Thursday, March 22, 2012

My Son, the Preschool Dropout

Remember my pro-preschool spiel? Soon after I wrote that, my son -after a series of conversations about preschool- asked me if he could go to a preschool for 3 year olds. After making some calls and observing at a nearby school, I signed him up.

Funny side story: So during this series of conversations, I am -of course- espousing all the benefits of preschool: It's so much fun! You're going to get to make art projects, and play with other kids! You'll learn new songs, and listen to stories! Oh, you're going to LOVE it! Rapturous me, with my love for preschool.

When the time comes to sign him up, his dad comes home from work, and I say: So I've been talking with him all day about preschool because it's time to turn in the paperwork if we're going to sign him up. We've been talking about what it will be like!

My husband turns to our son and says: So, what it will be like is that Mommy will drop you off there. And then she will leave you. She. Will. Leave. You. She won't stay. She won't be back for hours and hours! You'll be there all by yourself with a bunch of people you don't even know. This is what you want to do, Bubs? You understand? You want Mommy to leave you? That's what it is. She'll just leave you there.

He turns to look at me, and my jaw is on the floor! I said: Hon, you're kind of scaring ME, and I love preschool! He looked a little sheepish, and then said: Oh yeah, I guess I was kind of emphasizing the bad part, huh? Yeah, ya think? Our boy did decide to give it a try, but (to return to our original point) ...

He never, ever wants to go. We spend every Tuesday and Thursday morning talking about how he doesn't want to go in the afternoon. He separates from me without any problem when I drop him off, and his teachers tell me he's doing fine, and fits in well with the group. But he tells me it's too busy there (there are 3 classes of 10 kids each in adjoining classrooms, so it is pretty busy). He says that we have all the same toys at home (also true for the most part). And he keeps reiterating that he prefers to play with his smaller group of friends at home.

I'm finding it hard to argue with any of that.

Since I've been working evenings at the gym, he also attends childcare twice a week there. So he's getting socialization with a wide range of kids, and the childcare provider at the gym is a certified teacher who does planned activities with the kids. He loves going there, and said he wants to quit preschool and only attend the sessions at the gym.

Also, because I'm providing childcare full-time for March and April, it's a real pain to transport to and from school. I have to keep 2 little ones awake late to drop him off, rush them home for nap, and then wake them up early for pick-up. If he loved it, I'd do it without complaint, but the fact that we've spent all morning discussing how he doesn't want to go makes the inconvenience more annoying than it would otherwise be.

I told him he has to go for the month of March because we already paid for it, and I wanted to give him a chance to get acclimated before he chooses, and that he can decide about signing up for April. Often, when I give him choices, I phrase it: yay or nay? Like: Do you want chocolate milk? Yay or nay? Every time I tell him he'll have a choice come April he tells me: I say NAY, Mommy! I say NAY today, and I will say NAY in April! He has said NAY all month long, so I'm not inclined to fight it.

I told the director today that next week will be his last week. I made something up about picking up another child care client (they see me dragging two tiny ones along with him at drop-off and pick-up, where we have to walk through a parking lot, up a sidewalk, through a hallway, and up and down a flight of stairs) because I didn't want to tell them he just doesn't like it there. I don't think they're doing anything wrong; it seems like a perfectly lovely little place. But just because I love preschool doesn't mean he does.

So my firstborn? My almost-four? He's already dropped out of school.

If any of you see him smoking behind the bleachers, you'd better call me.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Perfect Misfit

I've decided I like the rugs anyway. Things that fit just right into the spaces we already have are overrated. Things that make us smile, even -or maybe especially- when they leave pockets for mud and rain and mess to enter into our lives, are worthwhile. I smile every morning when the sun streams in through the door and window and hits the kitchen floor.
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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

How Many Bloggers Can Dance on the Head of a Pin?

It's early in the morning. My kids are both still asleep, and the little guy that I'm watching full-time for March and April has just arrived. He grabs both remote controls, points them at the TV and says: music! every morning as soon as he gets here. I put a Common CD into the DVD player, turn on the TV and adjust the volume. He lets me choose the music, and I pick from the grown-up CDs on the top half of the shelf. I turned all the kiddie CDs over to my son after months of battling over scratches, and now they're all scratched beyond listening, but they belong to the kids, and I'm perfectly okay with that. It gives us an excuse to start the day with Common instead of The Wheels on the Bus. Little dude smiles at the start of the song and takes off into the train table corner. He likes to play independently when he arrives to a sleeping household. It's his only chance all day to be the boss of every toy! I pick up my laptop to start my story here.

I had been scrolling through facebook before little man arrived, and I clicked and opened the most recent post at The Not-Ever-Still Life. Robin wrote about taking up sewing, and a little bit about finally having the time and freedom to take up sewing now that her youngest is a toddler. Reminiscing about the start of her blog, and the name she chose, she wrote, "I was thinking of the whirlygig whirling dervish cyclone effect of it all, that there was always a baby to nurse or a diaper to change or two diapers to change and a milk to pour, or a diaper to change and a spill to clean and a hungry child screaming and a misplaced critical item and a mess just stepped in."

That description struck something inside me, as I read it. Like the peal of a bell. THAT's what I like about mothering -and teaching- young children. I LIKE the whirlygig, whirling dervish, cyclone effect of it all.

* * *

What's written above is as far as I got this morning, little dude playing peacefully with trains, before I heard my daughter wake up. We went to get her, and our busy day began. The housekeeper came back today, after a 2 week vacation that only served to remind me how very much I despise washing the floors. So I spent the first few hours of the day feeding the little ones and racing around, furiously tidying. We all got out of the house by 10am and went to a playground. We came home to a clean house (just in time to mess it up again!). I heated macaroni and meatballs for the little guy, stirred his daily medicine into his applesauce and served it. I heated gyro filling for my girl, topped it with tzatziki sauce, tore pita into pieces with my hands and set it out on the highchair tray for her. I bibbed them both, and filled sippy cups, and I asked my boy: are you sure you're not hungry yet, Bubs? about 3 times before I took his word for it. I hummed while I zipped here and there, kitchen to the dining room and back again, and then I diapered times two, and I lullaby-CD'd one, and I recliner-rocked the other, and then I had them down for nap.

So I was scrolling through facebook again, while my big boy played independently at the train table, and I clicked and opened the most recent post at Momastery. Glennon wrote about her need to write, and how her sister gifted her with a laptop that allowed her to do it. Thinking back to the early years of her children's lives, she wrote, "I know, because I hear from you regularly, that there are mamas out there that feel completely fulfilled and filled by mama-ing itty bitty ones. I used to be mad at you – and secretly believe you were lying – but I know better now. I’ve read so many of your stories that I realize you don’t feel this way just to spite me. It’s just that we’re all different, and that is a beautiful thing. It’s okay."

That's what it is! I thought. It DOES fill me up to do this work, and it fulfilled me long before I had babies of my own. Meeting with my college advisor, I told her I thought teaching was the field for me, and when she asked what age, I answered: the younger the better. That's the story of how I ended up studying early childhood education.

* * *

I think I tried to say it here, still home on maternity leave after the birth of my daughter, when I wrote, "...our day is both busy and mellow, ebbing and flowing from moment to moment. It's like a dance I have to perform. I know the basic steps but never the tune that will play from day to day. So I have to improvise. Sure, I trip sometimes, end up in a heap on the floor, both babies crying at the same time, one wailing and bobbing at the breast, the other climbing loudly onto my lap, competing for space and seemingly for volume with their sobs. But even this is part of the performance. Can I keep my cool? Can I breathe into my belly, straighten my spine, scoop my daughter to the side to make room for my son, spread my arms wide enough to embrace them both, set my voice to the most soothing of tones, and move us all from chaos to a carefully choreographed quiet?

When I do find the rhythm? When I manage to dance through the day with something resembling grace? To keep balanced both babies, my husband and my house and a small space for myself, just enough to catch my breath and stretch, to catch the beat and ready my feet for the next number?

It's exhilarating.

* * *

It's not just that it's exhilarating, or fulfilling, or that I simply like a little chaos in my day (although all of those are probably true). There's something in it -for me- that I think maybe other people find in prayer or in yoga, in meditation or in climbing mountains. There's a sense that I'm just a vessel, with grace flowing through me. That if I get out of the way and let it flow, nothing I do can be wrong. My feet won't stumble or step the wrong way. My arms will always be big enough. My voice will forever be calming and melodious. I can create calm out of chaos just by being. By suspending my own will, tossing it off to the side like the temporary cloak that it is, and letting this other thing take over and move through me, I become the calm. I carry it with me because it is me for that little while.

I find this center of perfect zen stillness in the hurricane's eye of unending needs that little children exhale like carbon dioxide, and then I counter their exhalations by breathing calm all over the place, and I watch it take over, taming everything in it's path. And I feel absolutely delighted that it traveled through me to get here.

That's the closest I come to finding God, and it's why instead of going to church, I care for young children.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


On Friday, I got ready to jog. I made and drank my coffee in the late afternoon. I got my running sneakers and socks, dressed in layers, filled my water bottle. I babysit until 5:00 and then I leave, just as my husband arrives home, walking steep up the hills of my neighborhood to the reservoir. I run around it .8 miles plus .8 miles, 3 or 4 or 5 times in a row, until it's time to walk back home and have dinner with my family.

My husband was late coming home. We always eat pizza on Fridays, usually homemade, but we'd decided to grill burgers instead because the weather was supposed to be nice. So we didn't pull the frozen dough down to thaw. We didn't have burgers either, but he was going to stop and pick them up on the way home. That's not why he was late, though.

He had to drop artwork for a show in a small town, miles and miles north of where he works. We're south. I had 4 kids under 4, and we were texting sporadically to talk about all of this, but it was tough to keep up, what with me watching the little ones and him driving, and unloading photography, drawing, painting and sculpture from the back of his car.

The last boy's mom came to get him right at 5:00. I had just sent my husband a text after an hour or so without hearing anything, realizing all of a sudden how late it was. That we had no dinner. That I was ready to run, but the rest of the regular plan wasn't in place. As the mom walked toward the gate to go home, my daughter began to follow. Her son came running up behind, an open, happy look on his face. His arms shot out in front of him and he shoved my baby girl through the air. Her face hit a metal bicycle as she landed; the skin on her cheek broke open along with her wail. The mom came running, and picked her up; I raced across the yard; we both began to check and comfort her. My son began to yell at his friend: NO! No, no, no! You do NOT hurt my sister! You are in BIG trouble!

I don't think he meant to hurt her. His face was just so open and happy as it happened. I don't think he knew what he was doing. He does push sometimes, usually if someone is taking a toy from his hands. But this was so different; she wasn't even in his way. I took her into my arms, and tried to calm my angry boy: brother defending his sister. The little boy's mom gathered him sternly and took him to the car. I could tell she felt just terrible.

As I walked to the house with my sobbing daughter on my hip, and my angry son ranting beside me all the way, so wounded was his heart to see his sister hurt, I realized they both needed dinner. Like, now. I checked my phone. My husband had responded and was still an hour away. I called in the pizza order before I told him not to bother with the burgers. My son was so disappointed we weren't grilling burgers that I ordered chicken fingers and french fries too, just to placate him. My husband wouldn't even make it home on time to pick up the food, so I'd have to do that with both of the kids.

By the time we got dinner it was an hour later than usual. I was too hungry to jog first, and too full to do it afterward. And then there was the bedtime routine, and it was too late. There's such a small window in there, where I can have that hour to myself. Anything out of the ordinary and it disappears *poof* into thin air. Like magic, except in reverse. Black magic, maybe.

I didn't get away at all on Saturday either. We had the Farmer's Market in the morning; I kept both kids and let my husband get that done on his own, to save time. Because this weekend was the St. Patrick's Day parade downtown, and we had to hurry through the morning to make it on time. We took the kids for a couple hours, but had to rush home so the little one could nap. Then we had the rest of the grocery shopping to get through, and of course there's always dinner, and bathtime, and bedtime again. By the end of the day on Saturday I was beginning to feel like a dishrag: wrung out, dirty, hung to dry too often, growing brittle and crusty. I drank a few beers and fell asleep on the couch just as Saturday Night Live was beginning.

I got up with the kids early this morning, and had 3 cups of coffee, determined to get out for a jog after my husband woke up. The weather was warm, and we filled the sandbox earlier this week. He had food for the grill and by all rights it should have worked out perfectly. But there was something growing inside me by the time he got up and I got my daughter down to nap: something ugly and spiteful, something determined to fail.

That's not quite right either; I'm not giving myself any mercy. It's just that I felt underwater. Like Friday I had my running sneakers on, and instead I fell into a creek, or a pond, or maybe it was even a lake or an ocean; I don't know. It's hard to look around for the perimeter or gauge the horizon when you're just trying not to drown. So I treaded water instead, with my sneakers on, and all my layers, holding my water bottle heavy in my hand. And then the kids jumped in and I had to catch them, and I kept on treading, but I was just getting so tired. My husband jumped in too, and he tried to help, but what I needed to do was swim away, swim far enough away that it was just me, surrounded by the cool, dark water, alone under the moonlight, sneakers and layers off, naked in the night. And I couldn't. I never got the chance to swim. I just kept treading, and treading, passing the kids back and forth and worrying about life jackets. None of us seemed to have them. By this morning I'd given up treading and was spending most of my time underwater, just holding up the feet of my children, darting up for quick breaths when I could, but it was never enough. Never enough air, and I couldn't get a deep enough breath to hold me when I had to keep darting down to grab their ankles and keep them up.

So when she went down for her nap, I didn't want to jog. I didn't want to swim. Coffee was swimming perfunctorily through my veins, 3 cups, but it just wasn't enough. I wanted to sink. Sink way down to the bottom, and just sleep. I didn't want to die; I'm not remotely suicidal; I'm just. so. tired. And I knew I had limited hours before she woke up, and I simply couldn't muster the energy to use it to jog 2.4 or 3.2 or 4 miles around and around the reservoir. I didn't have a reservoir of energy upon which to draw. I just couldn't. I just. Couldn't.

I stayed on the couch, and I cried a little bit. My husband and son tried to soothe me, but I didn't particularly want to be soothed. I saw some neighbors pulling away in a jeep with no roof, and I was filled with envy, and a desire to be irresponsible. Instead I just sat, and talked with my husband about how to best manage our (stupid, stupid) schedules. At one point, he said: it sounds like there's nothing we can do to fix this today. And I burst into tears anew and said: Yes! That's it EXACTLY and what a relief to hear it spoken aloud! He thought that was a disappointment, but I thought it was perfectly true, and high time we just said it, already.

After our daughter woke up, we all went to Target and Marshall's and bought shoes that people needed, a battery charger to replace the one that just broke, and new rugs for the kitchen floor. The kitchen is our entryway and the winter rugs have been through the wash one time too many and the backing is shredded and dissolving on the floor. We came home and I arranged and rearranged the new rugs on the floor.

I like them an awful lot, but no matter what I tried, they never did fit quite right into the space. We just did the best we can. Which is really all we can ever do.

Friday, March 9, 2012


I remember standing on a covered porch with two of my sisters. The year was 2000. I think the season was fall; it seems as if there was a slight chill in the air. We were standing close together, clustered almost. One or two of us might have been smoking a cigarette. I don't remember that for certain.

We were talking about an article one of us had recently read about what motivates people. There were a handful of options, and the idea was that people can be categorized by which choice is their primary motivator. The only two I remember are having fun and being competent, although I'm sure there were at least two or three other possibilities.

Being competent, we all agreed, was our primary motivator. I think it was me who added: I've gone years without having any fun!, although it could have been one of my sisters. And then we all chuckled.

I'm pleased to report that I'm a lot more fun than I used to be (cue the chuckling), but I'm still highly motivated by competence.

* * *

I miss teaching parenting classes. It was such a great job and -sadly- I don't see another opportunity to do it in the future. I could be wrong about that, but it seems to me that programs that include a parenting education component are few and far between. The non-profit that the district I worked for collaborated with is struggling to fund their parenting programs. It was just the sheer luck of the program design that allowed me to be a certified early childhood teacher and work for a GED program that served parents along with their young children. I stumbled into it, and ended up so passionate about the work. It was a whole new direction for me when I started, and it terrified me, if I'm honest. But by the end it was my very favorite part of the job.

One of the first parenting classes I taught was in a small room that a local library let us use for free. I stood at the front, jammed into a corner too close to a hissing radiator, and asked a question. I didn't know anyone in the group of women sitting in front of me. All of them were high school dropouts, mothers, living in poverty. No one answered. I stood there, and waited for the silence to grow uncomfortable. It grew uncomfortable for me. I repeated wait time, wait time, wait time, wait time in my head. Finally, after an excruciating period of thickening quiet, it grew uncomfortable for them. I saw a look on a face that meant someone was thinking about answering. I gave some form of encouragement. And the conversation began.

I didn't particularly like my job that day. But over time, as I mastered new skills, and was able to work with a team of colleagues I absolutely adored to implement changes we thought would improve the program, I grew to love it.

* * *

It's funny though. While I mastered parenting classes, and writing reports, and analyzing data, and managing a team, I moved further and further away from the children: the reason I was hired in the first place. My presence in the classroom was replaced with a teaching assistant, so I would have time to do the planning and paperwork required to coordinate the program. I developed a thematic curriculum that covered the year, and we used it alongside a home-visiting curriculum with individualized activities for each child based on their age in months, so planning curriculum wasn't an ongoing process anymore. My hands-on work with the kids became a smaller part of my job. I still possessed the skills, but I didn't practice them regularly. I played with my son at home, and applied my skills there, but he's only one person, and an easy one to teach at that, so my skills weren't stretched; I wasn't challenged in a way that took me out of my comfort zone or required more of me than I had at my fingertips.

And, to be honest, I didn't know that this new job would challenge me either. I had enough experience that I felt comfortable resting on my laurels. I thought I'd soar in, and that it would be easy. And certainly I'm a competent babysitter. But I don't want to be just a babysitter. I want to master my craft. And it's taken some time to get back in the swing of things with the little ones: observing, planning, carrying out, reflecting, correcting, tweaking, and repeating. I very much miss teaching parenting classes. But I don't have to miss teaching or parenting. I still get to do those every day.

* * *

I feel like I'm getting good at this! I said to my husband the other night over dinner. It took me a couple months to settle in, and then to realize that I just plain couldn't keep up with the cleaning and still teach. And it took some time for the kids to get to know each other too. It seems like all I did for months was work on social-emotional skills, which was necessary, but it got boring for me. Now our little group has gelled, and the kids are a little older. I can really do stuff with them! I'm feeling like I'm good at this!

In the past month we've made play dough out of used coffee grounds, painted valentines with tempera paint, made rainbow spaghetti with food coloring, made and used homemade glue (for my littles who eat everything) for crafts projects, gone on a field trip to an art show, walked to the park in the wind, mixed snow with food coloring, chosen our favorite nursery rhymes on youtube, and read and reread more books than we've changed diapers (okay, it's pretty close to even there).

I'm getting more competent as I observe the kids and respond to their needs and interests. And I enjoy things so much more when I'm competent.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

I Jumped!

And the parachute opened on the way down!

I FINALLY got up the cojones to e-mail the parents of both of the boys I watch and ask them about starting a teaching blog. And they both loved the idea!!!

So my teaching blog is up and running, with it's own facebook page and everything! I'm not going to link to it, because I'm anonymous here, and public there. This is where I come to tell all my secrets and wrestle with my mid-thirties angst. That will be the public face of my teaching journey, and something to put on my resume if or when I return to the workplace. And never the twain shall meet! Ha!

If you'd like to  check it out, though, leave me a comment with an e-mail address and I'll send you a link! I'm excited about this. I've been floundering professionally for the past few months, even as I devour information daily and become a better teacher by leaps and bounds. It's the community of colleagues that I miss. It's having people to bounce ideas off of, and discuss failures, and celebrate successes. I hope this is step toward creating that in a new way.

I hope this is a step into whatever future I discover -or create- as a teacher.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


My mom tells a story about my first day of school. I walked out of the red brick building at the end of the day and when she asked me: How was your first day? I replied: Well, I won't be going back THERE again. We laugh when she tells it, but I believe I was dead serious. I still remember my kindergarten teacher as one of the meanest people I've ever met. She brought her newborn baby to school one day in the middle of the year, and although I was a well-behaved and generally kind little kid, I vividly remember thinking: I'd like to hurt her baby. So she knows how she makes other people feel.

Another one my mom tells: Shortly after I started kindergarten we were driving through the city, and I was sitting in the passenger seat (back before the dawn of booster seats and airbags), gazing out the window at the passing scenery. Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" began to play on the radio, and I grew animated and emphatic, singing along with the lyrics: We don't need no education! We don't need no thought control!

In light of these stories, it's amusing that I became a teacher. Or it could be that I had strong opinions about education right from the start.

* * *

The first time I heard of the school where I've been planning to enroll my son, I gasped loudly in the middle of an Irish pub and then read aloud from the newspaper to my husband. Our city had just moved from an open enrollment plan to neighborhood schools, and kids were being moved from the schools they'd previously attended to whatever building they were assigned by a street-by-street district map.

We live in a middle-class neighborhood backed-up against poverty stricken pockets; our whole city looks like this. We didn't live here back then, but I was familiar with the name of the neighborhood. And parents from this neighborhood were being asked to pull their kids from a school with a decent reputation to send them to one that ended up being closed down a few years later by the federal government under No Child Left Behind (Remember how the government could come in and close down failing schools if they didn't make adequate yearly progress? That's what happened here.).

A group of parents banded together to sue the district. Their lawyer was quoted in the newspaper, commenting on the fact that these kids had to leave their school of choice to attend the newly-assigned school with the bad reputation: This school isn't suitable for middle-class children.

I gasped aloud over my entree, because I couldn't believe he'd say that out loud, to a reporter. But it's suitable for poor kids!? I said to my husband.

Of course, once we moved into the neighborhood, and I did my research, which school do you suppose I wanted my son to attend?

* * *

No Child Left Behind expired in January, along with parental rights to school choice. The transfer request form disappeared from the district website; the woman who answered my call in the district office chuckled when I asked about my chances at getting my son into the decent school.

She chuckled.

I'm guessing that means my chances don't look very good?

* * *

Because I'm at home, teaching these babies, and I have no colleagues to talk to, I've been reading voraciously: everything I can find on early childhood brain development, activities for learning in the home, self-directed learning, promoting literacy in young learners. I'm bursting with excitement every day for all the amazing potential that education contains!

I look at my boy, who never runs out of questions and ideas. He's full of stories and theories; he overflows with energy and joy. His mind races like his heartbeat, only faster, and I imagine I can see the neurons pulsing, the dendrites reaching out in every direction. They only grow when you feed them, you know. Some of them grow like weeds, and others shrivel and die, and this is just how the brain works, you know? But you have to feed the ones you want to grow.

* * *

All this is to say: I'm thinking about homeschooling. It's never anything I thought I'd do. But things change, and here we are.

Monday, March 5, 2012

More, More, More!

In the past fourteen months, since the birth of my daughter, my life has had:

More Color

More Light:

More Motion:

More Love:

and More Joy:

And now: I can't imagine it any other way.