as one way to counter that problem. Poorer kids are also more likely to be obese or overweight than middle class kids, and to consume a bigger proportion of their calories while at school. Forty-four percent of American kids living below the poverty lineare obese or overweight, according to a 2010 study published in Health Affairs.

While we haven't been able to track down another school that bans homemade lunches outright, many smaller food battles have been playing out in cafeterias across the country. As principals try to counter obesity in their schools, healthy intentions can come across as overreach, occasionally sparking parent and student anger.

Alabama parents protested a school's rule that barred students from bringing any drinks from home, as ice water was provided at lunch. East Syracuse, New York schools have outlawed cupcakes and other desserts. And schools around the country have kicked out chocolate milk and soda vending machines. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin even showed up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, with dozens of cookies to express her disdain for a debate in the state about recommending teachers limit the number of times per month the sugary treats are eaten in classroom birthday celebrations.

Tucson, Arizona's Children's Success Academy allows home-packed lunches--but only if nothing in them contains white flour, refined sugar, or other "processed" foods, the Arizona Republic reported in a story last year. The school has no cafeteria, so some parents told the paper they struggled to find foods to pack that meet the restrictions. Many schools ban fast food or other take-out meals.

Soon, cafeteria offerings across the country will all be healthier, whether students like it or not. Last year's Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, championed by First Lady Michelle Obama, calls for higher nutritional standards to serve the 32 million kids who eat lunch every day at school (most of whom qualify for free or reduced price lunches through a federal government program). For the first time, the USDA will set calorie limits for school lunches, and will recommend they contain more vegetables and whole grains, and less salt,USA Today reports. French fries should be replaced by vegetables and fruit, the guidelines say.

The bill also calls for stricter food safety checks on cafeteria food.

(An earlier version of this story was illustrated by an AP photo of a student's lunch in Gleed, Washington, which was labelled as such but some readers complained was misleading. To see a photo of a sample lunch served at Chicago's Little Village Academy, click here.)