Where We Are Now

Remember that time we agonized over daycare? Then moving to a Montessori pre-school? Then public vs private grade school?*

Also, you know those moments when you have to make a really difficult decision and you have no way to know how it will shake out and then it turns out that, even though it was impossible in the moment, it was still the best decision you could have made?

RR’s Montessori grade school costs us an arm, leg, and very nearly the entirety of our bank account. We are tremendously lucky to be in the position to even make this choice. I think that at least once a day. But it wasn’t easy to decide. I love our public school system, for all its flaws. In the end, it came down to knowing RR well enough to make the decision that would best accommodate her style of learning and, let’s be honest here, her enormous personal space. And also? I’m pretty sure this whole business OF STILL NOT BEING POTTY TRAINED IN AUGUST wouldn’t have been great in public school. Regardless, she is, as her teachers have often described her, a true Montessori learner and so she’s happy as a pig in mud.

I can’t talk about how happy I am with the guides and students and school and lessons without crying all over the place so I won’t. I can’t sum it up all that well anyway. So here’s the bright spot in my week this week, coming directly from her teacher about their classwork for the week:

We began a study of the Montessori work called Interdependencies. In this study of economics, we have a set of cards that is used in several ways. One is to discuss a particular food we eat. The cards show people and a small emblem signifying the work they do to produce a particular food. These cards are used to illustrate just how many people are required to produce one item we use on a daily basis. We start with our own breakfasts, discussing what we eat. Most people’s breakfasts include a form of bread or cereal. From there, we ask where the bread comes from. The baker is the usual reply. From there, we add the shopkeeper, the transporter, the miller, the farmer, etc. One student remarked, as if on cue, “Look how many people it takes to give us our bread!” Your child may come home with their own colored pages or booklets of people and their jobs. Some chose to make cards of their own parents’ jobs, which was interesting and fun. 
Later, we will use the cards as we discuss how each person needs all the others to live, and we’ll also discuss things like taxes and services our cities and country provide. The goal here is to show children how everyone places a role, and everyone is needed.
One of the beauties of the elementary Montessori curriculum is that it emphasizes both the interconnectedness of human beings and the fundamental needs that we all have in common.”

This is a typical missive and sometimes they are so lofty I’m not sure I even get the concept but RR does, without fail. What she learns shows up everyday in the form of remarkable empathy, courtesy, patience, and respect. Interdependencies have been a big part of how we have framed her questions about the election and current fallout and again I think, I am so fortunate to have this child, this family, this school, this community.

I just had to tell someone and I picked you.

 

**There are posts on these and I’d have linked them expect that we had started trying to have a second while moving to the Montessori pre-school and so those posts are littered with this IUI and that IUI and obviously no actual babies. So you’ll have to take my word for it – those posts exist and those moments were agonizing.

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Handling Death at 6 – Practice Session

Three years ago we finally took a deep breath. We moved RR from a good but not right for her preschool to a Montessori school. I worried constantly that summer and through the first year. Would they kick her out when they realized she didn’t care for circle time? Would we get a stern talking to when they discovered she couldn’t, wouldn’t potty train at three? Would she thrive there? Would she finally make friends? Would she learn? Would she be able to transition to public school? Were we making a terrible mistake?

We did not. Any fan of Montessori and, more importantly, any fan of our local Montessori would have lovingly patted us on the head to hear our fears but they didn’t because they are fans and there’s no head patting in Montessori. And they were right. Here we are in July, RR has graduated and is too old for their camp. She misses the work. She misses her teachers. We miss them too. And not just because together they made a good Montessori school, but because they are good, kind people.

Good people. People that when we called in tears last Monday to ask for help, to say that our beloved cat was dying, to say that we couldn’t bring RR with us to the vet, to say that our other lifelines (and there are a surprising lot of them) were all elsewhere, they said, bring her to us. We will keep her until you come. How many schools can you call and ask them to take your child?

The point of this post, and it’s a grim one, is that we had to say goodbye to imperfect, frustrating, biting, soft as a bunny, fluffy as a cloud, fun and funny, Sol. While he made it through the first scare, he never really bounced back. After a terrible weekend of staggering and listlessness, the vet confirmed that there was nothing more to do. One giant chunk broke off of my heart.

Debra and I spent last weekend, crying, petting him, and having a conversation about what more to do, there was a question with no answer. Do we tell RR so that she can say goodbye? How do we do it? Neither of our parents ever let us into the animal euthanasia conversation. Both Debra’s and my pets just disappeared with a comment after the fact. This didn’t seem right or kind or fair. And perhaps we were different children, but we felt like RR was mature enough to take it in.

What a terrible thought: This will not be the last death she endures as a child. Better to begin.

And so, she and I sat for a moment next to him. We held hands and petted his small head. Said goodbye.
Sol is very sick, I told her. I have to take him to the vet and he might not be able to come home.
He will die? she asked. Yes, I told her.
I’ll miss him.
Me too.
You’re crying mama. Big tears. Yes, I said. I’m very sad. I love Sol so much.

And that was it. When we picked her up from her amazing school, I told her that Sol had been too sick and that he died. She said, I’ll miss him so much. And that, was that. I doubt it will be so easy with her grandfather, but I’m so grateful for Sol’s last gift. A practice session.

 

This Is Actually About Nothing At All

I’m sure this never happens to you. An utter traffic jam of thoughts, none of which can squeak past any of the others onto the page. Sometimes I manage to jot a note on a sticky pad when I get to work only to find out that I’ve forgotten what it means when it’s time to write. Like the bright pink one that said only “JAM”

Other thoughts get as far as my phone where I tap them out without editing and rarely ever go back to them, usually because they are incoherent or because they are the sorts of things that were better left unsaid to begin with, like this gem:

noteJealousy is super adorable, isn’t it?

And then there are the questions I mean to answer for myself but then decide those thoughts are too self-indulgent, too dark, or too without answers and so I don’t begin. For example:

Why is my co-worker such an asshole?
Why don’t I like to cook anymore?
How do other people manage to go to the gym, have supper with their family, and read stories without getting having to go at 8pm?
Is this just what life is?
Why is the Great British Baking Show so soothing?

I have a running list of cancer items, of course, but I get so tired of sobbing every time I let my mind slide around them and, since we’re friends, I feel like you deserve a break from the oceans of tears. At the top of that list is a post likely titled “WHY THE FUCK DID YOU THINK FRANKINCENSE OIL WOULD CURE A BRAIN TUMOR?” but I’ll probably dial it back to “RESEARCH IS AN ACTUAL THING YOU GUYS!”

I’ve got other things that fall into the category of venting:

My sister’s recent visit. My other sister’s upcoming visit. How I’m totally turning into my mother. I’m incapable of taking care of myself. Work is hard. Life is expensive.

And then there are the things this place is, at least superficially, about, like RR’s parent-teacher conference wherein we all learned that the sum total of RR’s life is Art. I am parts delighted by her dedication to turning out one drawing after another and concerned that all of the drawings are the same. Don’t worry, I have slightly less creepy photographic evidence. Also, asking for advice on teaching her to ride a bike (as in, this child has never agreed to try to pedal anything, not even a tricycle). And updates on the Search for a First Grade which is not as easy as you’d think and involves a fair amount of patience with ones wife* and school administrators. That list item drags behind it a whole host of controversial musings on testing, after school care, taxes, Public School, city practices for special needs children, The Smell, arts funding, and money.

*Me. I suspect that I can only moan “but who is RR, really?” so many more times before my wife simply enrolls her somewhere without telling me.

Frustrated

Perhaps my expectations are too high. I don’t think it’s unreasonable that my four year old would consistently use the toilet but perhaps it is. Perhaps it’s tantamount to my mother putting trash in the can and NOT in the sink. Physically impossible.

I realize that after almost two years of lamenting about this to you, I neglected to share the pay off, the really exciting news, the actual pee in the potty. You deserved it and I’m sorry I cheated you. On the other hand, I’ve probably saved you the letdown I’m experiencing which, when I say letdown, is more of a catastrophic deflation.

download

 

Now that you know that, I feel like I can share the excitement without the disappointment because you will be reading and thinking aha, I know this does not end well and I will have saved at least one of us from wondering if I’m a terrible mother, an inept caretaker, or both, probably both.

After a marathon weekend attempting to potty train her, employing our friends (and our friends’ children) as back-up, we finally achieved one incidence of pee IN the potty on Memorial Day weekend. We took her to school that Tuesday, armed with panties and the promise of a reward (specifically a DVD. Specifically Frozen. And I have plenty to say about that.) if she managed a repeat. She did not. In fact, she simply wet her pants all day. I kept her home the next two days in a boot-camp style effort which…worked. By Friday, she was reliably peeing in the potty.

Mind, this required reminders. How do you do foreshadowing in a blog? Doom noises? This?

foreshadowing

 

And so we have continued on in panties, rarely making it a whole day without a change, although I can’t tell if that’s because of a long nap (which I understand), or poop (which, I can’t even figure out how to train), or because she just…doesn’t manage it. Even at home, where we have some more control over the situation, she sometimes just wets her pants. And it’s not as though she tells us, she just carries on as if nothing has happened. I could belabor this point but, suffice to say, after spending a weekend with her, I’m not sure she’d go if we weren’t reminding her.

This is not potty-trained.

Hot-Air-Bulloon-Tshirt-by-Evan-Ferstenfeld-and-Tasha-Campbell-200x196

Montessori, while working for her wonderfully in every other aspect, isn’t into reminders. So if she’s wet, they send her to change and, since that’s often, she comes home reeking of urine every other day. At least. I want to unequivocally love them but I am getting increasingly frustrated by the combination of my inattentive child and the hands-free staff.

A month in and I’m not convinced she’s getting it. I don’t think it’s oppositional although she sometimes gets belligerent if you ask her to try and she’s already wet. It is definitely not making a point or being on purpose. I think it falls more into the category of forgetfulness. She is, and has always been, so committed to any task she undertakes that she simply doesn’t notice the world around her. It is no surprise that she isn’t listening to her own body either.

Which begs the question, if the solution to an intensely focused kid is timers and reminders AND she is in school all week where there are no timers or reminders, how long will it take for her to get it? I can tell you, it’s longer than a month. Which then begs the questions, am I a terrible mother for allowing it to continue, a terrible mother for not being a stay-at-home mom who can magically manage all things potty-training, a terrible mother for not being aggressive with the school, a terrible mother for not taking her to a new school, a terrible mother for dwelling too much, a terrible mother for not taking her to the doctor (more on THAT gem later, my friends), a terrible mother for letting her smell like urine, or a terrible mother for being frustrated? Tell you what, I’ll bet the answer is simply a terrible mother.

So no, there is nothing to celebrate around here.

 

The Frog Work

This morning was RR’s regular Friday morning open house, a weekly opportunity for us to see the work she has been doing and to spend time with other parents watching our kids run on the playground. The change from the previous school to this has been enormous – the parents are so friendly, everyone says good morning, the kids race everywhere and play tag with moms and dads, and the work RR shows us varies tremendously from what we were used to.

For two months of Fridays RR showed us how she dusted with the fluffy duster. Then she showed us that she’d learned to roll her mat. To drop water into tiny cups. To sound out all of her letters. To piece together an abstract puzzle. This morning, she showed us how to turn on a cd player and listen to frog sounds while following along with the pictures. It’s amazing. Especially translated from this:

Last night, after bath
M: What work will you show us tomorrow?
RR: The frog work mama!
M: The frog work?
RR: The frog work goes like this uuuhhhhnnnn (low moaning sound)
M: Oh! (baffled) And what else?
RR: It lives in a tree and goes row (gesturing up and down).
M: Row?
RR: Yes, mama. ROW (placing her hand near the ground). ROW and HIGH!

Oh! And sure enough. The pictures showed frogs in trees and in ponds and the sounds on the CD were that of frogs found in the surrounding county. *I* felt enriched just listening to her describe it. She beamed while listening to the frogs. It’s hard not to beam a bit myself.

One of her teachers writes about Montessori and the works in the classroom – something I find incredibly useful. The school philosophy is a steady undercurrent in her posts and it’s a wonderful way of getting a peek into how life is going at school. Her most recent, on her own knitting work, delighted me. Knowing she and her co-teacher can oversee a large classroom of kids ages 3-6 can in such a way that she can knit (next to my daughter no less!) is better reassurance than anything the literature or director can say about the lifelong skills RR is learning.