Preschool Peer Pressure

As the winter continues and the temperature hovers closer to zero than to freezing more often than I’d like, my children and I are forced to spend more and more time indoors.  With that comes a sort of routine and inevitably weighing the benefits of getting my kids in their gear to head outside, even for a trip to the store, versus whether we should just suck it up, eat frozen chicken nuggets and Motts apple sauce for yet another day in an attempt to stay warm and close to home.  I’d say we’re about 50/50 and when it doesn’t seem unnecessarily cruel, we usually head out for at least part of every day.

This leads my train of thought to next year and the inevitable preschool dilemma because I imagine having to get our butts in gear and out the door by a certain time 2 or 3 days a week.  Jax will be 4 in October, which means that he still has two full years after the current one before he enters kindergarten when he will be nearly 6.  I’m happy with that situation for many reasons, but the most selfish is that he gets to stay home with me again for another year.  The older he gets, rather than looking forward to the days when he will be shipped off to school and disciplined by someone other than me, I instead feel panicky at the thought of entrusting his precious self to someone else.  Someone less than ideal.  Remember, I have been a public school teacher in my former life, and I know that all teachers have their faults and weaknesses.  Our kids will be public school kids, and I’m lucky enough to live in a town where the public elementary school is stellar.  I went in there the other day to inquire about their preschool program, and I could not have been more pleased with my first impression.  So that is not the question at hand.

The question is, Why are all preschool programs for 4-year-olds three days a week?  This is going to be Jax’s big transition to going somewhere alone, without me.  We all know where I’d LIKE him to go (ahem, Waldorf school, cough…) but where I’d like and where we can afford seem to be divergent roads in a yellow wood.  I am looking for somewhere in which I will entrust my son for the two years preceding his kindergarten year.  I am now realizing that almost every program is either for three or four days; does anyone else think that that is too much too soon?  Where is the baby step?  Or did I miss that step this year when he was three, when I was supposed to put him somewhere two days a week other than foster our relationship at home?  I don’t think either of us are ready for that.  Mostly me.  But maybe a small part of him, too.

This Saturday we went to a birthday party with probably close to 20 kids, and preschool was a hot topic discussed while arranging play mats, easing kids in and out of the bouncy house, and dishing out snacks.  All of the children present who would be three next year are going to a 3-day preschool program except for Jax and one other boy.  In a way I feel like I have to explain myself and admit that I’m not ready to send him away for three days next year.  No, we don’t have a school picked out yet.  No, we’ll probably do something a little more unorthodox (a.k.a. piece random shit together).  I want to hold off for 3-day preschool until the year before he goes to school.  Now, please note that my friends are the least judgmental crew I could have asked for, and if I told them I was going to home school Jax for the rest of his life, send him off to military school tomorrow, or send him to a local co-op, they would be more than supportive.  Just as I think it’s perfectly acceptable for them to be sending their kids somewhere a few days a week, they understand that it’s what works for our family not to.  But I felt a bit conflicted–everyone else’s kids are going somewhere, why not Jax?  What am I afraid will happen?  That he’ll learn too much?  That he’ll grow up too fast?  No and no, he’s already pretty smart and also thinks he’s the big kid of campus at our tiny little Waldorf school.  Nothing bad would happen if he went somewhere for 3 days a week next year.  So what’s holding me back?

I think one of the reasons is that I am nervous about letting go, but not because I want to keep my kids under my wing forever.  I just have very high standards for what I consider appropriate play and what I would judge a suitable playroom for my kids for that many hours a week, and those standards aren’t the norm.  I am terrified to send him into a traditional preschool, which so closely resembles a kindergarten room, and have the experience be negative and thus put a negative spin on school in the future.  That’s why I love the Waldorf school so much–it feels so much more like a home, like an extension of a beautiful, peaceful, non-academic/low pressure playground where the balance between play and learning seems to be seamless.  It doesn’t really have an academic connotation at all–that’s all under the overt radar.  I have always hated drilling children and didn’t do it in my classroom; what if a different preschool smothers the flame of his love for learning and letters and reading by overdoing it, or not doing it well?

Is this a problem that I’m going to have to face at any school, in any situation?  Absolutely.  Most parents I talk to think I’m crazy.  If I put it off traditional preschool for a year and direct his exuberance and excitement to places other than the traditional school setting for a bit, do some of you understand why?  Because I’m crazy and a bit of a micro-manager?  Yes.  Because I’m lucky enough to be home with my kids, and I’m just not in a rush to see it end?  That, too.  Call me crazy, but even on the most hectic of days, I just straight-up like being home with them.

And before you call me a hypocrite, yes, I would send Jax to the Waldorf nursery school in a heartbeat, and yes, that is three days a week.  But I am so on board with their philosophy and their manner of discipline and play that I would feel more than confident that his needs were being met and his self was being nurtured in a way of which I would approve.  Am I being a crazy, nit-picky mom who says, It’s Waldorf or the highway for preschool?  Maybe, for now.  Is that in Jax’s best interest?  Maybe not.  But as one of my friends pointed out today, we can mostly blame ourselves for the flaws in our kids’ personalities, be it co-dependence, arrogance, fear, or the like.  Of course by “flaws,” I don’t mean to say there’s something wrong with our kids–everyone has something in their personality they have to work on (for me, it’s obviously over-analyzing even the most mundane of decisions)–and kids are no exception.  One huge reason I want Jax to go to preschool is because he is the most egocentric, I-am-the-most-important-thing-in-the-universe, praise-driven first child on the planet.  He needs to learn patience and that not all adults are here to worship him.  He has to figure out that he will not get praise or rewards or accolades for every teeny step in his development.  Is he going to learn this from me?  Heck no!  I’m the one who made him that way!  I will praise and worship and love this kid like he is the coolest thing since sliced bread, because to me, he is.  It’s not my job to teach him that reality (well, it is, but in smaller doses).  I need him to be around other adults and kids and to learn the nuances of sharing, friendship, cooperation, and patience.  But does he have to be gone three days a week in order to learn it?  I thought that doing Morning Garden one day a week this year was a good first step–apparently I’m already a year behind.

I’m just wondering if anyone else has ever had a hard time entrusting their children to others at this age, or was consumed with worry about how the decisions made at this point of their development will impact them throughout their lives.  I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to think that where and how often and with whom they go to preschool will greatly form who they will grow to be.  So, to me, if my ideal preschool location isn’t an option, is it so terrible to opt for the second best option, hanging out with me?  We plan to enroll him in two separate, one-day classes where he’d have exposure to the arts and sciences in a semi-formal, fun way that nurtures his creativity but keeps it light.  Plus some form of sport, like gymnastics or maybe soccer, and our weekly trip to the library for story time and a craft, and I think we will have created a pretty good preschool-program-for-four-year-olds that doesn’t require me to get up and out the door by 8:00 three times a week or on a blustery winter day if we don’t want to.  Or continue going if he hates it.  Or continue going if I hate it!  We have a whole other year for all that.  For now, I think I’ll just keep with my alternative, hodgepodge preschool format, and pray that one of you is a secret Waldorfian who wants to be a benefactor to one charming yet self-centered little guy who is trying to thrive in this crazy world constructed by his equally crazy mother.  With me over-analyzing every move we make, I can only hope that he develops into someone who isn’t completely neurotic, but even if he does, man will this kid be loved!  And potentially a super mama’s boy, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

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The Un-Resolution

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself lately, it’s that I can’t do it all.  Not that anyone ever expected me to, but I have a crazed perfectionist syndrome that is hard to suppress.  There is one arena where I have never attempted to achieve much, however, and therefore, not much can be expected of me.

In college I survived on macaroni and cheese, just-add-water-pancakes, and soda.  Now I lead a life where I’m not supposed to give my kids food that comes out of a can or a box or the freezer?  I do my best, but I’m not sure I can handle that one.  Remember when I had to stop someone at the grocery store to ask what a kiwi looked like?  Or when a stalk of broccoli almost foiled my first cocktails and crafts? For God’s sake, I brought a can of corn to Thanksgiving dinner at JDubbs’s cousin’s house one year as my side dish because I love it.  Really.  Needless to say, I don’t have high hopes for any culinary ventures in my life.  As I say on a daily basis, thank God for JDubbs.

My latest example includes a frozen pound of hamburger meat, a frying pan, and an attempt to make cheeseburgers.  Charred on the outside + raw on the inside + 60 seconds in the microwave = very well done burgers that didn’t taste too bad.  At least to me, but then again, I like deviled ham.  I thought the burgers came out fine, but considering both my children, even Em who would probably eat a rock if I put ketchup on it, gave them looks like this:

and pretty much only ate the bun, I guess I’m better off pulling one of those TGIFriday’s little sliders (that, by the way, are ready in 50 seconds and are delicious) out of the freezer and saying forget this whole cooking cockamamie.

Especially considering that when we sat down to eat, my kitchen looked like this:

Really, was all this worth it?  I think not.  Parents who prepare wholesome, healthy, fresh meals for the children every night without resorting to tying them up or locking them in a closet deserve a medal.  There are some things I’m good at, but cooking’s just not it.  So this New Year’s, my resolution is to cook as little as humanly possible  in 2012.  I think that would be best for everyone involved, don’t you?

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Here they are, before I forget:
1.  As I said in the previous post, I am not going to get lazy this winter and rely on the TV to entertain my kids.  Just because it’s winter in Vermont doesn’t mean we can’t leave the house or play outside.  I must be outdoorsy and wear layers.  I must buy snow pants.
2.  I am not going to buy another book until I have reread every single book I own and do some serious book purging.  I have books covering every available surface of my house and several LARGE boxes of them in closets and in storage.  There is even one in our bathroom.  So as punishment and motivation, I will redetermine if this is a book I must own for life, or if it is a book worthy of selling or donation.  Some books, like the Harry Potter  series are understood as keepers and therefore do not need another reading.  But Joseph Andrews on the bookshelf in our living room? I know I liked it when I was taking my Literature of the Restoration class at SHU, but is it a book to keep for life?  I need to revisit that, and declutter my house.  Badly.
3.  I am going to be less bossy, in general and to the tall, dark, and handsome man that resides with me.  I’m very bossy.  I just like things done my way, and I don’t always have time to ask nicely, but I’m going to make time.  Because nobody likes that girl.  And nobody likes living with her, either.  So unless I want to drive my husband away to the strip club/bowling alley in the next town over (oh, yes, it’s on my Bucket List), I better bring it down a notch.
4.  Not gain back the weight I’ve lost.  All I will tell you is that a) I never had to diet before b) it was way harder than I thought it would be c) I sucked at it at first and almost killed my husband over a few grains of rice that may or may not have put me over my allotted points d) it works.  I love Weight Watchers, even though she’s a real bitch sometimes.  I have lost almost 10% of my body weight and (as of last week, weigh in again tomorrow) have 2 pounds to go to my goal.  And my goal is what I used to way on an everyday basis prior to kids.  And I fit into my old clothes.  Even the pair of jeans I stashed under my bed in a see-you-when-I-see-you-probably-like-three-years-from-now moment.  It’s amazing.  I can’t make my skin all smooth and perfect like it used to be, but I can definitely make the effort to not inflate it with extra blubber.  Again, JDubbs didn’t sign up for that, and I was pretty unhappy.  It feels good to be me again.
5.  Go to California in September for JDubbs’s birthday and the Valley of the Moon festival in Sonoma.  There, I said it!!  We have to go! It’s a resolution!  Please???
And I’ll leave you with this because there are always photos to share:
I resolve to take more pictures.  That one I know I’ll be able to keep!
Oh and I resolve to have Auntie Amanda build my kids a puppet theatre.  No pressure or anything, Boo!
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 Since December 31st was inevitably going to be splattered with sickness, and as I have aired all my grievances and grumpiness about being under house arrest in the last post, I vowed to make an attitude change.  I could not make our kids well overnight.  I could not melt the snow, nor would I want to, really.  There were so many elements out of my control that could frustrate and annoy me, but that is not how I wanted such a remarkable year to end.  I needed to embrace my day as it was undoubtedly going to be, and rock the small moments I could handle.  I could make our last day of 2010 as bright and memorable as possible, bit by bit.  Of course, that means pulling out the box o’ crafts and letting Jax make a mess, which would most certainly not be his last of the day.  It was just one of those kind of days, but at least the mess was all food and paint and toys strewn about, not the bodily function kind like the days before and after.  2010 needed to go out in a bright, messy bang.
And voila!
I decided our little man was just going to get craftier and more artsy as 2011 progressed, so it was time to embrace his inner Van Gogh and make some space for it.  Let him claim a little bit of our home as his own and show him we are proud of him and his creations.  Thus, Jax’s permanent art installation in our home:
I figured it would be a visual reminder to me that there is always something more bright and cheerful to be doing on a rainy/snowy/whiny/pukey day, and will motivate me to think outside the box and rely less on Mickey Mouse.  Sounds kind of like a New Year’s resolution, huh?  That just occured to me.  Well, I resolve to not let the winter get me down and to make sure my kids have opportunities for fun and creativity.  And to display their fun and let them know that their Mommy and Daddy think they’re amazing every day.  I like it.
Oh, but just in case you think that I’m blowing Happy New Year sunshine up your ass, while I was building Jax’s art wall and boosting his self-esteem, he was doing some making of his own.
Mess-making, that is.  And just when I was getting all positive and I believe the children are our future
reality, in the form of one toddler monster, slapped his food on the floor and reminded me it’s time for a nap.
Okay, a little disheartened.  A little back to grumpy.  A little disillusioned and this winter is gonna suck feeling creeping back into my happy new year.  Emm wouldn’t nap and I even let her cry longer than usual (I know, bad Mommy, she’s sick!  But she’s sick so she needs to sleep–it’s a double-edged sword), and she finally fell asleep five minutes after Jax woke up from his nap.  Then my computer completely died.  So the shine was starting to come off my day a little and I no longer felt like celebrating the big or small things.
But, then this happened.
And this.
And be still my heart, these happened:
And my day was back on track.  Just like that.  The sunshine came pouring back into our day and I remembered how much I have to be thankful for.  And I could feel myself grinning and my heart growing and I was grateful for today.  For this year, really.
And I am grateful for this picture because it makes me laugh.  Doesn’t Jax’s head look gigantic???
It’s all about perspective and 2010 was determined to end with a bright, messy bang.  It wanted to go out with some sibling companionship.
And maybe one sibling trying to grab another’s binkie, causing the latter to try to push the former off the recliner.  Justifiable, really.  She’s gotta learn somehow.
She didn’t fall, I promise.  Well, not at that moment.
So, goodbye to 2010!  A year which brought us, above all, beautiful Baby Em, the smiliest little lovebug who makes our heart melt with happiness.  And the year that turned Jax two, which I’m not sure I’m happy about.  The year that took us to San Diego for the last time for a while.  The year that saw me returning to my normal weight and pre-baby clothes (hooray!).  The year that made our house a home and gave us a new yard.  The year that ended at 11:59, after a delicious dinner out with my husband, with me holding my baby girl and snuggling her to sleep.  A great way to end a year, and the perfect way to usher in a new one.
Happy New Year!
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One unexpected benefit of living wherewe do is how many diverse educational opportunities exist locally, starting as early as preschool.  We are fortunate enough to have two well-respected private schools in town, as well as a really great public elementary school, so JDubbs and I never really thought much about where we would send our kids to school.  The local elementary school would be completely adequate for Jax, and Em, too, if we’re still around at that point.  I’m not too concerned about preschool since, with Jax’s birthday falling in late October, he won’t be able to attend kindergarten until he’s nearly six, and therefore he’ll have plenty of time for all that.  Also, wait lists and paying for education that I can provide at home just really aren’t my thing.
That is, until Jax and I walked into this last week at the Upper Valley Waldorf School Winter Fair:
And I was smitten.  And still am.  And I’m trying to get Jax on the waiting list for preschool here.
It’s not really a preschool (although they do offer that, too); it’s like a pre-preschool, one morning per week with a parent accompanying him.  Kind of like the perfect bridge to preschool–a little hand-holding for my little guy who loves holding hands.
So, to explain, the local Upper Valley Waldorf School had its annual Winter Fair last week, and since Jax’s friend Harper attends and this is their big fundraiser, I wanted to show some support.  Plus, I’ve been feeling a little crafty lately, and was intrigued to find out more about this school where there are no synthetic toys or materials and where the children play and learn in a school that feels like a home.  I wanted to check it out with my cynical public school teacher eyes.
And what I saw was a joyful, intelligent, imaginative, appreciative, children-centered school environment, where the students were proud of their school and were willing to support it however they could.
By playing Christmas music to the Winter Fair attendees on their violins:
By offering up their classrooms and materials for gingerbread house-decorating, tinkering with metal and wire ornaments, weaving cranberry wreaths, or bedazzling a faux gingerbread man ornament:
By thinking outside the commercially-driven box.  For example, instead of buying tickets to use throughout the fair, I purchased miniature clothespins which I strung on a bell necklace made of twine to give in exchange for crafts and experiences.  Something so small and yet it set the tone of simplicity and minimalism rather than typical consumerism.  I know I sound so preachy with all my -isms, but during the holidays I feel so bombarded with pressure to consume and spend; it was nice to get back to basics.  And Jax thought that necklace was the absolute coolest thing.
Throughout the fair, it was the small touches like this that really got me, and the absence of the traditional, cookie-cutter school fair paraphernalia that made it all the more sincere.
They had me at “clothespin.”
I won’t claim to be an expert on Waldorf education, but as a teacher-on-hiatus I do know that there are a few things I’d change about the public school system and that maybe I don’t want to rush to put my kids in that potentially vicious cycle of pressure and testing.  Not when there are gnome circus tents to explore, handmade by students, staff, and parents:
A real three-ring circus under a big top, toddler-sized, with gnome clown cars and acrobats and tight-rope walkers.  The kids got to go in and explore it 3-4 at a time.
And when we left, we got to take a gnome home with us from the audience.  Jax chose the red one, and also pulled that little baby gnome out of the apron of The Pocket Lady–one clothespin and he could reach into one of her many pockets and take a small handmade gift.  They were in such contrast to the cheap plastics things he would have won from a carnival or out of a vending machine.
And when we left I bought a make-my-own King Winter that my niece Erika graciously helped me assemble with the help of some colored pencils and glue.
Isn’t he cute?  I know, his beard is falling off.  My glue needs an upgrade.
So, yes, I’m smitten.  I’m smitten by the simplicity, the joy, the humanity, the integrity of what I saw in a few hours at that school.  I have a crush on the non-conformist Waldorf style of early education.  I may not send my kids to school there when they are school-age, but the idea of keeping their childhood a little sweeter and worrying about them learning their letters, numbers, colors, shapes later appeals to me.  Maybe it’s because Jax seems like he’s on the right path already that I’m not in much of a rush for him to grow up and go to school.  If he can stay a kid as long as possible, fostered by a nurturing school environment, fueling the fire of his imagination, that’s fine by me.
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there is really nothing like
having a small little person
whose butt fits perfectly in your hand
and whose toes perch perfectly on your thighs
and whose head is cradled perfectly against your shoulder
so your cheekbone rests perfectly on her head.
because pretty soon
their head will still fit in that spot on your shoulder,
and always will,
but their bodies will grow and grow and grow–
as they should–
but it’ll never be quite as nice as when they snuggled up
just that perfectly,
their bodies perfectly molded against yours.
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Giving Thanks

Tomorrow is Thankgiving, and I know my fingers will be too full of delicious food and my brain will be too sleepy and full of football to give thanks properly for the myriad blessings in my life.  So I’ll do it now.
* I’m thankful for my beautiful and healthy family.  Yes, my family, like all families, has its members with aches and pains and twinges and discomfort, but there is no one suffering from a terminal disease or lying in a hospital bed, and for that I am especially grateful.
* I’m thankful for my beautiful and perfect children.  For my chubby little Em who could not be a better snuggler if she tried.  For my sweet Jax who today called me “Mama Bear” and when I asked him what that made him, replied, “the baby bear.”  I love them both beyond words.  Oh, and don’t forget Baxter.  I am grateful for how comfortable I am that he will always be there for my kids, as protector or pillow.  He doesn’t seem to mind either way.
* I’m thankful for warmth.  For my warm house, our confidence in warm water and warm food, and for our fireplace where there will soon be stockings hung with great care.
* I’m thankful for our house and the home we have turned it into.
* I’m thankful for JDubbs’s job and its ability to let me stay home with my kids while they are growing and soaking up every new thing that comes their way.  I wouldn’t change my situation for anything.
* I’m thankful for my friends, near and far.  Wherever we go, JDubbs and I seem to find our perfect matches and create a great circle of friends worth having for years to come.
* And of course, I’m thankful for my incredible thoughtful husband who always knows what I need, be it space, sleep, quiet, wine, Glee, a new lens for my camera, or a hug.
Or the car of my dreams.
My early Christmas present from my spontaneous and incredible husband.  The mini-van I’ve been needing, waiting and pining for.  Not many men would trade in their rugged SUV for a mini-van, knowing that their only other cruising option is a 7-year-old Jetta.  He will be a man with a mini-van.  But apparently the mockery that comes with that isn’t bad enough to keep him from making his wife unbelievably happy.  And for that, and him, I will always be so very thankful.
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