For the first week of school the children researched countries whose independence/national holidays were celebrated this week. That's why Rachel has been going deep into Rwanda (we watched Hotel Rwanda with the girls, a movie we haven't watched since the summer of 2008 (with James and Uncle Jacob (and whoever else was watching) in San Diego)) and she has been reading and writing nonstop all week. Miriam, on the other hand, dove deep into Canadian history. She gave a lovely presentation about how Canada was granted independence (though I challenged her on a few points (as I am apparently wont to do), such as when she said, "Canadians were generally okay with being colonized," I said, "Which Canadians? Like, the colonists were okay with being colonists and being under the rule of the crown, perhaps. But what about the aboriginal people. What do you think happened to them? How do you think they felt about colonization?" So we'll be continuing with that bit of her education next week; but anyway...). It was a lovely report and she's in the middle of making a "fact book" about Canada, which is turning out beautifully.
We had poutine for dinner. Without cheese curds because for some reason those are ridiculously difficult to find in the south, which is honestly rather puzzling. You'd think that would be a food the south would embrace. I mean, if they do pork rinds surely they can do cheese curds. But alas. We used some fresh mozzarella instead and it was fine.
America's Independence Day was today. We spent the first part of the day completing projects around the house (putting new lights in the kitchen, for one thing; honestly...this house...I will blog about it in a little while but, long story short, the ballasts in the kitchen lights went bad). Then Andrew grilled some burgers and hot dogs for dinner. We had watermelon and peach crisp (because I like crisps better than cobblers). And it all felt very American.
I asked the kids to tell me their favourite part of America at the dinner table (because sometimes I need reminders about why this place is okay). Benjamin very quickly answered, "Minnesota."
"Minnesota?" we all repeated, somewhat shocked.
"Yes," he said. "No, wait. I changed my mind. Yosemite."
"You've never been to either place," we pointed out.
"But I'm going to be a forest ranger in Yosemite some day," he said (he's been reading the book about forest rangers that Auntie Kelli sent for his birthday). "So that's my favourite part of America."
"How about just National Parks?" Andrew suggested.
"Ooh. National Parks. Good one," I said. "Other places don't have dedicated spaces they are conserving, hoping to keep them wild. National Parks is a good one. What else? Someone? Anyone?"
Education was brought forward. Our public school system has its issues (and they are pretty big issues), but it exists. So that's nice. And our higher education is in pretty decent shape as well. It is nice that anyone can go to college. Many colleges have very relaxed entrance requirements (a GED, for example) so it allows people to change their minds. Whereas, in other places you get locked into a track and can't really deviate from your course...unless you come to our more open system.
Highways. Highways are lovely. And, as our dear friend Marika documented on her way to her new house (she just moved from Utah to Arkansas, which was a surprise because she'd just moved to Utah at the start of this school year; but she got a new job so off she went (we knew her in Egypt back in the day)), there are brilliant, free rest stops sprinkled all along the way. Toilets, potable water, brochures, picnic tables, and so forth. It makes travel more affordable for the average family (we, ourselves, have picnicked at rest stops while traveling, rather than stopping at a restaurant) and is a phenomenon not found everywhere in the world.
The postal system. The right to have mail—communication with the outside world!—delivered to your door (or mailbox; I'm not particular about door delivery, though I know some are (I actually think the community mailboxes are a great way to conserve resources but...that could just be me)). If you live across town, I can mail you a birthday card for 50 cents. If you live on the other side of the country, I can mail you a birthday card for 50 cents. If you up and move to Hawaii (I'm looking at you, Uncle Patrick), I can mail you a birthday card for 50 cents. It's always 50 cents. Miraculous. And, and, and it will actually make it to you. Most of the time. Now ask me about mail in, say, Egypt.
On Miriam's turn she said, "Ummm...our medical system?"
Andrew's shot a panicked look my way, assessing my fuse.
Apparently the medical system is my DST.
"We don't talk about the medical system," Andrew whispered.
"We can't be grateful for a medical system," I corrected him. "Because we don't have a medical system."
We have a medical circus. That's what.
Karen, being from Arizona, wasn't able to talk about daylight savings without getting...frisky. And I...can't talk about the fact that America still does not have universal health care without blowing steam out of my ears.
"Not the medical system," Miriam said solemnly.
Is that brainwashing? I don't know. She can think what she wants but, I mean, we have good doctors. We have excellent research facilities. But the entire system is designed to fail the people. Over and over again it fails them. I have a lot of doctor friends—brilliant friends, who I consider very dear—and I know they do their best within the framework they've been given. But when I think about the good they could do within a friendlier (universal, just) framework I...it's fine. We don't talk about it at the dinner table.
Anyway, I think we managed to make a pretty good list without uttering any pointless pithy buzzwords like "freedom" or "liberty" or just...whenever anyone throws those words around I want to ask them what, exactly, does "freedom" mean to them? What's this "liberty" you so dearly cling to? What is it? Do you even know? It's too ethereal of an idea. I don't think people really know what it means.
Because it doesn't mean going out and getting your hair did. Or whatever.
It's not a phrase we should be using in vain, but I so often feel that it is. It's just a buzzword that people say to evoke an emotional response. It means very little otherwise. So I'm glad none of my children dug into specifics immediately.
Like Minnesota. That's a pretty, darn specific part of the USA to love.
Anyway, I was happy with the list we came up with. It really did help me appreciate things as they are here, now. There aren't improvements to be made, for sure, and that's where real patriotism comes in, but being grateful for what we have is good.
Anyway, when we went for our family walk after dinner, Alexander tripped and landed on his poor wee nose. And Zoë also tripped and fell, scraping two of her elbows and one of her knees (or two of her knees and one of her elbows? I can't remember), so by the time we ran into Mr. Paul (who was going around to invite the neighbours to a socially-distanced fireworks show (and if they didn't want to attend to warn them of the impending fireworks show)) those two little ones were a rather bloody mess.
We should never leave our house ever again. Wait...that's basically what we're doing.
Anyway, here are some pictures of the kids playing with sparklers. Andrew lit sparklers, too, and played with the children. I took pictures, took sparklers away from my nervous babies as the flames threatened to lick their fingers, and shouted out, "BE CAREFUL!" and "PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT YOU ARE DOING!" and "THESE THINGS BURN AT 1000 DEGREES CELSIUS SO YOU'D BETTER START TAKING THEM SERIOUSLY!" and things like that. Very helpful, I know.
And, for your information, Alexander is very committed to picking his own clothes.
He rather enjoyed the sparkler...until about this moment and then he wanted nothing more than for me to take it from him:
Our neighbour (whose house you can see at the top of our driveway, and whose two-year-old daughter has dubbed us "her people") mentioned at the fireworks show that they grilled some thing and did some sparklers. "I saw that you guys did, too," she smiled.
I'm sure she meant "heard." That's what she meant. "I heard you guys did, too." Because I was screaming at Benjamin to pay attention to the 1000-degree stick in his hand.
In the middle of the firework show, Benjamin remarked that one of the ginormous fireworks was, "just like a big sparkler."
"Kind of," our sweet neighbour said.
"But I don't think you'd want to hold that sparkler," I said.
"I would!" Benjamin said.
"He probably would," our neighbour agreed with a knowing smile on her face. She's gotten pretty familiar with Benjamin and his antics over the past year, apparently.
"That's why he's standing by me," I said.
A note on Zoë's attire. Our air conditioner is broken (yes, still) and it's hot and humid and I've been letting the kids sleep in whatever they want because our upstairs is about 85°F and we can't open the windows (which are supposed to be replaced in 9 days (but who's counting)). The other night I put Alexander back to bed in his underwear because he was too hot in his jammies (honestly, they sometimes still choose fleece footie jammies; because they're crazy people (though I have yet to put Alexander to bed in fleece pyjamas since he still lets me have a little say over his nighttime wardrobe)) and woke up so terribly sweaty. It's just so hot. Check out her hair...it's so sweaty. Anyway, she doesn't usually wear and undershirt around (that is an official undershirt, not a tank top) but...it's so hot/humid...who cares?
Here's Miriam having some (cautious) fun with her sparklers:
And Benjamin, who seriously almost stuck Alexander with a hot sparkler several times (accidentally):
Here are the three big kids:
And here is where the two little kids spent most of their time after lighting one sparkler and not quite loving it:
They will learn to love it, I'm sure.
In the mean time, they're welcome to stand by me and help me yell at everyone to "BE CAREFUL!"
The firework show was really pretty amazing. It went on for about an hour and everyone enjoyed it. We desert-transplants were shocked over everyone setting off fireworks on their front lawns!! In Utah you set fireworks off in the middle of the street. And even then (and especially if you don't) you end up burning down hundreds and hundreds of acres. It's wet enough here, though, that people don't often worry about fires starting up like that.
There were several aerial fireworks in Mr. Paul's collection. One particular kind was not able to get the lift off it needed and both times Mr. Paul tried them they exploded right on the ground, which was very scary. He still had a few left over when he called it a night (said he wasn't going to try lighting off any more of that particular kind). But the rest of the show was carried off safely.
Oh, except that Andrew got hit with a capsule as it fell from the sky. Here's Zoë picking it up to examine it. It was still warm to the touch.
After fireworks, we jumped on the trampoline with glow sticks while we watched the firework show the cul-de-sac behind our house was putting on. I think it will be a tradition of sorts, for a while, since that's what we did last year when we'd first moved into our house. Once we had our fill of that we came in and put the kids to bed. In spite of the lunar eclipse.
I got the kids tucked in and then read them a chapter from The Trumpet of the Swan and then left them to fall asleep while Andrew and I sat down to watch an episode of Doctor Who from, like, four years ago (we're a little behind). Then I came upstairs to check on things—at midnight—and found Zoë like this:
Clearly I'd forgotten to give her her melatonin "vitamin." I honestly don't think she produces it on her own. Perhaps one day we'll do a sleep study on her. Or perhaps we'll just be thankful that she likes to read and we'll just let her figure out her own circadian rhythm, whatever it may be. Because, like, I've known for her whole life that she wasn't born with a normal circadian rhythm. I used to take her for walks in the middle of the night when she was a baby, trying to get her to finish her colicky spell (which usually lasted for most of the night). Reading is better than screaming. And if she wants to stay up reading until midnight, that's fine with me (so long as she'll sleep in or take a nap or something).
So Andrew gave her a melatonin. At midnight. And we took her out to see the lunar eclipse.
It was too faint for us to really see so although we'd talked about waking the other kids up to look at it (except for Alexander, who we would definitely allow to continue sleeping through it), we decided not to because there was really nothing to see. But we found a few constellations and enjoyed the full moon and then told Zoë it was time to go to bed.
But she might just be nocturnal because instead she said, "But what about that? What's this?" and started chasing a cockroach down the street. In the daytime she'd be terrified of a cockroach. So I don't know what was up with that.
Here she is, our little midnight queen:
And here she is using an app on Andrew's phone to help her visualize the constellations:
And here's my sweet little tent-loving boy, who had no idea he missed out on a midnight walk in the cul-de-sac:
I tucked Zoë into her tent (Tents are back! They were gone for a bit but now they're back!), took away her books, closed the door so it was only open a crack, and told her that it was absolutely time to sleep. I think the melatonin was beginning to kick in, anyway, because she didn't put up much of a fight.
All in all, it was a lovely week of studying independence and learning to appreciate the freedoms and services we enjoy in our country (with, perhaps, a little pining over freedoms/services we lack that other places enjoy, but that's healthy, too).