Friday, June 29, 2012

Summer Schooling...Sort Of

Little life lessons this summer, and most are covert, learned just through life...

Friendship and Priorities

"Can I watch 'Dinosaur Train' tomorrow?" Kiddo asked me this yesterday as we were walking to the store.  "Is it on tomorrow?" He loves this show and I'm willing to let him watch it when he wants, which isn't very often.

"It's on tomorrow" I answer. "However, we are meeting our friends at the park in the morning. So, when the show is on, we'll need to be getting ready to go."  

The lip comes out, the pout. "I don't want to go to the park, then." 


"No, I want to watch Dinosaur Train." 

"Hmmm.... Well, you know, we can watch it on Friday. But watching tv shouldn't be something that's more important than our friends. "

This does little to nothing to allay his desire for tv.  At breakfast today, however, the same complaint comes up and this time, I try doing what I usually avoid, due to kid bravado--I  re-frame it in that way that rarely works:

"Hmmm. Yeah, you told me that you wanted to watch that show. What I'm wondering is, how would you feel if you had a playdate with Johnny and then his mom called and said 'Oh, Johnny doesn't want to play with Kiddo today because he wants to watch tv.' ?"

"Not good." 

"Yep. And your friends are looking forward to seeing you. We'll have a nice time today and you can watch your show tomorrow, because friends are more important than tv." 

And somehow, I think he got it! 

Walkin' and Talkin'

Anyone who knows me knows that I believe that kids need to be made hardy. This means playing outside in all sorts of weather, doing things they don't necessarily want to do sometimes, and lots of walking. 

I think I almost danced a jig when we finally got rid of the umbrella stroller. Pushing an able-bodied five year old around like royalty on a litter just isn't my thing. Walking, however, is most definitely my thing. On Tuesday morning we met up with another family at Mt Tabor for a playdate.  To get there, we walked a pleasant ten blocks to the bus stop, then bussed up to the base of the park and from there, walked up into the park and spent our playtime 'hiking' around. Once we had said our goodbyes, we walked down the hill to the local grocery store and then home. All told, about two miles of walking for the day. 

Today was similar; walk to Laurelhurst Park, playtime with friends, then we walked further down to the 28th and Burnside area; bought a great lunch at City State (who says blueberry pancakes don't qualify as lunch for Kiddo?). We walked to the local store in that neighborhood, walked to Oregon Park on 29th and Glisan and then Kiddo wanted to walk part of the way home, so that we caught a bus the last 13 blocks. This was mostly my idea-- I hate crossing at the traffic circle. It's like running the gauntlet and I usually end up fearing for our lives and saying naughty words out loud. Overall, though, I'm estimating a 1.5 mile walk. 

I'm going to walk the heels off this kid this summer. Seriously. Not because I've got anything to prove, but when you have a kid who is not interested in sports or swimming, you've got to find some way to get them exercise and tire them out a bit. Besides, I am not looking forward to waking up at daybreak each summer day. So I have some fun plans for the summer which will include lots of little walking trips:

Making a book of fountains. Last week we had some confusion about which fountain he wanted to go to, and I think taking a camera along and photographing the fountains, then making a reference book for him will help our communication... and provide a good excuse to walk all over the place.

Zoo trips. These are easy and require a good amount of walking. These do not tire him out in the least.

The Esplanade/Waterfront Park loop. The Willamette River is an interesting place, and the loop has plenty to see on the way around.

The Washington Park Rose Test Gardens. Oooh, I love roses. Nevermind that we have dug out all of our old rosebushes in favor of less demanding plants (damn blackspot!)...the Rose Test Gardens offer room to run plus two play areas close by. And a trip up the the Japanese Gardens if we are so inclined. How can we go wrong? Plus, there's bus a both up and down the hill...what could be easier?

A Good Book

A trip to the Central Library in Downtown Portland never fails to disappoint. On our last trip, we picked up a handful of good books, one of which is Holling C. Holling's "Paddle-to-the-Sea". What a treat, both in great storytelling and visually, as a boy's carved Indian in a Canoe becomes his proxy for living a life of adventure. As we follow Paddle's journey from a hill in the Nipigon country of Canada out to the ocean, Holling provides some marvelous old-school illustrations which are evocative, informative and brave in their vivid color use and bold power. Like many of my favorite illustrators, Holling's style is more technical and painterly than many of today's modern children's books-- think of artwork along the lines of Robert McCloskey ("Make Way for Ducklings", "One Morning in Maine") or Elmer Hader (who illustrated "The Big Snow", written by wife Berta). Holling's pictures tell of both his familiarity with this subject and the simple fact that he cares about what he's wanting to show the reader. We are learning a lot about the landscape, geography and industry of the Great Lakes area.

As we've been following Paddle during our snack storytime and eating up chapters, we are also stopping to explore some concepts.  Yesterday, The locks at the Big Soo near Sault St. Marie invited some online exploration; we actually found a 7 minute music video of maintenance being done on the locks-- who knows what inspired the songwriter to compose verse after verse describing the process and the varying crews which worked at the Locks during this time?  We also watched a short 'how it works' sort of video about locks in general and watched a home video of a ship passing through the locks. Short of actually building a demo with modeling clay, Kiddo now knows what the purpose of locks are... and we had a good look at the amazing and modern Falkirk Wheel in Rampage, Scotland. It blew my mind that something with the appearance of a carnival ride would work so amazingly well.  

Books spark so much pleasure and learning, if only we are curious enough to seek out what we do not know. 

So, my friends-- that's the start to my summer. What are you and your family enjoying? Learning? What sorts of invitations for learning and play are you planning on offering this season? Leave a comment and share!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Dealing With Disappointments

 Sometimes, in this world, life is going to let you down. Disappointments will arise and 'fair'?... well, 'fair' is so subjective that this is why it's necessary to have judges, be they parents, teachers or Your Honor down at the courthouse.

Sometimes, I stumble across an article which resonates so well that I need to share it. So if you want to, take a moment to read Stacy Snyder's excellent piece on why, when we parents insist on 'fair', we actually aren't doing our kids any favors.

This post caught my eye at a good time. We had just returned from a well-intentioned camping trip.   On Friday, after a week of preparation on my part, we had loaded up the car to within an inch of its life and made our way out to meet up with my family.  While the forecast had been lousy, the rain was on hiatus when we arrived.  Our night had been a good one; we'd played games, had a great meal and enjoyed each others company gathered around the fire, under the tarps. By the time we'd gone to bed, however, it had begun to fall in earnest.

Two in the morning brought a real dose of reality: the tent was getting wet.

Nearly eighteen hours after we had arrived, we were hugging our dear ones goodbye and heading back down to Astoria for a hot lunch before we hit the road for home. The trip wasn't at total wash-- not at all. We had a nice walk on the beach Saturday morning before it rained; I had some sweet time with one of my nephews.  I'd had a few fleeting moments with people I loved and knew that this was what I needed to focus on. 

Kiddo, however, was sad to have to go home so soon. Both Joe and I realized how much Kiddo had looked forward to this trip and felt bad for him because we had to cut the trip short. We discussed it over his head, spelltalking: "Maybe we could go to the a-r-c-a-d-e tomorrow?" Certainly, that would help him to feel better about the whole thing.

On the way home, Kiddo fell asleep and we began talking about disappointment and children. "It's good for kids to learn how to live with disappointment" Joe stated. I agreed wholeheartedly.Learning to live with being let down by life is tough, but it's also what toughens us up. Once you get past the hurt of not getting what you want, most of us are usually able to move toward the other available options. Try again. Prepare differently. (We are getting a new tent, by the way.) Reassess what's happened and learn from the lesson. Know better so you can do better.

As we talked, though, I mentioned that perhaps our idea of taking Kiddo to the arcade should be reexamined. "If we are acting like he 'deserved' to go to the arcade because of bad weather--which we have no control over--then we're kind of playing into this whole 'gotta make it all better' thing, right?" We decided then that we wouldn't mention the arcade until we'd really decided to go, and that would depend on how the following day went. We wanted the nickel arcade to be something we were doing for fun for our family, and not because we owed him a fix for the sogged-out camping trip, and so when we did go the next day, the disappointment from the previous day wasn't even mentioned. 

And amazingly, Kiddo hasn't complained any further about his disappointment regarding camping. By not trying to fix it for him, it helped him to move on. 

After having read Synder's article, I also wondered about how our parenting world of "fair" ends up playing out over the long term. She cites learning valuable lessons by not being included 'just because', and this is something I see many parents struggling with.  At preschool, it's my job to make sure the kids are being inclusive-- but it's also my job to point out to a child that being included comes with some common agreements. One of which is that if you are feeling left out because you are playing Puppy while everyone else is playing Pirates, guess what? It's not their job to take the puppy in. Either play what they are playing, or go find other friends who want to play Puppy. You don't get to have it both ways. Imagine how  unprepared for life that child would be, if everyone smoothed the way for him and made others include him in their group and on that individual's terms? Would I be teaching that child anything of value by allowing their desire to be included to supersede the other children's original plan...all because I didn't want the child to feel left out or disappointed? 

Does anyone truly gain from this?

This also leads me to consider the social pressure on parents to be inclusive even when it runs counter to the health or well-being of the group as a whole. In these days of mom's  groups and playdates, parents have to contemplate very thoughtfully  something our own parents likely never had to even bat an eye at: namely, the pressure to include a child who is likely targeting or harming other children purposefully. There's a lot of happy, "we're all in this together" sort of kumbaya chat that goes on in these groups and we all want to support each other as parents. But when do we say "enough is enough"? How many times do our own children have to get hurt before we decide that Little Timmy's self-esteem should not take precedence over the welfare and happiness of the group as a whole? In the not-so-Politically Correct past, the kid who was walloping another child would have been marched home and their parents would have gotten an earful. Now, we worry about how our friends will feel if we mention to them that their child is being physically hurtful or deliberately mean to other kids. 

What's worse, to me, is that children who exhibit violent behavior at school somehow also take precedence over the very real need for safety. Kids have a harder time learning in an atmostphere that is unpredictable; a good teacher manages their classroom by keeping the peace with authority and this allows the students to better focus on the tasks before them. Mainstreaming children with known and documented behavioral issues is supposedly for the good of that child, but I wonder-- if a child cannot be safe in the classroom, aren't we putting their needs first in a very unhealthy way? A teacher friend of mine recently told me that when her district went on strike and renegotiated their contract, "we finally got a budget for defensive gear for the teachers".  This teacher, like many, has had to clear her classroom because of violent children acting out, losing control, destroying expensive school property and harming other children. I am not advocating for schools to isolate children, but we must figure out some sort of middle ground between exclusion and inclusion at any price.

Sometimes, there is some old-school logic that works. When you can't play nice, you don't get to play. Like Snyder's article pointed out, just showing up is important to some degree, but really-- just showing up shouldn't merit anything other than a 'tick' in the attendance book. It doesn't make you special or more deserving, it doesn't guarantee anyone anything, other than being there in that moment. What we choose to make of that moment is up to us. Something kids need--vitally need-- to know that their golden presence doesn't make them any more special or worthy than anyone else around. It's what we do while we are within the group that matters. How we treat people, if we work and make an effort to study our lessons or practice the skills necessary to do what we desire, and if we really, truly have the talent and work ethic to shine in those pursuits-- all of this is important. Some things in life are hard.  I do believe that young children should be working toward personal bests a lot of the time, and frankly, I don't know if schools need to reward kids left, right and sideways with feel-good certificates and awards for their personalities instead of what's actually been achieved. While I don't know that competition within the classroom offers better motivation for learning than collaboration, I do feel that we have to stop putting our concern for our child's self-esteem before our concern for their development as a whole person. 

I want my son to grow into an adult who is capable of dealing with setbacks, to have the fortitude necessary to continue to go forward, albeit in a new way or different direction, and not just give up and decide that the world is a mean place and that it's someone else's fault that he feels badly. Looking back on my own adult life, I can see that some of my most challenging times were brought on by my own actions (or inaction) and choices: who I chose to have as friends or lovers; jobs I chose to take or quit; decisions I made that I have to take the responsibility for. People who don't learn this find the world a constantly hurtful and disappointing place.  These adults will eventually have to learn--in adulthood-- that life doesn't, in fact, revolve around them, or they will remain stuck. I have seen adults like this who suffer, and who make their children suffer, because they are so convinced that everyone else is the problem that they refuse to see their own power in their lives to change things. This attitude destroys their relationships; marriages and deep friendships cannot hold up under such one-sided demand. Their careers crumble or they find themselves unemployed because they cannot accept that they are the ones who must change. 

This is why I am so concerned for this generation of kids. Recently,  I read a question on a parenting forum that seemed very reasonable: a mother wanted to know what to do about her pre-adolescent child's desire to be famous, which she felt was pretty unrealistic and unlikely. To my surprise, many posters jumped on the mother, asking her why she would want to burst her child's bubble at such a young age. "Let her have her dreams" was the chorus of their advice. At what price, though? What if there is something that child is better suited for, something they would excel at and be very happy with? We can say "that's nice, dear" to our children's idyllic wants without feeding into the idea that we must build them up at every turn and at all costs. When we let them deal with the growing pains of life and some of the hard--and wonderful--realities, we help our kids to become more resilient in the long run. They will be better able to navigate their world as adults and more ready to be good parents as well. Disappointment is hard-- but going nowhere in life because real life itself is hard--well, that's even worse.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Walking Away

Camping. I love it when I get there.... well, usually. But the prep? Ugh. 

We are going to our annual family camp-out with my bio-dad's side of the family, which means dad, stepmom, sisters, spouses and kiddos.  This year, our location is Cape Disappointment, located near the mouth of the grand and glorious Columbia river. Unlike the last two years, this venture seems ominous because rain is predicted for all three days we are there. I'm determined to make it work, even if it means hanging enough tarps to make our site look like an Occupy camp. 

What's been challenging is trying to prep without doing too much too soon. What's also been challenging is that Kiddo is still adjusting to the new routine of days at home. I have been mindful of his need to keep busy. Monday found us at the zoo and then the Farmer's Market. Tuesday I traded childcare with my neighbor, Ang, and while the kids played busily all morning, Kiddo's room looked like a cyclone has passed through it. Then, during my 'down time', I hurt my back shoveling out the compost. I just love when Joe tells me to "enjoy your 'me time' ".  Yeah, sure will. Because that time is Me doing dishes and Me folding laundry and Me getting groceries for dinner... yeah, a whole lot of Me. Ha. Wednesday I had Super Girl (Ang's daughter) over again and this time planned for something easier which was a neighborhood walk and playdough. Took about an hour less to clean up! For my time alone, I headed over to Belmont Station for a book and a pint and some tater tots. 

Coming home in a good mood was a mistake. First, I got into a discussion with someone about Kiddo and  some early intervention services this person had told me about. Had I called? I explained that we'd just had an eye exam done and vision therapy had been scheduled. (I am fine with this-- it's not a big deal.) But they wouldn't let it drop. Would I call early intervention? I explained (in a much nicer tone that I felt was warranted) that after the three previous evaluations, nothing else was coming up for the therapists other than vision.

" But maybe you should call anyway, just for peace of mind?"

This is the time when I really wanted to ask this person, point blank: "So, what do you think is wrong with my kid? What's so wrong that he's got to meet another stranger, go through another tiring round of playing 'games' and I've got to wait another few weeks to get results back and sweat that again?" 

Instead,  I replied that I was fine with where we were now and that I would certainly look into any concerns his kindergarten teacher brought to my attention. "

Their reply: "Well, you know, the services are still free and available until he's six."

Yeah, and so is my service of kicking you in the pants, hard. In fact, this offer never expires...

After that lovely exchange, I went and collected Kiddo up. Despite the fact that I had worked hard to make a nice day for him, he was surly. Surrr-leeee. Like the uncooperative eighth dwarf that got kicked out of Snow White's cottage. Complaining the whole way home, he was having one of those moments when he just decided to dig his heels in about everything. Everything was a trial and tribulation. Wash hands? How dare I ask him to do that! Not let him play with pieces of broken glass? What kind of a horrible, mean mom deprives a child of this pleasure?!  He didn't want the smoked salmon I was serving with dinner, so I made him a couple of hard-boiled eggs. Gratitude? Ha! 

At last, when Joe came home and dinner was being served, Kiddo dealt the low blow. "I don't want Grumpy Mama. I want Happy Daddy." 

I cannot tell you how pissed-off I was, lest this blog become an adults-only affair. I took a deep breath and said "You know, I think I'd rather eat my dinner upstairs and watch a little tv" and I high-tailed it out of there before the wrath of Zeus came forth from my lips. 

Now, some parents might have stayed in the kitchen and punished Kiddo for his obvious disrespect. I could have sent him to his room. But in this instance, just like with the nosy person earlier, leaving without confrontation was the better way to go. With the Nosy Person, there was nothing I could have said to change the their perspective that wouldn't have been considered ultra-defensive. With Kiddo, there was nothing I could have said that wouldn't have singed his ears closed. Sometimes, it's good to let your spouse do the talking. I knew Joe had my back and that a stern admonishment from Mr Fun Time was going to be more effective-- and likely more thoroughly received-- than any punishment I could dole out. 

Later that evening, Joe did fill me in, sweet man. "I told him 'Oh no  you didn't just say that to your mother'. I made sure he knew that he was being pretty offensive." And then he handed me a chocolate croissant and a martini. Because he is a good man. He understood that sometimes, walking away is really the only sane option. And that some things, like chocolate and a stiff drink, are very, very appropriate balms at 9 pm when one finally gets to sit down. 

I have employed this tactic a few times today, and with pretty good results. I can't walk away from the rest of the work I have to do for this trip, but I can walk away from the whining, from the tasks that holler at me but can wait until we return. I can even walk away from the idea of a gin and tonic right now, even though it would be really, really nice on this hot, semi-frustrating day. I have walked toward trying to gain some ground with Kiddo-- we've played games, I've let him help me make tabbouleh, set up and take down the tent, let him be my sole focus several times today-- and though it is apparently not enough for him, I can tell myself that I am doing okay as a mom. I can walk away from the idea that I'm not measuring up and toward the idea that just for today, I am doing as fine as I can. Maybe this means reassuring myself that I'm not a bad mom for not getting Kiddo tested yet another time or that I can tell myself that Kiddo has had some very good time with me, whether he realizes it or not. Sometimes the feedback is more about their perspective than the reality. The reality is that I am tired, hungry and need to walk up to the pizza place in a moment.  At last! Something to walk toward!

Monday, June 18, 2012

I Am Superman (and maybe your kid is too!)

I say it without apology-- I grew up on comic books.  When I was ten, my  dad married my stepmom, and she brought with her loads of Archie comics.  Archie's misadventures with his stereotypical friends Betty (Nice Girl), Veronica (Queen Bee), Reggie (Kingpin), Moose (Dumb Jock), Jughead (Class Clown and possible Geek) and the whole crew... even if I didn't understand the jokes, like Veronica talking about bathing in a pool full of lanolin, I understood the social pecking order.  This was perfect instruction for a soon-to-be middle schooler who was figuring out the social hierarchies around her. That, and I got a kick out of the ads for Bendix brakes, X-Ray Glasses (they see through clothes! not!) and Sea Monkeys, which I never got but later was told were plankton or krill or something. 

A while, not too long, later, I went to Honolulu to visit my grandparents. My uncle had a treasure chest (okay, a foot locker) full of comics. Sure, there was the familiar Archie gang, but then, I met Superman. 

My life would never be the same. 

Not really-- it would totally be the same. I'd actually met Superman before, with the Superfriends. We had been keeping a Saturday morning rendezvous every time I'd visited my dad. At mom's house, we got about .5 seconds of tv a week. At Dad's house, we binged on tv. In fact, for several years we set the alarm clock for six in the morning, always forgetting that "Town Hall" would be on for the first half hour or hour or so. You'd have thought that I would have remembered after the umpteenth time  of getting up too early, but we were so excited for cartoons, even after we'd stayed up until 10 or 11 on Friday nights watching the two hour extravaganza that was Love Boat and Fantasy Island. Not that I even understood either show. I just thought Julie was awesome, Gopher was cute and hey, Fantasy Island in was my home state, baby! In any case, Superfriends was kind of cool, but later, I'd think it was kind of lame. All these Super Friends---couldn't they split up and solve more problems with their superpowers on their own? I liked Aquaman, but the Wonder Twins? I would mock them for years to come...

So, back to discovering Superman comics-- in my uncle's collection, I was also introduced to Lois Lane comics (with amazingly freaky fantasy stories, including one where she wears a hat full of fruit like Carmen Miranda, which I believe made me love Carmen later when I first saw her in a film with Groucho Marx, 'Flying Down to Rio'), Jimmy Olsen comics (which usually contain some story of Superman freaking out on Jimmy or saving his live because Jimmy has lots of pluck but not a lot of luck when it comes to bad guys) as well as Bizarro Superman (he's from Bizarro world, of course-- where did you think he came from?) and the very clever and witty Lex Luthor stories. Ah, Kryptonite, you are so accessible-- just keep putting it in that lead-lined box, Lex... All of these stories inspired me to begin creating my own superhero. 

Do I remember what name I gave that female superhero? No more than I remember the stories I wrote for the family newspaper, The Gnu News. What I do remember, besides learning how to draw reasonably-sized boobs and a princess-cut super-outfit, was that I really enjoyed it. I didn't think I was a good artist by any means, but it was something interesting, something to do. She, the Unnamed Superherione, had cool powers. I'm pretty sure she didn't wear glasses and she wasn't short and she didn't feel unpopular. She could kick your ass with a single look, she didn't have to raise her knee-high boot to do it. She could run fast, run far-- I had bad ankles and barely made the 1.25 mile "jaunt" (ha.) we had to do in PE. I came up short. So short. My heroine had no problems stopping the bad guys. Not me. I was bullied by a girl named Candice, who threatened to throw my off the bleachers.  She had feathered hair, wore buckle-back jeans and had squinty, hard mean eyes. She looked like she did things with boys and like she could kick my ass. Why couldn't she leave me alone and let me read my Trixie Belden books, for heaven sake? Trixie was one of my many girl superheroes, along with Meg Murray, Jo March, and Laura Ingalls Wilder, Menolly and Jane Eyre. These characters were, in some ways, my guiding angels as a kid and my hope when the world wasn't offering much.   A girl's literary superheroes, if you will. My superhero wasn't handsomely crafted, but she had the collective knowledge of my heroines and was willing to step into darker places than I could. Into real good girl/bad guys stories with endings more inspired by Alfred Hitchcock than the Brady Bunch. Creating gives a kid space to work out problems and permission to hope for something better.

All of this came to mind today when I listened to Terry Gross's interview with writer Larry Tye today.  He's written a book on Superman as a cultural American icon and what, exactly, Superman means to us.  So refreshing and revealing to me was that the very original writer of the Superman comics, Jerry Siegel, created him as an outlet to his own young angst at being the picked-on Jewish boy who suffered the indignities of authoritarian schooling and the mocking from his peers. Siegel and later, artist Joel Schuster, gave Superman the powers they didn't have. (That X-Ray vision? Well, Schuster was very nearsighted with coke-bottle glasses way back in the day...) Like a lot of guys we'd think of as geeks, they created the antithesis of themselves, someone who could master the problems and get the girl. Superman comics have a very interesting place in American history, and I look forward to reading Tye's book this winter, when it finally gets down to my place on the Holds list at the library.

And what I really want to talk about is our kids today... yours and mine. Comic books and graphic novels are no longer a novelty, they are a fact of life. I love graphic novels; I have ever since my freshman year in high school, when I was floundering in honors English and came across a graphic novel of Romeo and Juliet. Unless you have taken a class in Shakespearean England, which I did my senior year, most of Shakespeare's work has Zero Context for the modern teenager. Graphic novels saved my butt and my grade, bringing a very histrionic play to life and putting a world around the characters and their words. I've since read Macbeth and The Merchant of Venice as well as Oscar Wilde's  A Picture of Dorian Grey in this format and found it very helpful. If your kid is struggling with a book for English, do consider finding out if there's a graphic novel of the book-- it can be a great help in more thoroughly understanding classic literature.

Also--let your kids create their own comics,  then read them without judgment, and with curiosity. Keeping in mind that this work is sometimes whimsy and sometimes subconscious wish-fulfillment, really see what your kids are thinking about and saying. Don't be too alarmed by superhero violence or fantasy drawing-- adolescents are often frustrated by social conventions and this is a very harmless way to express their feelings, be it anger or desire or their wish to have more control and authority over their lives at home and at school. Inner conflict can be drawn out on the page; so can just plain silly stuff.  Instead of telling them what we see in their stories, ask questions: why did your superhero decide to do X? Why did the bad guys decide to pick on so-and-so character? Tell me about the woman with the big boobs riding the dragon?* (The less obvious question is 'why does she ride a dragon? Where are they going? Tell me about the dragon, does it have powers too?'... you'll get better answers if you ignore the crazy-outrageous proportions and focus on the story itself...) 

I'm all for kids reading, and I don't go in much for just reading junk, but I also think that there are some comics that aren't junk. Some are wish fulfillment at its finest. Certainly, there's a lot of crap out there in the illustrated world, but don't forget, we have Jackie Collins  and Danielle Steele. Tension, drama and fantasy have a variety of stages to play themselves out on. It's our job to find good comics for our kids and point them in the right direction, and to read their work -- be it comics, poetry, artwork or writing or other form of self-expression, with an open mind. We just might learn something. 

*Please know this is written with a chuckle. It was my opinion in 7th grade that all boys thought they had to draw every woman with big boobs. Apparently, too, on nearly everything.  

And if you haven't read Micheal Chabon's "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay", please do yourself a favor and pick it up.  You'll be glad you did.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Flying Away...on Endings and Beginnings

This morning was the morning I'd been secretly dreading. It's the last full day of preschool for Kiddo. The last morning where parents are allowed to go down the stairs with their children to the preschool space, so cozy, warm and inviting.  My heart is full of feeling as I write this, even now, and I wish I'd thought to say goodbye to the glorious main room myself, where so many little memories of my own lie in between the cracks in the blocks, in the book basket. They reside in the aquarium filled with Australian stick insects-- I remember how Kiddo called them "ant eaters" for weeks, much to my confusion, and how he liked to spray them through the screen on top with a misting bottle. I remember mornings when he'd bound in, put his name up where names go, and head to the big table filled with red Utah sand, pouring it over his hands and telling me "Mommy, you try." The sand was so soft and the kids pushed and jockeyed for position and sand toys and he seemed so little then...

No, I didn't go down memory lane just then. I was pragmatic and discreetly approached Wendy, one of his awesome and amazing teachers. "Just so I know, are you going to be telling the kids today about Monday?" She gave me a squeeze and told me that no, they'd be doing it Monday, the day that the older kids are 'flying away'. 

The Garden's Noise Preschool has a lovely tradition at the end of their year together. They hatch chrysalids in a butterfly enclosure which they later release when their wings are dry. Then, the week before school ends, the children who will return paint silk scarves for the non-returning kids. Some will go to Kindergarten, some might move out of town to a new school or go to pre-K. If you are a kid who won't be coming back next year, you get to 'fly away'. I've been fortunate enough to be connected with this school, in some capacity or another, over the past ten years, and I've been to a couple of these ceremonies, which put a lump in my throat at all the beauty and kindness and community I experienced.  I am sure I will be pretty darn weepy, as I am right now, truth be told. 

One blessing in all of this is that Kiddo will be able to enjoy his weekend without the anxiety and worry of 'what is going to happen'. I know I've touched on this before, so I won't go into it too much, just to say that I've been so incredibly pleased with how the teachers at the preschool have been so supportive of our children and the families, and how I love that their priorities are so respectful of our kids. When Kiddo's complained about having to go to school this week, I've gently reminded him that summer is coming up and we'll have a lot more stay at home days, but that's the extent to which that conversation has gone.

What I'll miss most will be the cocoon of Kiddo's little school. From the first, director/teacher Michele and teachers Diane and Wendy have worked hard to make the preschool a place of acceptance and friendship. They have done this successfully through loving guidance and much social coaching, around well-chosen activities which have engaged the children's sense of wonder and allowed their thoughts and creativity to blossom. The general tone of the parent population, too,  is more or less 'thoughtful', and so this isn't the group of kids that would be teaching my son new, exciting illicit words or the plot of Star Wars or Ironman or Transformers or other more scintillating (read: not age-appropriate) stories. Most of his preschool friends are still enamored with Winnie the Pooh, ladybugs, spontaneous fantasy play and the natural world.  Our world is going to be totally rocked by some of the more worldly families we'll meet in kindergarten.  

Can't I just shrink him back down and throw him in the baby carrier on my back and protect him forever? 

Most parents have already had this experience, sending their children off to daycare or preschool, out into the world with adults who aren't family, who weren't a truly known quantity--- and they did fine with this, I know. However, this is a bit delayed for me, because like the moms in Nostalgia Land, I never had to let my son go out beyond what was 'family' to me.  Knowing the Diane, Wendy and Michele for so long had made them already 'family'. The Garden's Noise Preschool was more or less an extension of our own home and backyard... so close we could walk there every day, as familiar to me as my own home, in so many ways. The teachers are the other honorary aunties in my life, the wise women who have helped us to get Kiddo to sleep in his own room, to become comfortable enough to play with other children, and to grow into the fun little boy we have now. 

My connection with them is not severed; they are a great resource for me as well,  and when I step back into my teaching shoes again, it will be them that I turn to for professional advice. Until then, I move into summer with a sense of acceptance and a willingness to let our days come as they will.  There's no hurry to hold onto anything-- it's a spiritual truism that we cannot receive with a closed hand, so I will keep my  heart and hands open, so that I might catch whatever goodness life throws to us.