Friday, October 14, 2011

Schedules Unfolding

The children are all here today. Three are asleep while my oldest plays with wooden trains in the living room. I mopped the dining room and kitchen floors as fast as I could once the kids went down, hoping to find some time to sit here and write, although now that I'm here, a folded towel under my feet that I used to shuffle-slide across the still-wet floor to get to the computer, I can't remember quite what it was I was so anxious to say. I was thinking while I rocked one of the boys to sleep, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star playing quietly in the background, my mind wandering from the room where I sat. I was comparing my house to the classrooms where I've taught in the past, and...

...Oh yes, the unfolding. More about the unfolding. So here goes:

The first thing I would do as a teacher is make a schedule for the day. When I taught preschool, it looked a little something like this:

9-9:30: Arrival; Free breakfast for those who qualify; Free play for others in limited areas of the classroom
9:30-10: Circle Time; Make a plan for free play
10-11: Free Play
11-11:20: Kids meet with teachers in small groups and debrief: talk about how the play plan went (this, incidentally, -the making of, sticking to, and discussing play plans- has been shown to do more for a certain type of early brain development than any other single thing you could do in a classroom. I loved it.)
11:20-12: Outdoor/Gross Motor play and Small Group Activities
12-1: Lunch, followed by Storytime
1-3: Nap/Quiet play/Books for those who wake up

When I taught family literacy, with infants, toddlers and parents, it looked a little something like this:

9-9:10: Arrival
9:10-10:05: GED class 1/Parent and Child Interactive class 1 (half the parents went to GED while the other half stayed with their babies in the classroom)
10:05-11: GED class 2/Parent and Child Interactive class 2 (the groups of parents switched)
11-11:45: Parenting class; Kids with staff
11:45-12: Circle Time; Dismissal

You'll notice the second schedule was more for the parents than the kids. That's because while infants and toddlers need routines, each child will need a slightly different routine. If you have a group of them, a new routine will evolve. Their needs will change as they interact with the others. So I have four children to care for, and it's been six weeks, and we don't have a schedule that fits on paper perfectly yet.

Who do you imagine is the only person in the group who has a problem with that?

If you guessed me, you win the prize! It's a handful of goldfish crackers and a Thomas the Tank Engine sticker. Also, you'll have to swing by and pick it up. I drive a Hyundai Accent and there's no way four carseats are fitting in that sucker.

I like things written out on paper: schedules, to-do lists, projects I'd like to complete around the house, shopping lists, meals planned for the month, developmental checklists with little boxes where the abstract beauty of a child's first word or step can be reassuringly checked off, made concrete, filed in a drawer somewhere, perhaps never to be seen again. Doesn't matter. I just like the making of the lists.

But instead, I keep choosing things like caring for babies and yoga. Things that don't lend themselves to list-making, things that laugh in the face of the best laid plans. Things that unfold. That emerge, half formed, from an interminable period of time where one sits. Sits with discomfort, and simply observes it. Sits with sometimes a rising panic, a screeching JesusFuckingChristJesusFuckingChristJesusFuckingChrist inside one's mind. And why? Because the noodles aren't heating fast enough. Observes the screeching mind and says: it's only noodles, heating in a microwave, and the children are only mildly hungry. it isn't the end of the world. I keep choosing things that demand that I separate my better self from the screeching voice and say aloud, in a calm voice: the noodles are almost ready, my little pumpkins! patience, babies, patience! your food will be here in a moment.

They eat at regular intervals, and their naps are synced up, but the rest of the day -the learning- just won't adapt. Babies demand that the universe adapt to them, which is one reason why I like them so much, if you want to know the truth.

My son just interrupted me. He told me: Mommy, I want my engines to drive on the back of the brown couch! Not on their rails, just on the couch! I could tell he found this most amusing, although I wasn't exactly sure why. Do you want to come and see them? he asked me.

I asked: Can I come and see when I'm finished writing? and I saw his face fall, just a fraction of a millimeter, it's true, but I spotted it. Or can I come and see it real quick right now, and then finish my writing?

Yes! he replied with a giant grin, and he raced into the living room and leapt onto the couch. His engines were lined up and squished between the back of the couch and the seat cushion, and while I'm still not entirely sure why this is even funny, he burst into giggles every time he looked at them. So I did too.

It only took a moment, and that moment meant more to him than another half hour uninterrupted at the keyboard would have meant to me. And yet I yearn for a piece of paper that says: 1:30-2: Writing.

It's the silliest thing, when I can escape the screeching brain and just look at it slantways, out of the corner of my mind's eye, and see it for what it is. It's a way to feel some semblance of control. I keep walking off the edge of whatever cliff I've arranged my life upon, and then lamenting the lack of control in the free fall. It's the silliest thing.

So I'll sit with it, and see what happens. Something always does, eventually.

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