Monday, September 14, 2009

Scratch, Scratch. Does Your Head Feel Itchy Too?

They say it never rains but it pours.  So true of Hong Kong.  And I'm not talking about the driving rain and howling winds from Typhoon Koppu.  I'm not talking about the fact that our driver has been out sick with flu-like symptoms, leaving me trying to find and hail empty taxis from the school pick-up line (very rare) in the pouring rain (near impossible).  Nor, am I talking about the fact that a typhoon signal 8 was recently hoisted.  (For those of you Stateside, this means that school will be cancelled tomorrow.)  Exactly what we need after a week of school closure due to the swine flu.  If I receive a notification for Virtual School tomorrow, I may have to have words with someone.  I don't know who that someone is, but words I will have.

I am talking about a type of school notification that is, if you can believe it, so much worse than another Virtual School announcement.  Oh, some schools send home notices on pretty pink paper, as if the cheerful pastel color will lessen the horror.  Sometimes the school nurse calls, as if the human touch will lessen the pain.  And sometimes you just notice the head-scratching yourself.

Yes, I am talking about the H-bomb.  Head lice.  

Ever since Guinness started preschool six years ago, we've received the classroom notice at least twice a year.  So far, we've been like Muhammad Ali, miraculously ducking and weaving to avoid the lice threat.   But every time we get the notice, the reaction is always the same.  I find it not unlike the stages of grief: 
Denial.  It's probably just a birthday invitation, right?  Come on!  It's on pink paper....
Anger.  What!  But we just got a notice 3 months ago!  I'll bet they didn't even clean the classroom!
Bargaining. Just let us escape it one more time, and I promise I will stop being lazy about bringing the kids in for regular haircuts....
Depression. Who cares?  I'm not going to do anything.  We're just going to get another notice again anyway.
Acceptance. My head feels itchy.

So, no, we were not able to dodge it this time.  I got the notice about head lice in the class while I was still at school.  The nurse hadn't had time to check the rest of the students before the end of the day.  Of course, my head immediately started feeling itchy, so Idecided to take the little one down to the nurse's office to get it checked out.  And with an expert diagnosis in hand, I quickly realized that there is a fine line to tread between making sure your kids don't feel self-conscious about anything and teaching them a little discretion.  Because, to take a line from our lice shampoo pamplet, "head lice are ... generally considered to be socially unacceptable."  This I am thinking as Ellington cheerfully tells three different teachers about the bugs on his head, and how he got them from one of his friends, but now Mommy is going to wash his hair with medicine to kill them.  And as he and Cayman cheerfully and loudly chat about it on the public bus going to the local pharmacy (since I never was able to hail down a taxi from the school pick-up line, in the pouring rain, with children with headlice).

Hey guys.  You know how it's okay to like your zoo animals underwear, but you shouldn't show it to everyone?  Well, let's not talk about the bugs right now.  Okay?

And nonononono!  Seriously.  Get your head away from me!

And so the fun begins.  It took 2 hours to get everyone's hair washed, treated, combed, dried, and re-combed.  We had to strip everyone's beds.  We had to rewash all our towels.  All our stuffed animals and throw pillows are sealed in garbage bags.  Everyone is forbidden from sitting on our couches until we can vacuum them tomorrow.  Perhaps I am overreacting.  But as you know, I have issues with bugs, whether they be microscopic ones crawling around inside my pillow, sesame size ones crawling around my child's head, or tropical size ones crawling around my house.  

I've gone through my hair with a fine tooth comb three times and didn't find a thing.  But, I swear!  Does anyone else's head feel itchy too?

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Virtues (or Lack Thereof) of Virtual School

They say homeschoolers are a different breed of parent.  I completely agree.  In fact, I would go so far as to call them certifiably insane parents.  Yes, I said that, and you can take that to the bank.

The kids' school was closed by Hong Kong's Centre for Health Protection for 7 days in response to "an upward trend of in student absences due to flu-like symptoms."  Don't even get me started on over-reactions, or this will be whole different kind of post.  We were notified of the school closure around 7:50 pm last Monday evening and a collective groan swept across American households in Hong Kong.  On Tuesday morning, we were notified of the start of the "Virtual School" program where teachers would email assignments to the kids to complete each day at home, and a collective shriek of horror swept across American households in Hong Kong.  No, we don't want our kids to lose an entire week of school.  But NO! we don't want to teach our kids ourselves.  That's why we enrolled our kids in school - because we aren't certifiably insane homeschoolers.

Because this is what "Virtual School" means.

Each day, Guinness, now in third grade, had to read 20-30 minutes and keep a reading log.  Easy peasy.  Then he had to play a couple math games on the computer.  Even easier peasier.  By this point, he was usually starting to get a little restless, so I let him take a snack break.  Luckily the games are on the computer so it didn't take long for me to talk him back into work.  And then each day he had a different specialist assignment like a science crossword puzzle or a pattern project.  Still easy peasy.  Except by then, Ellington was usually done with his homework and had moved onto computer games or was watching tv, and Guinness would decide that now is the perfect time to tell me just how unfair life is.  Every day.  

And then each day, he had to write a minimum two paragraphs about some special time that he has spent with his family or friends, or about a special place.  Which should be easy peasy.  But of course by then, he was so irritated with me and with life in general that nothing could be considered special, so he had NOTHING to write about!  Every day!  On a good day, we would sit there staring at each other until he caved and started writing.  On bad days, we would start to yell at each other until he caved and started writing.  And I won't even mention the Chinese homework, because the bad attitude (on both our parts) involved in getting that done is not unique to Virtual School.

Cayman, now in 2nd grade, had to read 20-30 minutes every day and keep a reading log.  Except her teachers decided against providing a simple reading log form and let the students be creative in making their own.  Anyone who knows Cayman also knows that her creativity knows no bounds.  So just making her reading log took 30 minutes, after which she needed a break before she even began the actual reading.  

Then she had a writing assignment.  We were given the choice of doing something simple like writing a list of words or doing something more challenging like writing about a special moment.  This is where I made a critical Virtual School rookie mistake.  I chose the challenging option, thinking that over the course of 7 days, I could help her brainstorm and write about catching frogs over the summer.  Do normal homeschooled kids go storming to their room in tears over a writing assignment?  Because Cayman did.  Every day.

And math games.  Call me a bad parent, certainly a horrible homeschooling parent, but I just cannot take playing Top It (like War with playing cards, but adding two cards together to determine the winner) over and over.  Every day.

Even Ellington had homework.  I had to read to him for 10-15 minutes every day.  We have an entire library of children's books in our house, so this should not have been a problem.  Except Ellington loves dinosaurs.  And we had to read the same two dinosaur library books over and over.  And he asked the same question over and over.  

Why did the diplodocus have spikes on their back?  Well, like I told you yesterday and the day before yesterday, it was probably to protect him from the dinosaurs who wanted to eat him. Why did they want to eat him? Remember from yesterday, and the day before?  Because some dinosaurs are meat eaters.  Why are they meat eaters? I already told you yesterday.  And the day before.  That's the way they were born.  They have to eat meat.  Just like you.  Let's move on....

Ellington also had writing work to do.  And even there, my little spirited child gave me pause.  I found a website that would allow you to choose the words and it would create D'Nealian style handwriting sheets.  The first day, I let him practice his name.  The second day he chose to work on his teachers' names.  The next day, he choise random words like vitamins and trees.  Today he decided to move onto more interesting words.  Bum bum, pee pee. No potty words.  Penis?  No.  Toilet. Oh fine!

And some day,  my kids will post on Facebook about how they always help their kids with schoolwork and how I never helped them with theirs, and how awesome they must have been to have done everything on their own.  And I'll just refer them back to this post and refresh their memory.  It was all good until Virtual School.