Tales of a Fourth Grade…

You might have filled in the rest of that title but I can assure you that our fourth grader’s life is nothing like that of Peter’s in Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. For starters, we actually know what Peter’s life was like. With RR, it’s vast and unknowable. That’s right, it’s the return of the Iron Curtain.

Isn’t it cute how we mused over this phenomenon three years ago and yet here we are? The Curtain opens to reveal tidbits of information and then drops with a decided thud. For example, with one week of fourth grade down, we know that she has done Tables A, B, and C. Unfortunately, that is as opaque to us as the mating habits of swallowtails which, to be fair, RR probably knows all about and just hasn’t mentioned. We also had this conversation yesterday before the close of The Curtain:

RR: Don’t judge Britt, Mama
Me: Why would I judge your teacher?
RR: For language she told me to look up the word “dic”
Me: Why would I judge her for that?
RR: You know, mama.
Me: Because dick with a k means penis?
RR: I think it means saying something.

And that was it. The end of RR’s part of the conversation anyway. And by the way, I’m not sure why I would be the judgey one here. If anyone is going to use profanity in this household, it’s me. Anyway, what I learned from this conversation is that she obviously needs a spelling lesson.

Apparently when The Curtain opens there’s a backlog there. We learned that in third grade Ecology lessons the children sat under the trees and observed the plants in the breeze. Now though, they have to take notes instead and you can imagine how popular that is. I mean, I have to imagine it because that was the end of the conversation.

To use her words here, I’m not judging her. It’s an eternal exercise in patience for her mothers. And we could probably use it since it looks like it’s us and The Curtain, BFF4LYFE.

Literary Circles

You guys, I prefer to write in coffee shops or other public places where the bustle and noise help me zoom in and get less distracted that I would at my desk on a lunch break or in my house with dinner cooking. Coffee shop times have been few and far between this summer and I’m finding myself with lots to say but no reasonable place to get started.

We got the school supply list last week and along with the usual Montessori things (don’t forget your slippers and mug), we also have some fun and random things like, Three Colors of Acrylic Paint, Your Child’s Choice of Colors and Library Card. Which are great and lost. Also, asking my child to choose three colors will be a herculean effort as her mother and I try to corral her while she extols the virtues of Cadmium versus Pyrrole Orange.

Speaking of herculean efforts, we will also be trying to explain to RR the value of a Literary Circle and of books themselves as more than just vehicles for visual art. These small book discussion groups feature books that look good to me but are, at a glance, possibly torture. I imagine that, for RR, torture in the Montessori tradition involves book clubs. So, because she is no help at all in choosing her torture devices, I put them here in case one of you has read one and thinks a rising 4th graders with a large vocabulary but slow reading speed might find it at all interesting:

Brown Girl Dreaming
Hello, Universe
Inside Out and Back Again
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut
Joesephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine (also in Brazen!)
Babe Didrickson Zaharias: The Making of a Champion
Merci Suarez Changes Gears
Hurricane ForceL In the Path of America’s Deadliest Storms (this one is out)
Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life
The Five Ancestors: Snake
Savvy
The Night Diary
When You Reach Me
Turtle in Paradise
The Seven Tales of Trinket
The Heart of Everything That Is

Any recommendations welcome!

4th Grade

Believe me, I know. Fourth already? There’s nothing like the passing of another birthday for your child that makes you reckon with the passing of time. Her ninth birthday is looming and I can’t count the number of people who have said “I can’t believe it, nine already? She was just a baby!” Don’t I know it.

I have lots of things to say about fourth grade but this post is really about the passing of years and the ending of third, in particular. RR attends a Montessori school and the children are grouped into classrooms spanning three grades. She has progressed in the same classroom since she was 5, with the same teacher, and the same children. This year’s crop of first graders has been a particularly enjoyable experience for RR, who is young for her age and happily plays with and teaches the smaller set.

Her teacher has been a compassionate, attentive, kind, funny person who has taken RR’s same traits and helped them flourish. She’s one of the most calm and thoughtful people I’ve met and I know for certain that we can thank her for helping RR’s personal space bubble evolve, nurturing her drawing skills, ensuring she could read and write beautifully, and teaching her to channel her frustration at learning new facts into curiosity and enjoyment. You guys, Montessori has been the right choice for RR since the beginning. I’m sure you know how it feels to just know you’ve made some parenting decision solidly right.

But today it ends, friends. Today is the day she rises up to fourth grade. The last day of school. The last day in this classroom with this teacher. I’m not great with lasts as a general rule but I’m a wreck. Somehow this artificial moment makes me feel like my little girl is gone, replaced by the person who has been glimmering in the distance. I’m thrilled with that person’s confidence and maturity, I’m not so thrilled to be saying goodbye to my baby.

I know, I know. You’re right, of course. You always are. This IS artificial. She’s still the same person. It’s a ceremony is all, a last day, a bookmark. But I’m a cryer, happy or not, and I’m an emotional disaster. I need all your tips to keep from crying. Cause I have a day to get through and no real confidence I can get through it in one piece.

RR and the Earrings

It turns out that third grade math facts are RR’s latest challenge. I don’t quite understand a “math fact” and I’m told this is the way of it these days. All the parents are out of the loop. I don’t think that’s it, at least in the Montessori context. From what I’ve gleaned from our parent-teacher conference and RR herself, math facts are the sight words of the numbers world. I didn’t ask for further clarification since I was pretty sure that this would be the teacher’s lightbulb moment. Aha, so this is why RR can’t put two and two together!

Things RR can do are many and significant. She is an excellent speller, a great reader, she is kind to the other children, her art skills are first-rate, she is a leader and a teacher herself. She’s also super good at using her graph paper to draw pixelated My Little Ponies and using the empty spaces in zeros to build her own tiny artistic snow globes. The Montessori works for manipulating numbers make sense but she doesn’t make the leap from those to basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. It doesn’t help that I’m no math pro myself, including the rarified air of single digit addition.

In addition to RR’s general eschewing of numbers as a thing that are a reality, she is also hugely indifferent to money. We’ve tried tying the cost of things she wants to the concept of saving and spending. We’ve tried handing her coins, letting her pay at a register, and counting change. It appears the only thing she has any investment in are pencils, markers, and paper and it feels wrong to charge her for use of those things.

The school has a tiny shop, Maria’s, where the kids can purchase snacks during the day. The kids leave class with a buddy, traverse the open campus, make their purchases, and meander back to class. While an account is an option, we’ve never given RR one in part because she doesn’t want anything and in part because math! money! skills! We have given her a dollar here and there only to find out she never spends it. In fact, she usually has no idea where it is until we go through her change purse only to find out she never remembered she had the dollar in the first place. She’s basically been on the same dollar for two years now.

The other day we set her on a mission. Go, we said. Go to Maria’s and buy something with these two dollars. Don’t forget to tell us what you spent and how much you had left! So she went. She bought:

  • One (1) Gin Gin, a small, single, piece of hard ginger candy: possibly for $50 or for five cents. Very difficult to say and the witness (RR) was unreliable. Candy uneaten, possibly given away.
  • One pair of earrings made of pull tabs from coke cans: cost undisclosed.
  • Gave fifteen cents to a younger friend, purpose unexplained.

You guys. We gave her money to spend all for herself and she used it to buy me a gift and delight her friends. She excited to bursting when she handed me the earrings and I put them on. Also, she learned nothing of math. This is my child. Competent, wonderful, and thoughtful. But really, really, shitty at math.

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Down With This Particular Sunscreen

I’ve never been so happy to have sent RR to what some of our friends lovingly refer to as “the chicken school”. And while they do tend the chickens, they also tend a garden, act as custodians to the local wildlife, make herbal teas, read, keep a fish pond to grow fish to eat, do complex math, paint, and play. Apparently I need to add activism to the list because the sunscreen petition I signed this week was a work of art.

Because you’d have to be a dedicated zoomer, here is the text of the three foot long petition, spelling uncorrected:

CHANGE THE SUNSCREEN:
a teacher sined it.
it is slimy
it makes us sweat
it is icky. WE hate it.
it smells.
got a sunburn with it once.
it stings on scratches.
it swelled up a mosquito bite [Inset: “this did happen” with drawing of wound for proof.]
you haft to take off the top to get it on you then it spills on the floor you can’t get it up you can slip and get hurt.
it is easy to get it in your eyes.
[Inset: A picture of the sun. Written on the sun it says “ha ha I will burn you” Under the sun it says “because the sunscreen does not (underlined) work”]
it soaks into your skin.
your eyes water a lot when you put it on your face.
[Inset: Picture of a beetle saying “OW”]
when you want to play on the monkey bars your hands will slip and you will fall and get hurt.
does not (underlined, emphatically) work [Inset: picture of a head/face with red cheeks, forehead, and nose.]
we hate it
WE HATE (underlined) THE SUNSCREEN
it is only 30 percent other sunscreens are way more than 30!
it says “fragrance free” but it has a strong fragrance.
it burns our face [Inset: sad smiley face]
it spills a lot (underlined in bold)
we want a CHANGE (in orange marker)

This is all accompanied by a well-done doodle of Wilma Flintstone proclaiming “I hate Terra Sport” and a page of glorious signatures which I haven’t included although I very much wanted to. Some of the signatories include “parent of X” and “x, the Boss”, “teacher X”, “X the dad of X”, tiny writing, big writing, first names, both names, cursive and not, and one parenthesis after a teachers name in which is scrawled “(As long as it doesn’t have chemicals)”.

I proudly added my signature to the thirty other names. RR has complained before that it stings but it’s sunscreen, I trust the school, and I realize it’s practically impossible to keep 30 sunscreens separate. I’m going to tuck this memory away for the next time she brings home a sheaf of beautiful drawings but blanks when I ask her what 2 x 5 is.

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.

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.