I'm starting a new category with this post (for the moment I'm calling it "school", for lack of a better label, but I reserve the right to change it when I'm feeling more creative). The Beaner starts Montessori school tomorrow, and we've been practicing going to bed earlier and getting up earlier for a couple days now. For the most part it's worked well, but Al's been a bit confused—which makes sense, because the schedule I've been working off of is mostly in my head, and I can't expect him to just know where he's supposed to be and what he's supposed to do.
Something else that has been in my head is the idea that I would draw up a color-coded schedule showing where each of us needed to be, when, and doing what. I just hadn't gotten around to it by this morning, and so a bit more chaos than usual ensued when we both ended up trying to dress the Beaner at the same time, and neither of us was getting ready ourselves. (Of course, it didn't help that we all overslept by 20 minutes, and that the Beaner wet the bed—not a common occurrence, and the first time he's ever slept through it.) Good thing today was a dry run, and not an actual school day.
Thus is was a high priority on my to-do list today (along with a gazillion other WORK things I needed to do) to get at least a first draft of the schedule drawn up. It's particularly important WHERE each of us is during each 15-minute block because our master bath remodel still isn't finished. This means we're all still sharing the upstairs bathroom, and logjams at the sink or toilet could totally fuck up the plan.
This is just a first draft, of course, and thankfully there's a phase-in period at the school (which means the Beaner goes for just 30 minutes tomorrow and Thursday, 90 minutes Friday, and 90 minutes all next week before the real 3 hour, 45 minute, earlier-starting schedule begins the Monday after Labor Day). That'll give us a chance to work the kinks out.
Note also that the schedule only goes until 12pm; that's when Aura will arrive, and I'll go back to work. At first I was thinking that an earlier start to the day would mean a bit more work time for me in the morning, but I decided to use that time for some exercise instead. I need it for physical and mental fitness, which have both been lacking lately. So essentially my day will be the same, except with a forced 15-30 minute break in the middle.
I feel compelled to tell you all that I started a post about the Beaner's first day of school on his actual first day of school—namely, last Wednesday—but I haven't had time to write about it while working, and I didn't feel like blogging at all this weekend. So I am both very virtuous and incredibly lazy.
I do plan to post about it eventually, really. It's just so hard to get my thoughts together, especially since I wasn't there in the classroom on that first day (Al was), and the phase-in schedule means that I barely make it to my desk before I have to go pick the Beaner up. The shortened workday doesn't leave much time for blogging... or for baking cookies for the parent pot-luck on Thursday night, for that matter. We admitted defeat tonight and got some mushroom pockets from Trader Joe's. (I'm dying to see if that's what every other equally-busy parent does, too.
Once normal blogging resumes, remind me to tell you about the books. Oh, the books! They're wonderful things.
The Next Day
I was planning to write a basically cheery post about how the Beaner woke up happy this morning, as is usual after a meltdown the previous evening, but then his teacher called. We knew he'd been taken out of the classroom a few weeks ago because he was having "body control issues," but when Al asked about it, no details were given. When his teacher called to ask that we reinforce this at home, I said that I needed to understand better what the problem was, or I wouldn't be able to reinforce whatever messages they were giving him at school.
So it turns out that the Beaner has been pushing other kids periodically, and that he's especially bad about touching other kids' work. He can't seem to focus on his own work; he wants to watch other kids work, and then interfere with whatever they're doing. This is obviously not acceptable, and he's been told (by the teacher and other staff) that if he wants to watch other kids work, he needs to keep his hands behind his back.
He seems unable to do this, however, and after messing with another kid's project today the teacher took him out of class again and talked to him about it. She asked him why he did it, and he replied, "because I wanted to." Well, that's a familiar (and frustrating) refrain.
I'm hoping we can get this under control, but at the same time I'm also a little annoyed that the school didn't bring us in earlier. Perhaps they didn't want us to overreact, but now the situation is dire, and I'm feeling the pressure to fix it fast or face having the Beaner be ejected from the class. Ugh.
Talking About It
I was trying to think of a name for this post before I started writing it (sometimes a good idea, but just as often it's better to wait until I'm finished), and Fat Boy Slim's "Won't Talk About It" is playing on my iPod at the moment, so there you go. I was worried about signing up for NaBloPoMo this year, especially with my full plate and the still-trying-to-keep-myself-on-the-upward-spiral situation (I've been mostly successful in, if not exactly staying up, then at least in keeping myself from spiraling down), but now I'm more worried about blowing my wad all on day 1 and having nothing to say for the next few days.
Anyway, what I'm posting again to say is that I did talk to the Beaner about the school situation before I blogged about it, but that it was bugging me so much I went downstairs to talk to him again. I know this is tricky with toddlers, but man, I was sad. (See above re: trying not to spiral downward.)
Luckily he and Aura were sitting in the big chair watching Diego, so I just asked if I could have Aura's spot. She quickly gave it up and went upstairs to wash dishes (thanks for that, Aura!) while I snuggled the Beaner. I realized pretty quickly that his entire attention was consumed by Diego, so I just went with that. When the credits rolled, I mentioned that I was sad about school still. That I wanted him to do well, get along, and not interfere with other kids' work.
"I can do better tomorrow, Mommy," he said.
"Really?" I asked. "You will keep your hands behind your back when watching others work, and not push other kids? If someone else wants to work on the same thing you want to work on, you'll say, 'Can I have a turn when you're finished?'"
"Yes," he said. "I can do that."
I smiled at him weakly, and he smiled back, much more broadly. "Are you happy now, Mommy?"
"Yes, Boo. It makes Mommy happy to know that you are doing well at school, that you're getting along with others."
Incidentally, one of the things I was planning to post about this week but hadn't gotten around to was our playdate with Sarah and the Goon Squad. Sarah lives close to my in-laws in Northern Virginia, and we went down for a visit last weekend, so we arranged to meet at a small playground near a Little League field. This is related to the above discussion because right when Sarah asked how I'd managed to potty train the Beaner, he saved me from having to try to remember all the advances and setbacks along that route by shoving Claudia away from the steering wheel attached to the play structure and making her cry.
He was positioned above my head at that point, which made it difficult for me to grab and separate him from Claudia, but I gave him a stern "[NAME]! Claudia was using that! You have to wait your turn!"... at which point he burst into tears. I tried to grab him from the slide side [see photo below; the steering wheel is just to the right of Ian], which is when he made the grab for his crotch. Visions of him peeing in his pants from the stress flashed through my brain. "How could you do this to me???" I thought frantically. "Sarah was just asking about my brilliant potty training skillz, and now you're going to wet your pants!"
Instead I said, rather urgently, "do you need to pee?" He nodded while continuing to wail. I said, "just hold on, buddy, we'll find you a bathroom. Hold it, please." I asked Sarah if there was a bathroom nearby, and she indicated that the square building a few yards away was my best bet. Good news: It did indeed have bathrooms on the other side. Bad news: They were locked. I said to the Beaner, "OK, we don't usually do this; it's only for real emergencies, and this is one. We're going to pee outside. Here, step over to this area, and I'll help you avoid peeing in your pants."
"Look," he said. "I'm peeing through the fence." Yes, folks: Mad potty training skillz *and* great aim.
Anyway, after I'd gotten his clothing straightened, I picked him up and said, "it's not OK to push people. If Claudia is doing something you want to do, say 'can I have a turn when you're finished?' Whether she says yes or no, step back and let her have some space. She'll be done soon anyway. OK?" He nodded, and play resumed amicably.
After this incident at the playdate, it wasn't hard for me to imagine the scenario involved when his teacher mentioned on the phone that he was having trouble with pushing. I also knew that the "don't push, ask if you can have a turn" message would be somewhat familiar to him, and I reminded him of the steering wheel dispute with Claudia to jog his memory. It's why this time I believe him when he says he can do better tomorrow; I know he has a frame of reference for improvement. I assume he knows what his teacher expects of him; now he knows what I expect of him, too. Hopefully my message is very similar to hers (or rather, vice versa), and that he'll take it to heart.
Before I leave the subject of the playdate entirely, I want to say what a fun time I had. Sarah was really normal, and I mean that as a compliment of the highest order. I've been trying to think of a way to explain it that the extroverts in the audience will also understand, and "normal" is the best I could come up with. To introverts I would say that I didn't have to work to be around her, and they'd get it immediately.** (See stars for side story that just occurred to me.) She's totally down to earth, smart, nice, and funny. Her kids were a riot, too. There was a small dispute between Claudia and the Beaner over the wagon in addition to the steering wheel incident, but it was funny (at least to me) rather than stress-pee-inducing.
I can't show you the rest of the photos from the playdate because all three kids ended up taking their shirts off, and posting pictures of shirtless kids on the Internet is asking for trouble. (The photos are available to close friends and family only on Flickr.) It all got a little crazy when the Beaner spotted the ball field and said, "look, a baseball field! I'm going to need my golf clubs." Hilarity (and surprisingly few injuries) ensued when I got his set of 3 clubs (convenient!) out of the trunk of the car, and Sarah and I spent the next 45 minutes or so trying to keep enough space between the kids that nobody got clubbed.
Oh wait, here's one of Ian with his shirt still on, inspecting his driver for defects:
So bottom line here:
- Sarah: very cool.
- Playdate: fun.
- School situation: will improve tomorrow. crosses fingers
- Lori: easily-saddened introvert, prone to giving small children blunt weapons with which to play.
** The story that occurred to me was about MAX, where I presented four sessions this time last month, to the dismay of my bowels. My colleague, Kin, said that it was interesting to see the behind-the-scenes stress and then how I "turned it on" as soon as the microphone went on. He said it was like seeing a split personality in action. This may help explain better what I mean by having to work at it; I think I'm a decent speaker (not a great one, but adequate), but it takes an enormous toll on me emotionally and physically to get into my "on" state. Being able to interact with people without having to switch "on" is an enormous relief.
Helping a Toddler Do It Himself
One morning a couple months ago we went to a parent thing at the Beaner's Montessori school (was it a new parent orientation? I can't remember for sure, but that sounds right), and the subject of independence came up. We started talking about ways that our 3 year-olds could do things for themselves around the house. A couple parents expressed disbelief that their about-to-turn-3s or just-turned-3s could make their own beds or get their own breakfast; others shared some cool stories about the neat things their kids had done, and the Head of School made some interesting suggestions (letting the child be responsible for small chores, keeping a calendar, etc.).
Later, when I went to pick the Beaner up from school, I ran into one of the moms who'd been at the morning session, and she remarked that she'd liked my ideas for helping the Beaner to be more independent at home. I said that one or two we came up with on our own, but the rest came from a colleague of Al's whose own child had been through a Montessori primary program. That's when we came up with the idea of having a parent get-together expressly for the purpose of exchanging ideas for making our homes more kid-friendly, and in the process, our kids more independent. The Head of School said that she'd look into hosting a coffee for that purpose, but it hasn't happened yet, I suspect because the holiday rush overtook us.
In the meantime, I thought I'd post some thoughts and photographs here, describing what we've done in our house. I'm hoping that maybe anyone Googling for "Montessori in the home" or kid-friendly or whatever will find this post and perhaps add their own ideas, too. We can have our own Internet parent coffee! And if the actual parent coffee ever does materialize, I'll have not only my ideas to share, but yours, too. So share away in the comments. Here's what's worked for us:
The trick to getting kids (or just letting them—chances are they're already pretty motivated!) to do things for themselves is in making it feasible for them to do things for themselves. Most of the world outside of pre-school and elementary classrooms is scaled to adults—something we don't even think about, because of course we *are* adults, and everything is within reach for us. Consider all the simple tasks we do for our toddlers today that they could probably do for themselves if they could only reach, and it should be obvious where to start.
I'm not exactly sure when our obsession with stepstools started, but I think it was when we first showed the Beaner how to pee in the toilet. With his long thigh bones and solid construction, he was too big for the little potty we got for him, so one day I just whipped out a stepstool and had him stand in front of the real toilet. From there we dragged the stepstool to the sink for him to wash his hands, and soon it got to the point where if we asked him if he had to pee, instead of answering us directly, he'd run and get his stepstool. We put a stepstool in every bathroom, and even bought one for him to use at Al's parents' house. (My mom got a few, too.)
He doesn't need one to pee in the toilet anymore (he's tall enough to clear the rim), but he still regularly uses them to reach the faucets at the sink. One morning back in September or October he came to the top of the stairs to tell me he was awake, and as usual I said to him, "OK, go pee, I'll be right up." Next thing I knew I heard his stool being dragged across the floor and dropped, and then I heard a flicking noise. "Did he just turn on the light?" I asked Al. A quick glance up the stair confirmed that he had, indeed, turned on the light. Never underestimate the power of a stepstool (or of your child's increased reach; make sure anything you wouldn't want him to get into is out of sight and higher than he can reach with a stepstool).
We have a stepstool for the kitchen, too, but it's used as much for toy storage and as a seat as it is for standing. The thing the Beaner *really* likes to stand on is the ottoman that we originally bought so we'd have a place to sit and put on our shoes. (It's supposed to reside under the shelves by the front door, but it ends up being in the kitchen 95% of the time.) I can understand why he likes it; whereas the stepstool lets him *reach* things that are on the counter, the ottoman is high enough that it lets him *work* with things on the counter. From the ottoman perch he can help me measure ingredients and stir batters and wash dishes.
We like to take a lot of weekend trips as a family, and I've found that I really miss the stepstools when I'm at hotels. (That's when you realize how much they help, how much your kid can do for himself when he can reach: when all of a sudden, he can't.) I've been leaving comments on physical and electronic suggestion forms that there should be a stepstool tucked under the sink or in the closet of every hotel room (especially in the rooms of chains that tout their family-friendliness). In the meantime, we've added 'stepstool' to our packing list for car trips.
If you can't bring the kid to the things he needs access to, bring those things to the kid. This is one of the suggestions we got from Al's colleague: Rearrange the refrigerator and cupboards so that the items the kid uses most are within easy reach. Al moved all of the Beaner's yogurts (and he eats a LOT of yogurt) from a high shelf to a low rack in the door. We also keep applesauce and his Odwalla juices and soymilks there, and I should really put a container of pre-mixed vanilla and unsweetened soymilk down there too, so he can pour it on his cereal or drink it. (Seems like there's always more you could be letting your child do for himself if only you think about it!)
OK, it's now taken me so long to write this post (and I'm still not done!) that I've actually had a chance to put the aforementioned bottle of soymilk on the Beaner's shelf. As it happens, I did it right after he told me, on the way home from school yesterday, that he'd moved from pouring rice to pouring water. (Montessori is very big on pouring; the kids start by pouring rice and then move up to liquids.) It was so cool to see him pour his own soymilk for lunch without it getting away from him. He put in just a bit, without spilling any.
After rearranging the fridge Al tackled the cupboards, turning a small part of our Container Cupboard into a dishware station for the Beaner. I took it a step further and filled pourable containers (and one with a scoop) with his favorite cereals, so he could serve himself.
Heading down to the basement, you'll see a gift from my parents in action: A coat rack that's just the Beaner's size. He retrieves and dons his coat every morning (he still needs help with the zipper), and he hangs it up every day after school. Currently his bin of hats and mittens is above his head in the black corner storage unit; I was just thinking today, when I had to get his hat for him, that we should either hang it on the wall at Beaner height or put it on the floor next to his boots.
One other place where we've totally failed in putting things the Beaner needs within his reach is in the basement bathroom. I painted this room and installed a new mirror, toilet seat, and hardware when I was 8 or 9 months pregnant, and it didn't occur to me at the time that the baby I was carrying might someday want to wash his own hands and then dry them.
We're working on rectifying this oversight; for the time being we're leaving the towel on the sink, but I picked up another towel holder through freecycle, and we plan to install it below the light switch at about sink height (just above the stepstools). At that point we'll have two towels in this bathroom—one for grownups and one for kids.
A Place For Everything, and Everything In Its Place
We've discovered that the more we organize things, the happier the Beaner feels in his space, and the more likely he is to clean up after himself. If it's unclear where something goes, it's likely to stay out on the floor, whereas if he knows where it belongs, he will gladly put it back (and even more gladly tell you when you've put it in the wrong place). We used an Expedit and a couple Billy bookcases with dividers from IKEA to organize the basement playroom; the top shelf and middle baskets in the Expedit are mine, but all the other cubbies belong to the Beaner. The dividers in the Billy were key for storing puzzles, tall books, and car bins. There's a special section for library books, too, so we can find them easily when it's time to return them.
I think the Beaner's a born organizer anyway—he often spends an inordinate amount of time rearranging items at stores when people put them back incorrectly—but I suspect some of our latest organizational efforts have rubbed off on him. Yesterday morning when I asked him to get out a bowl and spoon for his breakfast, I turned around to find that he'd unloaded ALL of his dishes from the cupboard. "What are you doing??" I asked him. "I'm organizing!" he replied. He then restacked his plates, cups, and bowls by size and color and replaced them. "There, that's better," he said.
Keeping a Calendar
This was a suggestion from the head of school at the parent orientation, and when she said it I thought, "oh, huh, Aura's already done that." I don't think I realized how important it was until the head of school mentioned it, but after she did I started paying attention to how the Beaner and Aura used the calendar. It turns out to be a very useful way to help him understand his daily schedule, what events to expect when, and what day of the week it is.
The paw print at the top indicates "today"; the green cards are added to the calendar when activities are planned for the week. For example, if Aura knows that the books are due at the library on Thursday, she'll put the card with the library icon on it into Thursday's slot, so the Beaner will know the plan. The blue and pink cards are for evening and weekend activities, respectively, but Al and I have been really slack and haven't made use of them at all. We really should; we often know that we're planning to go out to dinner on certain nights, or that we'll be going away for a weekend or playing in a hockey game on a Saturday. These are things I'm sure the Beaner would like to know about.
I can't guarantee that providing a "just his size" chair will keep your kid off the couch or out of your favorite leather recliner (it hasn't deterred the Beaner), but it does allow the child to seat himself and feel comfortable in his space rather than drowning in it.
We got a bunch of these little green stools at IKEA prior to the Beaner's birthday party, and we LOVE them. The wicker kid's chairs are great, too, but the stools are just awesome. They're even comfortable for adults to sit on, so they're perfect for whipping out when company drops by to hang out in the living room and there isn't enough room for everyone on the couch.
Helping With Chores
It might not seem like help, exactly, when your child wants to help with chores, especially if you end up having to re-do what they've done. As the Montessori tip in one of the weekly school bulletins pointed out, however, it's often easier to find a way to let children help rather than trying to keep them from getting underfoot (and they will get underfoot, because they want to help!). There are tons of things kids can help with from a fairly young age, and they'll get better at these tasks over time, making for fewer re-dos by you. Until they get proficient, try to think of the time spent doing chores together as just that: together time. If you get something done, bonus!
For example, whenever the Beaner asks me to come down and play with him in the basement, I find myself wanting to do laundry. I mean, it's right there, and it needs to get done, and here I am, available to do it. If I step into the laundry room, however, I feel like I've totally short-changed the Beaner. So one night a few months ago, I asked him to help me sort the dirty laundry. I gave him some rules, like "all the white things go here, all non-white clothes that belong to Daddy go here, and all clothes that belong to you or Mommy go here." Anything that didn't fit one of those categories, I helped by pointing to a pile. He didn't finish the sort, but it kept him busy (and entertained!) for 10 minutes at least, helped me, and gave me a chance to fold what was in the dryer. Likewise, his folding technique isn't that great, but he can match socks and stack his underpants in a pile while I fold everything else.
Putting away silverware at 14 months; he now stands on a stool and puts the entire silverware basket away. He also knows which dishes are his and puts them away in his cupboard.
Washing dishes at just shy of 2 and a half. About three or four months ago we started asking him to clear his plate from the table when he was finished with dinner. He scrapes food into the trash, throws out his yogurt container, and takes his dishes to the sink. Sometimes he even gets up and washes them; whereas when he started he'd rinse and dry (ew!), he now has the hang of the scrubber and knows not to dry until all traces of food are gone.
Progress: Swiffering at 16 months; vacuuming and mopping the kitchen floor at 26 months; and vacuuming the stairs at 34 months. He picked up the Swiffer himself, and he begged me to let him vacuum and mop.
The Beaner has also helped me wash the bathroom floor with his own little sponge and bucket, and he's particularly fond of cleaning up with the Dustbuster. A dustpan and brush are also handy for little hands. Oh! And emptying the trash on Trash Night is a good chore for kids and parents to do together: one person holds the large trash bag while the other person empties each wastebasket into it. In season, gardening is fun for the whole family, too.
OK, I think that's all I've got for you; if you've got ideas for making your home more kid-friendly (and your kid more self-sufficient), let me know in the comments!
On Monday morning, Al and I went to the Beaner's school for our first classroom observation of the year. As parents of a returning student, this year we would be allowed into the classroom after 10 minutes. (Last year we spent all 20 minutes looking in through the window.) We lucked out for the outside-the-classroom part: The Beaner was in the front of the classroom, looking for a map.
The Beaner's friend G asks whether the Beaner recognizes the photo on the card he's holding. (The exercise involves identifying the initial vowel sound of the item pictured. Al and I did this exercise during an open house last year, and we found a few of the pictures hard to guess. I missed 'escalator', for example, because I was focused on the woman *on* the escalator.)
After helping his friend G with the initial vowel sounds exercise, the Beaner chose a map puzzle and its corresponding laminated map. (He originally chose the South America puzzle and the Europe map by accident, probably because the puzzle and map are matched with colored dots, and he mistook orange for red. We'll have to work on matching up maps at home, where we've actually been talking a lot about the United States and the World—specifically about Magellan's circumnavigation of the globe. :-)
Two other parents with whom we've become friendly were observing their child in the adjacent classroom, and we all started murmuring about our concern that as soon as we entered our respective classrooms, the spell would be broken, and we wouldn't see our kids working as they normally would. I was particularly concerned that the Beaner would just run up and cling to us, forsaking South America.
When Ms. Pysher waved us in, however, the other kids seemed more interested in us than the Beaner did. "Hey [Beaner]," said one little boy who was working at a table by the door, "is that your mom and dad?" The Beaner turned, saw us, said, "yeah," gave us a little wave, and went back to his puzzle. I was AMAZED.
I'd heard a lot about (and seen for myself) the quiet focus with which the children in a Montessori classroom work, but the last time we observed the Beaner, he was a mess. He couldn't stay on task for more than a minute or two; he rolled on the floor; he dumped beans on his head. In short, he was disruptive and out of control.
My first thought was, THANK YOU, FEINGOLD DIET. (And we're not even doing full-on Feingold! All we've done is eliminate artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives.) I know that's at least part of the difference because we've worked very hard to eliminate the crap from his diet, and thus we're in a position to notice what happens when it accidentally creeps in. For example, when we went to visit my grandmother last weekend, the Beaner was a gem on Saturday: patient, focused, fun to be around. On Sunday morning, we ate at the breakfast buffet in the hotel restaurant, where everything turned out to be cooked with artificially-flavored margarine. His behavior took a sharp turn for the worse within an hour: He couldn't focus on anything, he flailed, he didn't listen or respond when we called his name. I had to give him my "you got artificial flavors this morning, so you're going to have to work harder to listen and control your body today" speech to get 5 minutes of sitting still, and even then he spent the entire 5 minutes plucking at his neck (his calming gesture).
I think the other factor in his calm and focus in the classroom is that this is his second year. This I inferred from watching the new 3 year-olds (the Beaner's still considered a 3 year-old this year because his birthday's not until the end of this month, though he's a "returning" 3 year-old). They had some of the same focus problems that the Beaner struggled with last year. They weren't necessarily disruptive; they just lost interest in whatever they were doing before the task was complete, and started fooling around.
The Beaner did a bit of his own fooling around, I suspect for Al's benefit, when he moved on to the initial vowel sounds exercise that G.L. had just completed. He still managed to stay with his mat and his task, though, which just plain knocked my socks off. I was SO PROUD.
When we turned to leave, the Beaner finally came over and gave us each a hug and a kiss, and we told him we'd see him later. "OK," he said, and went back to his work.
First Day of First Grade
So... Long story short (for those of you for whom the sight of a semicolon evokes TL;DR, this first sentence probably tells you all you need to know, and you can stop after it), after a year of stress and a night of braving the elements, we got the Beaner into our neighborhood public school, and he started first grade today. Weirdly, my stress level did not go down after we were told he was in—nor did it drop when we got confirmation by mail in the form of a teacher and classroom assignment a couple days later. Instead, it seemed to hover over my shoulders and chest like a lead x-ray apron.
When it started to *increase*, I finally identified it as what it was: anxiety over the Beaner going to school at all. Some of it's probably just emotional baggage from my own childhood/school experiences, some is probably disbelief that he could possibly be this grown up (I know, not-quite-7 isn't exactly driving age or anything), and some is probably nervousness about him being in a school full of kids who range in age from 5 to 14 instead of 3 to 6.
I think most of it, though, was anxiety that my borderline-negligent parenting would cost him in the classroom. That we'd forget to send him with something important, like proper gym clothes or a dismissal note or a book report or coping skills. That we'd arrive late or drop him off in the wrong place or tell Shawna the wrong time to pick him up. That shorts wouldn't be considered appropriate uniform attire after all (or that he'd be too cold on an unseasonably chilly, rainy day), and we had no pants for him to change into because we were late taking them in to get hemmed.
Normally I'm not this neurotic—really. I think the first three things just fed my anxiety about the fourth. I know I'm a good parent to the Beaner—not perfect, but adequate—and that he's loved and fed and clothed and stimulated intellectually (and thanks to Shawna and Al, has lots of opportunities for fun). But.
<sigh> It's hard to put into words how I feel like I'll fall short, and in whose eyes. His teacher's? Other parents'? The after school program director's? It's probably all nonsense, and I'm silly for worrying about it. I said to Al as we drove home together in a pouring rain this evening, "the weird things is, our reward for getting through today is that we get to do it again tomorrow. And the next day, and the next day..."
"...until it becomes a routine," Al finished. It's true: This is a new routine, one that will take a little getting used to, but eventually it *will* become routine. The new normal. I hope in all the ways my childhood was good and normal, and in none of the ways it was sad and frustrating and confusing and mean.
Speaking of the routine, one of the appeals of having the Beaner go to the neighborhood public school was that it's in walking distance. He won't be able to walk to school by himself until he's in third grade, so of course that means one of us walking with him (or maybe he can walk with the neighbor when she starts Kindergarten there next week—hadn't thought of that before!). I guess in part of my head I thought it would be me who walked with him, and that I'd be excited to do it... until I realized that it would put me about 30-40 minutes behind my usual morning schedule. (I usually leave the house on foot by 7:45 and pass the school—if I walk that way—about 10 minutes later, but the Beaner needs to be dropped off at 8:20 and not before.)
This was a little agitating, but as we piled into the car this morning because of the predicted rain, I found I was more agitated about being in the car than about being late. About 3 blocks from the house I asked Al to pull over and let us out, and the Beaner and I walked the final 3 blocks. This turned out to be exactly the right call despite the rain that started up about a block in. I was treated to a delightfully bubbly discourse on what school might be like from the Beaner, and we stopped to take a self portrait.
I told him of the photo my mom took of me and my best friend Linda on our first day of school (first grade, I think), a day when it was also raining. I said I'd have to ask mom—Grandma Lin, I mean—to send it to me so I could scan it. "It's ok if you say 'my mom'," he said. "You don't have to say 'Grandma Lin' too. I know who you mean."
The school was a madhouse when we got there, thanks to the rain and, in most cases, two parents plus younger siblings dropping off each first and second grader. I had a moment of near windmilling when the parents were asked to leave the cafeteria so that the teachers could lead their classes up to the classrooms in an orderly fashion; too many people seemed to think this was an opportunity to chat with their neighbors, and the flow outward was also hampered by a still-steady stream of parents and children coming in.
Finally we were out, and he was in, and that was it. First grade had begun.
Shawna texted us on her way to pick him up that she'd FaceTime us when they got home to let us know how the day went, and then texted again to report on what a madhouse the pickup area was. (Apparently it was a repeat of the morning, with a mix of double parents, younger siblings, and older siblings all picking up kids.) Al ran over to my office to join the FaceTime, and after a couple false starts with my phone, I grabbed an iPad2 (one of the benefits of running an iOS development team!) and we used that.
The Beaner reported that he'd had a great time, and that he liked lunch and gym best. He was a little disappointed that the classroom looked "more like a nursery school than a first grade classroom." I'm not sure what he expected—maybe something like the older kids' section at the public library? He was also dismayed that the "jitter juice" served by the teacher, designed to dispel everyone's first-day nerves, was made of (according to his description) powdered Kool-Aid, ice cream, and lemon-lime soda. He declined it with a thumbs down and asked for water instead. That's my kid!
He also told us, with a certain amount of glee, "I didn't get any homework, but you did! Forms to fill out!"
At dinner we served his favorite meal—cod and corn on the cob—to celebrate, and we got a few more details about his day, including the arrangement of the desks; the name of one boy he met and the description of another whose name he didn't remember; an account of the book choices they were given during reading time ("they were all too easy"); and a glimpse of the getting-to-know-you work he was asked to do:
I'm actually kind of excited about tomorrow now.
First Grade Update
The first week of first grade went off with only one hitch (a mixup having to do with who would be picking the Beaner up after school) that was sorted fairly quickly by Shawna. The morning drop-offs went smoothly even though the weather sucked most days; on Friday, when I asked the Beaner if he wanted me to wait with him until he lined up with his class or leave right away, he replied, "either way. You can go if you want."
I have really enjoyed walking with him each morning, though apparently my reputation as a walker was ruined when we all piled into the car on the first day. (My neighbors weren't there three blocks later when I demanded that the Beaner and I be let out. I think they are waiting to see if I am really as committed to walking as they are.) The Beaner and I usually have a nice conversation about what he might do that day, what he learned in class the day before, his classmates, the book he was reading last night, or current events.
We've been told that homework will start the week of September 19, and I for one am interested to see what kinds of things he'll be assigned. So far the Beaner reports that the work is really easy—or not really work at all, by Montessori standards. We actually warned him that the first couple days might seem too easy, but not to worry; the teacher would probably start slow and then ramp up to get a feel for the level of the class. I've had to remind myself of my own words as he's brought home tales of easy-reader books, no math to speak of, and a much-anticipated trip to the library turning out to be for story time rather than picking out books. This is just the beginning. It's about making the kids comfortable, not preparing them for college. And he's not bored yet.
A couple other observations about transitioning from small, private Montessori to much larger, public elementary, aside from the more chaotic dropoffs and pickups:
- We think peanut butter is allowed. "You'd better use sunbutter [sunflower seed butter] instead until we find out for sure, though," said the Beaner. I went for it and used JIF on Friday and didn't get in trouble.
- A uniform policy may dictate clothing now, but in one way, we think things might be a little less stringent. While shopping for new rain boots this weekend, I balked at the camo design, but pointed out the pair with skulls and crossbones all over them. "Are symbols of death allowed at my new school?" asked the Beaner. "Uh, I think so!" I replied. [We won't find out anytime soon, since we couldn't find his size.]
We made a couple friends while waiting in line to register the Beaner for first grade, and the son of two of those new friends ended up in the Beaner's class. They're super nice; can't wait to have them over for a weekend dinner or invite them to go apple picking or something similarly family-oriented (they also have a daughter).
Anyway, we took photos of each other's families in the cafeteria on the first day of school, and this is the one they took of us. I love it!