Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Back to school!

We teachers returned to school
a little more than a week ago,
to a new school home,
newly remodeled,
contractors still in the building.

Preschoolers arrived yesterday.

Yes, it is a blur.

But, I want to remember -

High ceilings,
filled with endless weaving of exposed pipes, tubes, gadgets, gizmos,
I want to create pendulums,
magical floating art.

Walls of windows,
floor to ceiling,
incredible light,
and an intimate view of life in the alley.
What will preschoolers notice?

New Teaching Residents,
eyes open wide,
voices filled with passion, determination, idealism.

The whole staff together,
so many of us,
the excitement and hope in the building is palpable.

A new colleague speaks,
"I've been looking for this school for the past fifteen years."
just beautiful.

Orientation for new families,
so much care and concern,
lots of questions,
some watery eyes,
taking their babies to school for the first time.

"Meet your teacher" mornings,
the children visit,
their cautious entry into the room,
their delight to find blocks, dolls, art, books, a big cozy chair,
smiling teachers,
adorable photos.

Emptying packed moving boxes and
getting ready for children,
a blur of emptying and creating,
where's the box with the teacher scissors?
let's make picture cards for gathering time,
where's the box with the smocks?
let's make names on the cubbies,
where's the box with my teaching materials? my visuals? my quotes?
let's make a place for lunches,
where are the trash cans? the paper towels? the tissues?
let's make take-home folders,
let's make a sign-in board,
let's make a family info board,
no time left,
they are coming,
they are here...
wait, I never checked the bathrooms...
are the contractors still here?

Day one,
sweet children clinging to family,
wide eyes,

I'm on.
Hello, everybody, it's so good to see you!

There is something so wondrous about the beginning of a school year.
This one seems especially so.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Culling my way down memory lane

One of the beautiful things about summer is having time to sift through things and get rid of the unnecessary, the outgrown, the irrelevant.

Well, my most recent foray has been our piles of papers in the back room.  How did we accumulate so many?  This is borderline hoarding.  Time for action.

Lo and behold, I come across this "growth chart" for my then preschooler Keith (now 23 years old!):

Not entirely sure why I kept this, because, from the looks of it, I didn't use it very long!  He has stickers only through the third column.  Did each column represent days? Weeks?

I read through the goals of the chart and I am transported down memory lane....

Handles his anger successfullyRespects/loves Wade (his infant brother at this time) -

Keith is 2 1/2 years older than his brother, Wade...I remember how surprised I was at the effect of Wade on Keith...much happiness, much joy, yes; but, unexpected meanness, too, a jealousy, coming from out of nowhere, seemingly. It was no longer little Keith alone with Mommy. There was a daily sharing of Mommy.  

I saw real frustration in the little guy when he was three and four years of age.

I remember had so many questions, so many concerns! He was my first, my entryway into how to raise a child.  I wanted to parent him differently than I had been. My own childhood was in a home of "eggshell walking" - with a mother who had severe mental health issues, we treaded carefully and quietly around the house, not disturbing, not upsetting, not rattling her.  I didn't want a child who swallowed his emotions, like me.  I knew how essential it was to raise my child differently, more healthfully. But how to teach him?

We both had so much to learn about how to express anger and frustration.

I am aware of the enormous role my sons' preschool and Pre-K teachers had in the life of my young family.  I am so thankful for these wonderful women, who helped me understand my three boys as individuals.  They modeled ways to talk to, play with, and discipline my children, provided books, articles, and websites as resources, helped me find answers to my questions.  Their guidance helped me to be a better parent.  

Dresses without argument

Keith's preschool years were my first introduction to "sensory issues" - again, thank you preschool teachers!

How we struggled over what he would wear.   He would get so angry! Oh my.
"That feels swishy, Mommy."
The seams in his socks, if not "just so" on his feet, would drive him wild.

I remember his wonderful Pre-K teacher, Mary Landsman, explained how sometimes the tightness or texture of clothing is like a fingernail on a chalkboard to a young child - like so much loud noise in their ears - rendering them incapable of thinking about anything else, stuck and angry.  She helped me to see how important it was to not hold my child to some aberrant, adult-driven rule,
"Wear these or else" or
"You can't wear those because you wore them yesterday,"
but to have him help to choose the clothing, to let go of fashion, to allow him to wear the same thing day in or day out.  That year, he wore the same pair of green sweatpants to school everyday.  (Thank goodness for laundry machines and the freedom to use them overnight.)

Gives Mom and Dad privacy, Stays quiet in bed, Eats without argument,

I am aware of how important it is for parents of young children to see and understand how they are creating the rituals and traditions,
the expectations,
the norms,
for how children should interact with one another and with adults.  Parents of young children are shaping a family.  It doesn't happen in an instant, but many, many opportunities over time.

In these early years, we took awkward first steps at setting family expectations for staying in one's bed, eating as a family (and appreciating the chef!), and giving one another space.  It wasn't automatic. I remember tearful dinners and exhausting good night routines.  But we were making steady progress.  Over time, we created family traditions, our family "way."

These imperfect days led to a home where
we don't yell at one another,
we get frustrated and take a deep breath and figure out how to talk about it,
we are allowed to question things and to do things differently from one another,
we enjoy our family meals and evenings together, and
our time apart.

It helps to have a supportive, loving partner in this parenting, as I have had (thank you, Tony!).  And fantastic preschool teachers along the way - thank you Irene, Mary, Cindy, Janise, and Mindy!

I'm not entirely sure why I kept this chart.

With hindsight, the list of "goals" seems like a lot at once for a young child; if I had a do-over, I'd isolate one of the goals and work on that only.  (Often success in one area has positive effects elsewhere.)

Truly, I'm not sure where I stand on behavior charts like these for preschoolers.  I definitely don't like them in a classroom as a public display, where children might be pitted against one another, leading to a sense of isolation and defeat for those who do not achieve.

However, perhaps they are useful for a parent or teacher to have with a child, one on one?  I wonder if some young children might benefit from having a visual aid that isolates specific small issues/goals to work on?  Charts allow you to voice the issue in a non-emotional way - helping the child to work towards specific goals.  

Certainly, charts like this are great for reflection, twenty years later....
It has served its purpose.  Time to throw it out! ;-)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Mom is a kid

[I wrote this last Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012, with the intention of submitting it as a Tuesday Slice of Life for Two Writing Teachers. Well, my day and the week to follow were much too stressful and this simple post did not happen.  Lucky me, it is Tuesday again, so here goes....]

Here I am in South Carolina, to support my father and mother as he covers from knee replacement surgery and she continues her dementia decline.  Whew.  This is work.

The parallels between my mother and toddlers are not lost on me.

Except that she will only get younger, more incapable.

Where is the joy in this?

Today -
I was on the phone trying to change my flight, to stay a little longer, a call that required nearly 100 percent of my focus.  I am on my cell phone, when the house phone rings.  I cannot go to it.  I ignore it, mentally begging the ringing to stop, as I continue my negotiating with the airline.  I hear my mother answer the house phone.

Mom appears in the doorway, her hand on her hip, a scowl on her face.

Coincidentally, the airline puts me on hold and I am able to ask,

"Mom, is there something wrong?"

"So, you are going to talk on the phone when I do?"


"I answer the phone and you do, too?"

I realize she is angry because she thinks I am carrying on a conversation on the same phone line that she had been on - that I have not trusted her to answer the phone on her own.  But these are two separate phone lines!

I see that at this precise moment, she is aware of her declining skills - and frustrated and angry.

I distract her with something else, sweetly asking,
"Mom, will you hand me that cup of tea?,"
pointing to it on the counter.
Mom smiles and gets it for me.  She has forgotten about the phone, her frustration is erased.

I think about how essential it is,
for all of us,
to feel able,
to feel that we are contributing.
Whether we are three or eighty-three, we need tasks that stretch us, that give a sense of purpose.

This is a bittersweet time, but I am still learning and reflecting.