Music lover


We bought Laurel this Sweet Pea mp3 player a couple of years ago, but she’s really fallen in love with it this year. There are songs she will listen to 10 or more times in a row, so it’s a good thing it’s loaded with music I can mostly stand to listen to endlessly. (I’m not sure there are any songs Devin can stand to hear on repeat, so I’m only speaking for myself here.) Sometimes, you can tell she’s looping the songs so she can tease out more of the lyrics. I remember doing that when I was a kid, trying to imprint the words of a song into my brain, so it’s sweet to watch that habit repeating itself.

Some of Laurel’s current favorites are:

  • Paul Simon, “Graceland,” “Call Me Al,” “Homeless” and “Under African Skies”
  • Queen, “Fat Bottomed Girls” and “Bicycle Race”
  • Vashti Bunyan, “Diamond Day” and “Winter is Blue”
  • Simon & Garfunkel, “The Sounds of Silence”
  • Katy Perry, “Firework”
  • Anathema, “The Gathering of Clouds”
  • Gotye, “Somebody I Used To I Know”
  • Cocteau Twins, “Heaven or Las Vegas”
  • Patrick Wolf, “The City” and “House”
  • Giorgio Moroder, “Racer”
  • Angels and Agony, “Forward”
  • Ministry, “Halloween is Everyday”

Her First Science Fair

Science Fair Project

American public schools in general aren’t that good at teaching math and science.  Actually, I could probably have stopped that sentence with “American public schools in general aren’t that good” and gone to lunch, but it’s a complex topic.  We made the choice years ago to put Laurel in public school, knowing their drawbacks — without really getting into it, we do believe in public education.  You can’t treat it as a black box with a slot labelled “insert child here” that dispenses educated young adults out the bottom, but it’s something you can work with.  And it gives us some time to save up money for private high school when the time comes, if necessary – high school being a significantly different academic and social proposition than elementary school.  On that one, we’re waiting to see.

But, as mentioned, public schools are pretty crappy at math and science — indeed the fact that they’re even considered separate subjects as opposed to fundamental approaches to dealing with the world bothers me.  Many of San Francisco’s public schools are already dealing with severe literacy problems, and their resources are devoted much more to those issues.  Nonetheless, the slightly-unofficial organizations that surround SFUSD have been running monthly STEAM nights at Laurel’s school, and after two months on the ‘A’ part they finally got to the ‘S’ by holding an extremely informal science fair.

Laurel’s class has been learning basic arithmetic and skip-counting (translation for those of us educated in the 70s and 80s: “counting by Ns”).  So we entered a project wherein we built a machine to do those things.  One of the best ways to learn something being to each it to someone else, especially a student of exceptionally low intelligence, something at which computers excel.

In this case, the pupil was a little microcontroller board, with a couple of buttons for addition and subtraction and a display for alphanumeric output.  Laurel provided the pseudocode (or “software story” as we called it, at right in the photo above), we worked together on deciding what inputs to have and what they should do, and I translated her pseudocode into C.  There were a lot of off-spec discussions about what to do, for example when there wasn’t room on the display for the number, whether to wrap back to 0 or stop, whether to support negative values (a concept she only vaguely grasps at his point).  She typed up the simple “how to use” instructions which almost everyone read, and I wrote up a more elaborate “instructions for grownups” section which ended up going mostly unused.

One of our more involved design debates concerned whether to reset the total to 0 when changing the skip value.  Doing so, I argued, would make it more clearly a device for performing skip counting proper.  Laurel disagreed and wanted to keep the outstanding total and start adding/subtracting from there.  We went with her approach.  In the event, the younger kids who checked it out at the science fair were a little confused, but the older ones saw its application as a general-purpose adder/subtracter, and several got quite big smiles on their faces when they figured it out.

All was not sunshine – Laurel, having had a full day of school, then an afternoon of doctor visits and public transit, was fussy and more interested in other people’s exhibits than her own, but we got plenty of folks coming by and at least a few had little “I’d like to do that” lights on in their faces afterward.

Coincidentally, her homework that day involved translating tally marks to plain numerals, something involving skip-counting by fives and then incrementing by ones, so her choice not to reset the total to zero when changing the skip value proved fruitful.  I let her use the machine to do the assignment, and she happily ran the algorithm out loud the whole way through.

On coming naturally


If there’s one negative subject that always comes up at parent-teacher conferences at Laurel’s schools — which are usually lighthearted hour-long lovefests about cognitive development and socialization and caring about her classmates — it’s about how she deals with frustration.  Like a lot of bright kids (e.g., say, both her parents) she loves when things come naturally.  Things that don’t can be tough to approach.  It’s something you contemplate a lot in the abstract as a parent – you want things not to come too easily, because kids need to learn to struggle, manage disappointment, persevere, etc.  Despite which you also feel good seeing things come readily because, well, just look at my smart/capable/athletic/etc child and this thing she can do.  Beth and I had our own issues with doing hard things as children — I tended to avoid anything that didn’t come naturally and missed a lot of learning opportunities, plus making learning to struggle with difficulty harder later on.

Laurel and I ride together on my bike a lot – she has a seat in front of me, which has really worked well — it’s safe, you can talk to each other the whole time, it’s in easy hugging reach, everyone fawns over you on the street (she’s also outgrowing it, and there’s no way whatever follows it will win me the same smoldering looks from San Francisco’s population of available elderly women.)  She’s had a balance bike of her own for a while too, which has helped her learn balance – though it’s not practical on SF’s hills, and sees most of its mileage riding around in circles in our garage (sometimes with the lights off, the bike lights all set to flashing mode, and Giorgio Moroder playing on the stereo.)

So this weekend we got her her first real bike.  And so today she and I went out, prepared for an epochal bout of frustration management.  I’d done a ton of management of expectations, warning her that falling down was to be expected, that she’d have to take calming breaths and try lots of times — she knows all that by heart but applying it in the heat of the moment is tougher.  She brought a stuffed animal “to snuggle after I fall down, so I can try again.”

In the actual event, little progress was made on the frustration-management front because this turned out to be an easy one.  Half an hour of trying, and she had it.  Most of the half hour was actually convincing her it was okay for me to let go.  Not a single fall other than steering into walls trying to read signs posted on them and the usual starting/stopping learning curve.

Well, okay.  She didn’t learn to ride the emotional roller coaster.  But she learned to ride a bike.  Independent of wanting her to learn to struggle for her goals, I did actually want her to learn that.  For the moment, I’ll take it.  I’ll even leave the post-processing on this photo in gratuitous Thomas Kinkade-esque mode for the occasion.

– Devin


Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 8.06.23 PM

Sorry about the lapse in posting Laurel’s “books,” but she hasn’t been making as many of them lately. (Her most recent artwork frequently refers to her close friend Sam, saying “Laurel and Sam are twins,” and sometimes giving them names: “Silly and Silly.”)

A LOT has been happening around here lately. She’s starting kindergarten in about a month, and it’s likely to be a big shift for all of us. Clearly it is for her; she’s pretty emotional lately, manifesting in all sorts of unhappy behavior, telling us she hates us and how mean we are, etc. I suspect she is what Ask Moxie calls a tension increaser, except that she seems to want to be left alone to escalate to maximum levels of fury and then calm down on her own. (Sometimes that doesn’t happen, but after a while she will let us help her calm down). It’s tough on all of us, and it’s happening a lot, but it won’t be forever. At least I hope not.

Anyhow, another big deal around here is that Laurel lost her first tooth. We were totally not ready, because her dentist said she wouldn’t likely start getting loose teeth until she was 7, but one weekend morning recently she bit down into her toast (it’s not that hard, I swear) and came to me crying, “Mommy, I bit into a lump in my mouth and now my mouth is bleeding.” Once I cleared away the blood, it was clear her tooth was … sideways. It was hurting her, so I had her hold an ice pack to her face while she wiggled it gently with her tongue. After an hour of crying, wiggling and icing… the tooth came out.

We talked about leaving it under her pillow “to see what would happen” — we really had had zero time to figure out the tooth fairy situation — but she wasn’t all that interested. So now we’re those people with a mason jar in the closet labeled “baby teeth.” Tooth Fairy, if you’re reading this, that’s where they are.

And the last (and maybe the biggest) big deal is that Laurel is reading almost fluently. By which I mean she’s looking at words and can tell pretty much on sight what they are, although when she reads a book to herself it’s clear she’s not 100% comprehending it yet. Which is fine; that will come soon enough. It’s fun to walk around with her and watch as she registers how many words and signs and things are all around us (although I sometimes cringe at the sorts of things she can read on signs and so forth in anything-goes San Francisco). I asked her recently, after she’d asked me about the meanings of a series of signs, whether she found the world more confusing or less confusing now that she can read everything. “Less confusing” she said. Whew.

— Beth

Butterfly: a book by Laurel

Butterfly, by Laurel
(images of butterflies, a peace sign, flowers, the sun and Laurel)

(two flowers, plus a butterfly with its proboscis.)

The eggs and the caterpillars and the milkweed leaves.

The caterpillars.

A branch, a caterpillar in a “J” shape, and two chrysalises.

The butterfly!


Function Train: a book by Laurel

Function Train
by Laurel [Ow]

Function Train Station

Function Train

A person tripping on their toe on the sidewalk.

The panda is sinking in the water, and he’s sad.

The guy fell down and his face turned red. And he was going to the hospital because he fell down.

Me, you and Papa are going surfing, and we were feeling happy.

The end
Function Train

Laurel’s favorite book to sleep under: a review

Richard Scarry’s “What Do People Do All Day”

What I like about the book: I like that the people always drop things. It’s funny. And I like that it has corn in it for Farmer Alfalfa. And I like that the fox goes underground. I like that it says “automobile sellman” on the sidewalk. I like when Lowly’s in the sandbag. My favorite story is the airplane one, because the grandma has a present for Huckle. And I like when Sally and Harry and Mommy have a bunch of groceries on their head. And Mommy has a funny face. And she’s eating the bag. And there’s a banana in the supper. And then there’s a mouse in the bathtub.

And I like how the egg truck has an egg on the back with a door to open to get the real eggs. And the bread car is made out of an old bread and you can eat it up. And I like that the apple car has an apple on the back that says “APPLES” and there’s lots of real apples inside of it.

And there’s a little pool with a worm thing you can go on to swim. And I like that on the next page the waiter is spilling all of his things off of the wheeled platform with a handle on it. And I like that there’s a 3 on the door.

I like that there’s a pie coming out of the pie truck. And everybody’s spilling things. I like it when Sgt. Murphy’s motorcycle slips on the banana peel and he crashes into Gorilla Bananas and there’s bananas flying everywhere. And I like that there’s water coming out of the window.

Why I like to sleep under it: Because it’s nice and big. It’s nice and dark. [The book makes me sleepy] because when I’m reading it for a while I get tired of it and then I fall asleep under the book. And then I think about the book while I’m sleeping under the book.


Laurel, upon eating her first pancake with chocolate chunks inside: How do you stop child from eating carbs first?

Me: That’s a good question.

Laurel: Like a sign that says, “Screen will not keep child from falling out of window. Keep child away from open window.”

Me: Well, I suppose you could put up a sign that says, “Child should not eat carbs first.”

Laurel: But then I would just eat the sign.

Me: *laughing*

Laurel: Just kidding. I could probably eat around it. 



The number of fingers on one hand. The number of arms on a starfish. How many senses we have. That’s how old she is.

We just cleared one of San Francisco parents’ biggest milestones: we participated in the public schools’ crazy, complicated enrollment lottery and got our #2 school, which is one of the closest to our home. It would be difficult to do better, especially since our #1 school only had 20 spaces and is constantly in high demand. When Devin took her in to enroll, she was disappointed that kindergarten doesn’t start for another five months.

But she is celebrating five in other ways. She got her first transit card (kids under five ride for free), so now she can go in and out of the fare gates on her own. This is both good and bad; bad because if she tags it the wrong way, it incurs a rather expensive “excursion fee.” She’s only had the card about two weeks and has probably racked up a couple excursion fees already.

She has also made her first “keep out” signs for her bedroom door. Two, actually. One says, “Attention only people that I know.” The other, more explicit one, says “Do not come in — only Laurel, Papa, Mama, Sam [her best friend].” All of this is written in five-year-old phonetic spelling.

Speaking of which…

This was her birthday “wish list” that she made in mid-February. It says:

“Stuffed mouse
Pop-open ice cream cone
A police car that has doors that pop open.”

… no, really.

We actually had to postpone her birthday party, which was scheduled for a few days after her birthday, because she woke up with a stomach bug that morning. On the plus side, I finally convinced her to try throwing up in the toilet. You know, instead of in the bed. I think she gets now why this is an improvement. It also meant I didn’t have to wash her sheets three times in a row, so I’m much happier than you’d expect the parent of a child who was throwing up the day of her birthday party to be.

She’s a busy kid, as always. Making art continues to be one of her favorite things, although lately she’s really into making little books. Some of them only have photos, while others have photos and stories/text to go with them. More than once lately, bedtime has consisted of “reading” books she’s written. I’m pretty sure she has already written more than I have! She’s also continuing to play Minecraft with Devin, although a week or so ago he set her up to play by herself, and after some initial frustration at not being able to figure out how to use the mouse and Devin’s totally unmarked keyboard, she figured it out. And all the things she’s done in the game before, mostly by telling Devin what to do, she did herself. It was pretty impressive.

And lastly, a few recent Laurel-isms:

I went into her room one morning to wake her up. She opened her eyes and asked, “Are you bubblegum?”

After seeing a police car one day, she got upset and said, “Awww. I can’t be a policeman when I grow up!”
Me: “Why not?”
Laurel: “Because Sam’s going to grow up to be a monster and I’m going to grow up and be with HIM.”

Also recently:
Laurel: “Mommy, can you start giving me money?”
Me: “What did you do to earn money?”
Laurel: “I asked for it.”

Santa Hats and Post-Holiday Blues

We have made it through the holidays! It was a good time, but a tougher one than usual, owing to the fact that I had to go to Tennessee over much of Thanksgiving weekend, and then Devin was in Zurich for 10 days before Christmas. On top of that we had multiple illnesses, leading to an ear infection (me), pneumonia (Devin), and the flu (all three of us).

A few days before Christmas, Laurel began announcing that she wanted a Santa costume for Christmas Eve/Day. Which was nice in theory, if a bit last-minute, and I quickly discovered that Santa costumes for 4-year-olds are not cheap. I tried to get her a hat (above), which, due to UPS snafus, didn’t arrive until after Christmas. She was a bit bereft at the the holiday itself, but happy when the hat finally arrived.

Speaking of bereft, due to the flu, Laurel had to miss her classroom holiday cookie exchange, so we took some time that weekend to make cookies on our own, including some chocolate icebox cookies with dried cherries and nuts (drizzled with white chocolate, a process she loved) and some gingerbread men, stars, and Christmas trees. Laurel was in charge of putting the M&M details on. Most of them even managed to wind up on the cookies!

Also a few days before Christmas, Laurel said she wanted to go shopping to buy gifts for people. I took her to Cliff’s Variety, a combination hardware store and housewares/gifts shop in the Castro, where we found fun things for everyone. The Mexican wrestler beer openers she picked out were especially well received.

We spent Christmas Eve and morning at my Dad’s, where Laurel got to hang out with her cousin Zoey and play “camping” in grandpa’s closet with a fluorescent lantern (I may or may not have gone “camping” with them). Laurel is reading well enough now that she was largely in charge of reading gift tags and distributing presents to be opened, both at my dad’s house and at Grandma’s, where we spent Christmas afternoon and evening. Laurel loved all her gifts.

Owing to travel and illness, we didn’t get our Christmas tree until Dec. 21, so we had it for a shorter time than usual. Laurel was bummed by the delay, and even more bummed when we took the tree down last weekend. Aside from crying a bit and saying she missed Christmastime and wanted it to be that time again, she also made a little blanket fort on the couch while we undecorated and was generally sad and mopey about the whole affair. It’s hard to say which is her favorite holiday, Halloween or Christmas, but either way she’s in love with them and has a tough time when they’re over.

Laurel’s heightened frustration/emotions haven’t toned down much, but she has been sweeter and snugglier recently, wanting me to stay with her longer at bedtime and generally wanting lots of hugs and kisses from both of us. She doesn’t want to walk anywhere without holding hands. Although sometimes she mixes up the love with other feelings. I don’t have a ton of quotes from her set aside this time, but here’s one from late November: “Mommy, I want to hug and kiss you forever.” And then, “If you don’t going to give me $121 million dollars, I’m going to throw you in the trash.”

So there you go.

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