The Calamity of Educational Gaps.

Sometimes people ask me how I know what all my kids need to learn in their homeschool education. “How do you make sure there’s not a gap in their learning, or be assured that you didn’t forget anything?”

Since I was homeschooled, and know very little about the pre-college group education scene myself, I suppose I could ask the same thing back – how do you know your kids don’t have gaps? My Dad was sick a lot in the fifth grade and totally missed fractions – but was an absolute genius in the construction, mechanical, and art genres without them. (Fractions are totally redundant, apparently.)

But, if we’re being honest, there were gaps in my education.

For instance, I somehow made it to the ripe age of 17 before I had ever heard the word “turd”. It’s not that I didn’t know much worse stuff, but somehow that particular word had slipped through the cracks. When my boyfriend/future-husband used it for the first time in my presence, I actually had to inquire as to its definition, and it took me more years than you would think to find where it went in the order of profanity – somewhere between “silly” and “butthole”, I think – but I could be wrong. I believe that being able to line up all the words in order of badness is one of those developmental processes that once the age passes that you’re supposed to perform that cognitive task, you can’t get it back. Like learning to skip. Or speaking eight languages.

So yes, sometimes there are gaps.

Thankfully, sometimes other kids fill those gaps in for your kids, and it’s always amusing when you find out, via another kid, where your kid’s gaps were.

Last Wednesday was one of those gap-filling days.

We took one of Noah’s friends, Levi, home with us between events for a little while, and in the car on the way home, Ali, who incidentally was in the process of turning thirteen that very day, was delightfully narrating a made-up choose-your-own-adventure for the two boys. Ali was choosing Day One of Thirteen to prove that teenagers were amazing and she wasn’t done enjoying entertaining her brother and his friends yet.

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So it went something like this.

Ali: “Levi. You just came up to a bridge over a river or a normal path. Do you choose to walk across the bridge, or the plain path?”

Levi: “I choose to walk across the bridge.”

Ali: “You got to the middle of the bridge, but there was a troll under it. He just jumped up onto the bridge and is blocking you. What are you going to do?”

Levi: “Kick ‘im in the nuts!”

Noah. Lost. It.

He started screaming with cackles and repeatedly saying the phrase over and over. Like me at 17, he knows much worse things – he knows all the biggie words and we’ve had The Birds and the Bees talk. But the melodic beauty of “kick ‘im in the nuts” was clearly a first-time experience for him, and I as his mother was nearly as happy to get to witness this developmental milestone as I was his first steps. Except oh yeah – I wasn’t responsible for Noah or Ali’s first steps so I didn’t see either of them. But at least I got kick ‘im in the nuts.

Fifteen minutes later, while in line at Chick-Fil-A, this was the toned down version of his ongoing mirth over this amazing phrase:

(Note A: We were also behind a car with a BUTS sticker on it, which is the name of our local trail running club – Birmingham Ultra Trail Society. Hence the “butt” in front of us.)

(Note B: That was newly thirteen-year-old Ali trying to calm them down. While her much more mature mother was sneakily recording the entire thing.)

I cannot explain to you the level of joy that Levi gifted my son with that day by teaching him such a useful tool, and I will be eternally grateful for his filling in the gaps of my educational system.

And, on the way home, Noah offered in-kind information to Levi, because we in the homeschool community work together to help each other.

Noah: “Do you know about the Wright Brothers?”

Levi: “What were they right about?”

Noah: “No, their name was WRIGHT. With a W.”

Levi: “Oh. No. I haven’t met them yet.”

Noah: “No, they’re dead. You can’t meet them. But they invented the airplane.”

Levi: “Oh! Cool.”

Although I’m sure that Levi would have learned about the Wright Brothers soon enough on his own, I feel like this was a completely even informational gap-filling trade. But in Noah’s mind, Levi definitely brought more to the table.

Epilogue: Kicking the troll in the nuts did not work. The troll told Levi a riddle, which he got wrong, so the troll ate Levi. But thankfully, trolls eat humans whole, and Levi caused a bit of trolly indigestion, and so the troll threw Levi up and Levi was able to make an escape, albeit a bit covered in Troll Bile. The moral of this story is: trolls don’t have nuts. Or it was a girl troll. Or I guess we don’t really know enough about this particular troll situation to accurately draw out the moral.

Introducing: Buddy The Snake.

We are a little over a month into being A Pet Family.

Meet Buddy the Snake, Noah’s much awaited ninth birthday present, a tiny baby Ball Python. 

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Buddy is an extrovert,

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always doing crazy things like hanging upside down to drink his water (show off),

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Fixing my hair in new and creative ways,

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Curling up with his gauges,

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And helping me edit pictures.

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He’s definitely a people snake, loving to cuddle with us and crawl around, stealing our heat. And our heart.

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But he is opinionated. He will sniff a visitor (with his tongue) and turn around and scamper up my arm if he deems the visitor unsavory.

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And he will camp out on Chris, because he is always emanating heat. (I’m not saying that Chris does lift his shirt to allow Buddy to curl up on him like a heat rock, but I’m not saying he doesn’t.) 

He is also a bit like a Look ‘N Find book, with all sorts of fun patterns and shapes.

We call this his row of Bunnies,

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This is his keyhole,

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This is his Monsters Inc. tattoo,

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And this is E.T.

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The first three weeks of Buddy ownership were a delight. He was always willing to play, a super easy pet to own (Only feed once a week! Play with him if you feel like it! No hair on the furniture!)

But then.

It Came to Pass that it was time for Buddy’s first shed. Turns out, baby snakes shed a lot – every 4-12 weeks, whereas adult snakes can shed as little as once a year. I did not know that the shedding process is a long, ugly, stressful one. And when you’re a baby snake whose mother abandoned you in the egg, nobody is there to explain the facts of life. Nobody is there to answer your snakey questions.

“Why is my skin so itchy?”

“Why don’t I have fingers to scratch my itches?”

“Why am I suddenly blind?”

“How to I remove this outer layer from my body?”

“Is this how I’m going to feel from now on?”

And so, Buddy entered into a severe season of Man Flu. Gone was his quirky personality and high activity. He was now a mopey, hormonal teenager who didn’t know what was happening to his body. 

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He spent a day in his hide. Then he spent two days in his water bowl, as if he were in a hot tub, chillin’, waiting for the ladies to show up.

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His coloring changed dramatically, dulling and becoming gray.

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He spent another two days in his hide.

Then finally, he began to shed. We woke up in the morning and there were a couple scraps of shed in his cage. Which isn’t how it’s supposed to happen – it’s supposed to come off in one long un-holey sock, including the eye caps, which was what had been making him blind for the better part of a week – because yes, they shed the outer layer of their eyes as well.

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Now. The first thing that the Google tells you about your snake not fully shedding is that it’s definitely somehow your fault. OF COURSE. Your tank isn’t humid enough, pet owner. But alas, Google, we have a humidity and temperature gauge on both sides of the tank, and it IS humid enough. The second explanation is that perhaps he just doesn’t know what he’s doing, and this too shall pass as he gets older and more familiar with his body. 

So then I started reading about what one must do to help when their snake struggles to shed. Even though shedding should be a five minute process, you don’t interfere for the first 24 hours. After that, the internet resoundingly agrees that the best way to help your snake is to put them in a sauna – a bowl with a lid and warm water and placed under their heat lamp, then peel them with a wet, warm washcloth.

Oh my goodness I get to peel my snake. Like a freakin’ banana.

(I mean Noah’s snake. Obviously Buddy is Noah’s snake.)

So that’s what I did.

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It took three days of Sauna-then-Peeling to get all of the skin off of his body, but his head (and eyes) were still covered because of course he couldn’t soak those as easily.

Buddy The Snake IMG_0717 smallThe beautiful color transformation mesmerized me.

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But on the fourth day of his Spa Treatment, the skin lifted up from his head enough that I was able to grasp ahold of it and slowly pull and …. Yes. I peeled Buddy’s eyes off.

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He wasn’t excited about the concept, but he never once, in all of this or for any other reason, snapped at me. If I May Say So Myself, pretty much any dog would have snapped at me if I peeled his eyes off. But our snake is a kind, loving, trusting, pacifist sort who has no interest in hurting me, his loving owner.

(I mean his loving owner’s mother. Because of course Buddy is Noah’s snake.)

So I peeled his eyes off (which was a much less violent solution than one thing the internet suggested, which was sticking a piece of scotch tape on their eyes and ripping them off – DO NOT always do what the internet tells you, people), and immediately, it was as if the scales fell from his eyes (oh wait they did) and he was the happiest, most excited snake I’ve ever seen. He crawled all around me and hugged my arm with love and appreciation for de-blinding him. I’m pretty sure he was singing the first verse of Amazing Grace repeatedly in his tiny snakey head. We bonded that day, Buddy and I.

So Buddy has continued his happy residency with us, enjoying cuddling and smelling us with his tongue and making slo-mo videos of said smelling. 

He’s pretty much the best pet I’ve ever had.

(I mean he’s the best pet Noah ever had. Because of course Buddy is Noah’s snake.)

Yesterday was Noah’s actual ninth birthday (he got lucky and got his present six weeks early), so while we were remaking this important birthday photo,

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Back Camera

We went ahead and had a photoshoot with Buddy. So that we could always remember what he was like when he was just a wee little precious puppy snake.
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Merry First Christmas, Buddy.

After this Christmas Photoshoot, Buddy has requested a Buddy The Elf Costume for Christmas, but we’ve yet to find one that fits a small creature with no limbs. Hoping that since he KNOWS Santa, his Christmas dreams will come true.

The Education of Anaphylaxis.

Last week, the kids and I went to Greenville to visit Not-Crazy-Renee. We make it there a couple times a year to see our former neighbors, and to take their Christmas card pictures. My kids love going up there, but Noah especially was excited about this year because he was really looking forward to visiting with Snakey Butters Buttercup, Loulie’s Pet Python. Noah’s love, nay obsession with snakes being new, we haven’t visited our only Reptile-Owning friends since his glorious realization. So he’s been counting down the days for a month.

As if he and Loulie weren’t already precious together… (this shot from 2017 is one of my favorite pictures I’ve ever taken) …

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She was waiting in front of their house for us with a Python wrapped around her ankle.

There are a lot of signs pointing to their future romance, but if they could have a double wedding alongside Loulie’s snake and Noah’s future snake, that would just be fantastic.

joshua and sbb IMG_2512I did not get a picture of Loulie with the snake around her leg, but here’s Joshua demonstrating later in the weekend.

We arrived on Wednesday, got settled in, played with Snakey, and chatted as Renee made us delicious, fresh, hot cookies. I may have eaten three. They were gooey, chocolate chip, cashew butter cookies that melted in your mouth.

The cookies had even won a Major Award – Not a Leg Lamp, but close to it – a spray-painted beer bottle that said “Best Side Dish.”

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I was told, in fact, that according to neighborhood regulations I was somehow supposed to incorporate said beer bottle into their family Christmas photos. I wasn’t so sure about all that. Maybe if the snake was wrapped around the beer bottle? Hm. But the snake looked so much better wrapped around her three-year-old.

Joshua-and-SBB-IMG_7822This would be the Best. Christmas Card. Ever.

Anyway.

We wiled away the afternoon eating cookies and fending off children wanting to eat ALL the cookies.

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As it came to pass, right around bedtime, Noah came and asked if he could have a cookie. That kid is amazing at causing delays to bedtime, but this one might have been his crowning achievement in life.

I asked the question we’d been asking our children all day. “How many cookies have you already had?”

“Zero.”

Oh – I hadn’t noticed that Noah had been so overwhelmed with his love for Snakey that he’d missed The Cookie Train.

Close to bedtime though it was, I said sure – have a cookie. Why not. We’re on vacation.

As he took his first bite, he started gagging and coughing.

I said “Did you BREATHE the cookie or eat it?”

“I didn’t breathe it, Mom.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yes.”

He disappeared for a few minutes (later he admitted that he snuck off to throw the rest of the cookie away because it tasted terrible to him), then came back and sat down beside me, rather disturbed. “I feel like I need to sneeze but I can’t quit coughing.”

That’s weird.

This was the moment I first wondered if he was having an allergic reaction. No one has ever been seriously allergic to something in our family, so I’d never seen it before.

Then his voice started fading, he got hoarse, and gagged a couple times. Then his lips started swelling on one side.

Okay. This is an allergic reaction. He had never had cashews before that I was aware of (he’s a the most unadventurous eater), so I was positive that it was the cashew butter in the cookies.

Pass the Benadryl, please!

I was texting with a Pediatrist friend, Adolfo, at this point, along with another friend, Ashley, whose kid has allergies.

The Benadryl immediately made his lip swelling go down, and Noah kept insisting that he felt fine, his voice was getting better, and he didn’t need to cough anymore.

But he needed to go to the bathroom.

I waited anxiously outside the bathroom door…and when he came out, he was rubbing his eyes, saying they itched. They were bloodshot and swelling.

That, combined with the sudden need to go to the bathroom and accompanying the stomachache constituted enough systems involved in the reaction – he was in for a visit to the ER. Doctor Adolfo declared it. It was time…for The Shot.

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I told Ali goodnight and not to worry, and packed her brother off for the ten minute drive to the Children’s ER. He said he was hot when we left the house, but was shaking when we got to the ER. As we went through security and the security guard extra thoroughly scanned Noah with his wand (8 year old boys are a clear and present danger to society), I looked at Noah in the light for the first time in fifteen minutes. His face was now swollen, splotchy, and covered in hives.

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Thankfully, the word “anaphylaxis” gets you a room really quickly at a Children’s emergency room.

The newbie resident came in, checked Noah out, lifted his shirt to find out that Noah was now covered in red swelling hives,

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then announced casually, “Well, I think we’ll observe him for a while, maybe give him some Zyrtec later…”

Dear Newbie. Have you ever had a rotation in a children’s ER before??

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UM, NO.

I said in my most humble voice, “All of these hives came on since we got to the hospital. Isn’t there anything we can do for him now?”

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Meanwhile Noah is violently shaking, freezing cold, and itchy all over.

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Resident was clearly offended at me questioning his Medical Qualifications.

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Doc Casual mumbled something and left the room.

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A few minutes later he was back, this time with his “supervisor” (aren’t they called Attendings? It felt very factory-like for him to introduce me to his supervisor), who immediately said “Actually, this kid needs an injection of epinephrine. Then we will need to observe him for four hours to make sure he doesn’t need more.”

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That’s better.

A few minutes after the shot, he quit shaking. And started talking. His EpiHappiness was off the charts. He spent the next three hours jabbering continuously as his hives faded slowly, starting around his injection site and radiating outward.

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“I can’t believe I get to stay up so late. Thanks for bringing me to the ER. Look at these superheroes on the wall! Thanks for staying with me. This is a fun TV show! I don’t think I like Cashews. That shot wasn’t so bad! Once Ali got a shot she didn’t even feel. I can’t believe a cookie sent me to the emergency room! Not everyone can say that, huh??”

Finally I said, “So is the emergency room fun?”

“Well I’m getting to drink GATORADE and eat GOLDFISH and watch TV and play IPAD WAAAAAY after my bedtime so yeah I’d say this is really really fun!!!”

Of course, he finally got sleepy about half an hour before it was our turn to be sent home. He fell asleep at 1:15am.

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At 1:45am, the original resident came in and told us we could go home. I roused Noah and he returned to his EpiHappyChattiness.

“Thanks for taking me to the ER, mom. Thanks for staying with me, Mom. And hey – I’m really glad I didn’t eat a cookie until bedtime because that way I got to play with my friends until it was time for them to go to bed!”

Definitely his best bedtime stall ever.

His swelling took a couple days to go down fully, and he and I spent a day walking around Greenville as complete zombies.

And of course, Noah also made sure to spend lots of time with his Personal Emotional Support Therapy Snake to help recover from his adventures. 
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So, I get it. You would think that five children playing with a Python for three days would be the danger.

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But no – Snakey Butters Buttercup was the perfect hostess. In this story, it was the Gourmet, Prize-Winning Cookies that were the real predator.

Epilogue: We’re doing all the things now – toting EpiPens, prepping for allergy testing, reading labels…all the things. And as Noah sees it, this is the Best News Ever because it means that he can continue being a picky eater. Chicken fingers and fries it is – from here to forever.