Dear Leah, What a wonderful letter. Thank you so much for your support. It is my personal belief that the opposite of love is not hate but is in fact fear. It's an idea that came to me as I decided how I wanted to run my business and I have seen so much since then that supports this belief. To truly love our children we must be able to put aside our fear and act in their best interests, using the courage that we want our children to have. Again, I so appreciate your kind words.
A few weeks ago, Aidan's school sent a letter home informing us that two 4 yo kids from one of the preschool classes had climbed the 6 ft. chain link fence and walked 3 blocks west, crossing several neighborhood streets. They were walking on the sidewalk of a really busy street, but they never crossed that one. A woman saw them and called the police. The teachers at school had noticed that the two kids were missing, but one of them had a history of hiding on the school grounds, so they were looking there. In the school's 43 year history, this has never happened before. The owner of the school took this very seriously and called a special meeting to discuss the issue with the staff and invited any questions from parents. She self-reported to the Dept. Of Human Services, and they are conducting an investigation, which will include sanctioning the teachers who were on duty at the time. Extra staff have been put on duty in the afternoon. Preschool officially ends at noon and all-day Kindergarten (Aidan's class) ends at three, but kids stay in the after-care program. They usually have a lot of time during these afternoons to roam around the school's massive backyard. This was one of the things that initially drew us to the school. We knew that Aidan would be so completely happy in a place like that. I've never seen a better playground before or since.
There are a few friends in my local moms group who seem to be really concerned about this incident. I've heard, "If MY child were going to that school, I'd take her out" and "If I were paying them good money, I expect them to watch my kids better than that." There are many rumors swirling around about this, but no one has asked what's being done about it. They can't get past the fact that the kids "could have been killed." One of my friends suggested that the fact that the kids hadn't been killed made absolutely no difference.
For those of us who have children at this school, we definitely recognize that this is a serious safety concern. However, every single school parent that I've talked to is really impressed by the way it's been handled by the staff. A similar incident occurred at another prestigious local daycare. In that case, the parents were not informed, the school didn't report to DHS, and the school blamed the child. Yes, we all wish that these kids hadn't escaped. Of course, everyone is beyond relieved that they were returned unharmed. Should we all pull our kids out of a school with a positive 43 year history? Evan's starting there in 2 weeks for the summer program. I don't worry about Aidan there one bit. He's old enough to know the score, and he's never been one to escape anyway. Evan's definitely more of a thrill-seeker, and he's still so little. I've voiced my concerns to the owner, and I felt really comfortable with her reassurances.
In general, I'm not one of the helicopter moms at the park. I like to sit back and let my kids be kids at the playground. I lose track of them occasionally, and Evan will sometimes run away from me. Sometimes my kids climb way higher than I'd like for them to, and they have a keen interest in exploring the ditch and wanting to go hang out at the gazebo with the homeless guys. I know that every time I take them to the park, I'm risking their safety just a bit. I feel that the risk is worth it, especially when I see them grow everyday in confidence. Would that confidence be achieved without that bit of risk?
As a parent, it's really hard not to let fear rule your decisions. In the case of this incident, I think about the ways that the community came together to get these kids back: the woman who called the police, the police who came, the social worker from DHS who is working with the owner to devise a plan so that this doesn't happen again. At the Mother's Day Tea Party on Monday, I was reminded again of why I chose this school and why we'll continue on there. The school has been like Aidan's second family for three years now. I can't think of another place that would have accepted him for who he is so readily, from the aggressive, hyper 3yo to the wacky, sometimes-shy, incurably curious 6yo he's become.
Throughout this whole ordeal, I couldn't help but think about Richard Louv's book Last Child in the Woods. In Chapter 10, "The Bogeyman Syndrome Redux," he writes, "Fear is the most potent force that prevents parents from allowing their children the freedom they themselves enjoyed when they were young." Later, he writes, "Excessive fear can transform a person and modify behavior permanently; it can change the very structure of the brain. The same can happen to a whole culture. What will it be like for children to grow up in socially and environmentally controlled environments--condominiums and planned developments and covenant-controlled housing developments surrounded with walls, gates, and surveillance systems, where covenants prevent families from planting gardens? One wonders how the children growing up in this culture of control will define freedom when they are adults."
I'm not saying that it's okay for 4 year olds to be allowed to escape from the schoolyard and wander the streets alone. What I am saying is that the fear that drives parents to obsess about the problem and retreat with their children in tow (at what cost?) moves us no closer to a solution. One of the wonderful things that Aidan's school strives to teach every child is that he/she is CAPABLE. In finding solutions to this safety concern, they are modeling that they are capable of recognizing the issue, coming to grips with it, and seeing that it doesn't happen again. I will stress to my own children, as they continue on at this school, that they, too, are capable of following the rules and playing in that wonderful play yard, close to the adults they know they can trust.
125 dollars per hour I will make giving two 75 minute poetry workshops on Thursday
75 dollars I have spent on materials for the workshops
10 emails to establish that I, indeed, need an overhead projector for my workshops
50% amount that Matt's salary may be cut in moving from the AF to a civilian job
6 parties we were invited to this past weekend
3 parties actually attended
27, 364 salary I earned my last full year of teaching (part of which was spent at what is apparently now a "dropout factory"
0 salary I earned in 2003,2004,2005,2006 (just got the old SS statement yesterday)
7 days on/7 days off is a typical flying schedule in the civilian aviation industry
half of the year Matt would miss with us if he took one of those jobs
400 dollars I put on the credit card to enroll our kids in Little Gym for next semester
400+ dollars Matt spent on his "business casual" outfit for an aviation job fair last week (also on credit card)
many dollars we need to cut from our monthly budget to pay off our credit card and save up for what lies ahead. Time to stop living high on the hog,folks.
Last Thursday, I got to set my alarm (well...Matt set his and then woke me up), dress like a grown-up, and leave the house and the kids in the hands of Matt and then the babysitter to go to a conference with Tom Romano. I wrote a few days ago about my jangly nerves, but once I got to the meeting space and recognized a few familiar faces, I was more at ease. One of Oklahoma Writing Projects co-directors, Janice, a great mentor to me in my teaching years, was happy and surprised to see me there. We had been in touch via email a few times after I moved to CA, but I've kind of been in professional hiding overall for the past 6 years or so. I hadn't even emailed to tell her I was back in town, and we moved almost 2.5 years ago! She introduced me all around her table and told me that she needs to get me on the schedule again to do teacher workshops. Everyone was very welcoming, asking about my life as a mother, commenting on my pics of Aidan and Evan. The teacher sitting next to me teaches a class I'd die for, Reading for Pleasure, at a high school in my town. We chatted a bit about my thesis research, which was on Reading Workshop in a 9th grade class. A few minutes into the presentation, she slipped me a note that there was a 1/2 time Adv. English II position open at her school. Simply amazing, the networking that can happen in an organization like OWP! I told her to give me a few more years. Afterward, Janice came over to me and told me that she wanted me to work with several other teachers on a presentation to be given at workshops around the state. She said that she could put me to work and that I could make some good money. Yes, I remember well the days of earning $150 for giving an hour-long presentation. Unfortunately, I also remember the hours and hours of work and research that went into each of those presentations, and also the responsibilty of answering all the questions the teachers had. Since I haven't been teaching in this new high-stakes testing climate, I don't know that I could do current teachers justice by presenting material that might be totally out of context for them. Then again, with these new connections made, it wouldn't be that much of a stretch to meet a few teachers for coffee and get an update on all the latest. I could also be a guest teacher, possibly, and try out some new stuff. Janice introduced me to a woman who teaches at a middle school in Moore, and she was really interested in talking to me. If we stay here next year (and there's a high possiblity that we'll have to move), I can do more and more to get myself back in the game. However, I don't see a way that I can go back to teaching full-time til Evan is ready to go in the Scotties class at Gingerbread Preschool, which would be in 3 years. I just really want to avoid putting him into a daycare type situation. I'm okay with leaving him a few hours a week now, and very thankful that we're in a position where I don't have to. For now, doing a little bit of work with OWP, getting my feet wet, visiting some classrooms, working on my own writing, will all be enough. Attending this conference has rekindled the fire, though, and I am reassured that I have chosen my career path well. I can't wait to get back.
Okay, so back to the presentation...
From my notes...
Writers learn what they want to say while they write. Start with images and details, and follow from there. Let language do what language does best...think. Language is our canoe up the bush river...Using language is a generative act of creativity. Expressive writing gives birth to thinking...it's not uncommon for expressive writing to be filled with errors. Expressive writing is the seed bed from which ideas grow.
When I was young in the duplex in the complex near Lake Ray Hubbard in Garland, TX, I was often stuck at home by myself. I'd listen to Electric Avenue on MTV, Naked Eyes on the radio, and Heart on mom's record player. My bf Michelle would come over and we'd turn my whole bedroom floor into Barbie's house, using things like tissue boxes for cars and couch pillows for beds. We'd go swimming in the complex pool nearly everyday. I taught myself to swim that summer by holding onto the side and venturing further and further away from it every day. My hair turned green that summer.
We also did a writing prompt where we chose two qualities to personify, inspired by The Book of Qualities. I could do lots more with this, but here's my first draft:
Professional dresses nicely, somewhat conservatively, but fashionably.
Maternal wears only washable fabrics designed to hide spit-up, peanut butter stains, and dog hair.
Professional has somewhere to be at a certain time, so she sets her alarm clock and showers in the morning.
Maternal has no use for an alarm clock, as one of her children will surely wake her up long before it's absolutely necessary. She showers when the baby naps or when "Sesame Street" is on.
Professional knows how to think and how to convey complex ideas in both speaking and writing. She will stay up all night to hone these skills, using compound-complex sentences and many 3- and even some 4-syllable words.
Maternal has just as many unique thoughts, but they are a lot more disjointed. However, she rarely gets a chance to convey a complete one in either writing or speaking, without paying a babysitter $10 an hour for the privelege to do so. Maternal is often reduced to grunting out one-word commands. "Trash-out." "Kitchen-closed." "Outside-bike-helmet." "Baby-diaper-NOW."
Professional can expect a monthly deposit into the checking account.
Maternal ticks off the number of years that the Social Security statement reads $0 in earnings.
Sound familiar to some of you??
I've locked myself in the guest room upstairs. I wish for the hundredth time that we had a 2nd bathroom up here. Can't go downstairs just yet. Babysitter is here, and Evan was pretty reluctant for me to leave him in her care today. She took the boys out to the park, which provided a good distraction. Now that they're back home, I have to hide. I just didn't feel like getting myself ready and going out in public today. For this reason, I'm thankful to have the house that I have (except for the 1 bathroom thing) b/c the upstairs is pretty cave-like, and the stairs are gated. Plus, all of my scrapbooking and beading stuff is up here, as well as all the filing, bills, office stuff. Shit, I just forgot that my current bead project is downstairs, on top of the china cabinet. I was really looking forward to getting to do a bit of that today.
I need this so badly today. Aidan's been in quite a funk this past week, and I've had just about all that I can take. No amount of babysitting breaks, friends coming to town to see me, preschool time, beer, coffee, ice cream, can make up for my parenting partner being out of the country. I need breaks that I don't have to schedule days/weeks in advance. I need a few minutes several times a day to just be alone with my own thoughts. I need to not have to be the sole liferaft of these two helpless little boys. I'm saying all of this from the position of having lots of friends around, living in a cool town with kid stuff to do, the support of an excellent preschool and a few good babysitters, a housecleaner who comes a few times a week. I have all of this help, and I still go crazy at times.
Kristen got to come up by herself for a few days. It was so nice to be able to talk at long lengths without being interrupted, though I'm still feeling the loss of sleep. Worth it, though. Hooray for old friends.
Spring break is looming in front of me, which is partially why I'm in a slight funk (and can't focus long enough to write a decent paragraph, apparently.) I have tentative plans for us each day, and we're heading back town to the ILs in Dallas from Thurs-Sun. I think we'll do the zoo tomorrow, Perfect Swing on Tuesday (followed possibly by another babysitter visit so that I can shop for some spring shirts), skating with Aidan Wednesday (Evan has a playdate with Jean and Jake). I just want to be able to hang out at my own house for long periods of time without Aidan going nuts from boredom. Oh, and did I mention that I've severly rationed his TV? No more morning TV. He can watch one DVD in the afternoon while I'm cooking dinner. I think part of the weirdness of the past week has been his adjustment to having no TV in the morning. It'll be worth it in the end, though. Today, after an annoying period of time when he was saying he had nothing to do, he just started amusing himself, and mostly in ways that wouldn't hurt himself or other people. We're getting there.
Oh, and even the patently patient teachers at Aidan's school have noticed a change in him this week. Aidan's been lashing out at other kids violently when there's a perceived wrong. On Weds, a few kids opened his bug box and killed the bugs that Aidan had inside. Aidan was understandably upset, but he started swinging his bug box around (it's a little plastic number on a string necklace) and hit another kid in the head. The lead teacher called me that night and said that, with my permission, she wanted to institute her biggie consequence the next time it happened. Sure enough, she had to call me to come get Aidan an hour and forty-five minutes into school on Friday. Aidan and a few other kids were all trying to grab a frisbee, and Aidan lost it and started punching one of his friends. I brought him home and made him go to his room for a while, which he did willingly at first, but then he got upset and cried for quite a while. In a way, I'm glad it's spring break so that he can get out of this negative pattern at school and start fresh next week. The way he was acting yesterday, though, doesn't give me much hope.
Just a few quick lines:
Aidan was sick on Saturday with a fever/cold and now Evan and I are both sick.
My mom came on Saturday and stayed til yesterday. It was really nice to have her here, but I'm glad to have the mental space again now that she's gone. She just doesn't *ever* stop talking, and she tells the same stories over and over and over and over. We had fun, though. She helped a lot with the kids and house...watched them while I went to book club Saturday night and did the dishes every day. It was nice to have another pair of hands around.
Mom and I got to go to lunch and shopping for a few hours on Sunday when the babysitter came. It's ben a while since I've been able to just scour the racks at Ross. I scored a few shirts and some dark-rinse Levi's for me, and for Aidan I got a pair of camo pants. We also hit the Harold's Outlet. Harold's is a bit preppy for me, but I found some cute cardigans for 9.99. Right now, I'm loving the cardigan/t-shirt combo.
Last week, I went to the Kindergarten Open House at Aidan's preschool. We had pretty much decided that we'd like to keep Aidan there, but the meeting just sealed the deal. The lead teacher is just really on the same wavelength as we are. She showed us how all of her activities are developmentally appropriate. She doesn't believe in pushing kids toward unrealistic academic goals. She said that not every Kindy will leave there being able to read, that not every 6yo is developmentally ready for that. She believes that math concepts should be taught using manipulatives and real-world situations, not by rote memorization of symbols. I feel that Aidan will do much better there behavior-wise than in the public school. They have 3 teachers for up to 24 kids, and the public school will have 1 teacher for 20 kids. We already know that there is a lot of room for growth at Gingerbread, and there's not a focus on punitive discipline at all. The playground is unmatched, with so many different types of open-ended activities, and the teachers really believe in getting outside every single day, no matter what the weather. I worry that at the public school, Aidan's spirited energy would leave him with a "bad kid" label and I don't want to risk him starting out that way. We want to give him one more year to be nurtured at Gingerbread (since we do have the choice) before we deal with all of that. When I saw the lead teacher practically start crying at how frustrated she is at the No Child Left Behind standards, I knew that we were at the right place. For now.