Monday, June 24, 2013

What's on my...

One of my favorite magazines is Marie Claire, and I'm totally diggin' their "What's On" section, so I decided to do my own version (not only because it's fun and frivolous, but also because it gives me an opportunity to play I'm-A-Superstar-And-The-Public-Really-Wants-To-Know-This-Kinda-Stuff-About-Me).

What's on my...

Vanity: A ton of toiletries for our upcoming 3-week RV road trip; a candle with sea stars; too much make-up; our toothbrushes; excessive contact lens paraphernalia.

Perennial To-Do List: Organize my photos, do more yoga, lose 4 pounds, yell at my kids less, meditate.

Refrigerator Shelves: Blueberries, strawberries, blackberries (notice a pattern?); milk; creamer; beer.

Itinerary: Melbourne, FL; Savannah, GA; Charleston, SC; Outer Banks, NC; Blue Ridge Mountains, GA; Destin, FL.

Fantasy Itinerary: The Hawaiian Islands, with enough time to explore each one like a local.

Playlist: Anything and everything by Dave Matthews Band; "Chicken Fried" by Zac Brown Band.

DVR: "Up All Night," "E! News," "What Not To Wear," "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," "Jake and the Neverland Pirates," "Ninjago," and the movie "Unfaithful."

Nightstand: Several books on Buddhism (only 2 of which I've read and one I've skimmed); 2 novels I haven't even opened; Book 2 of the "Dante's Inferno" Trilogy (which I have decided I could absolutely care less about and to which I will apply my "Life is too short to read bad books" philosophy); 5 journals; 3 pens; eye drops.

Qualities-in-a-Friend List: Authenticity, versatility, honesty, and a sense of fun.

Workout Plan: In the summer, it's just get in whatever I can, whenever I can, in an attempt to minimize the damage of "No Work And All Play Summers." Mainly weight training a couple of times a week at the gym and short run here and there. When I'm desperate and the beer calories are starting to show, I torture myself with a P90X video at home.

Bucket List: Spend one full summer in Hawaii with my kids and Hubby; live in Hawaii for at least a year after retirement; live walking distance to the beach.

Mind: Learning how to quiet it!

Liquor Shelf: Grey Goose Vodka; Hendricks Gin; lotsa wine.

Quote to Live by: "There's no real point in mourning all the sadness and suffering in the world....So this is my therapy, to sing about the end of the world and dance. We don't find solutions in despair--we find solutions in the defiance of it....Everybody needs a little horn section."  -Dave Matthews

Friday, June 7, 2013

A letter to my (last) preschool graduate

Dear Aidan Kai,

You graduated from your little preschool. That's it. No more babies. You were my last one. My mushy, sweet, shy one. Now, you are ready for kindergarten, they tell me. But really, I don't think I am. I can't fathom the idea of you not being there, at your little school, surrounded by those teachers who have watched you grow up.

You started in "Purple Door" when you were only 2. Leaving you there, that first morning, was made so much easier by the fact that your big brother was with you. He was starting his last year there, and you had your first hour together after early morning drop off. I didn't feel like I was leaving you alone. And  your teacher was an angel. She loved you so much. Almost as much as you loved her. I remember that whole first year, there were days when you didn't want to do something: get your hair cut, get dressed, wake up early. And all I would have to say was "Ms. Miranda said she wants to see your eyes, so it's time to cut your hair!" or "Ms. Miranda loves this shirt!" and you were game. Anything for your Ms. Miranda.

And the first time I peeked into your open classroom during lunch time, and saw you sitting in a tiny little chair...sitting! You! You, who would run around the table at dinner and needed to be strapped in extra tight in the high chair! You, who once famously hung from a table at a sushi restaurant and squealed: "Look! I'm a monkey! I'm a monkey!" How did she get you to do that?!? "He's playing you..." she would say. "He's a perfect angel here."

You only went twice a week that first year, and you loved it so much that you asked to go to school on your off days. You wanted to know why Ben got to go every day. (And since we weren't about to get into daycare finances with you, we just said that one day you'd be in "Church Door" too and you'd have to go everyday, too.) Each day, you'd come home with a little Note that told us how much you'd eaten out of your lunch box. You were so finicky. And lucky: Ms. Miranda always shared her snacks with you. That's how we found out you liked ranch flavored rice cakes and marshmallows. The first big activity that fall was the school-wide annual "circus," and you were supposed to be part of the human cannonball act (which meant you were supposed to crawl through a tube), but instead, you stayed in Ms. Miranda's lap the whole time. That woman carried you around on one of her hips a lot.

The next year, you went to "Orange Door," the potty-trained classroom. You were (sorta) potty trained. I fretted about that. A lot. And on top of that, your brother had gone on to Kindergarten. Now it was "just you" we were dropping off. I remember feeling like I was leaving you all alone. The first three weeks or so became all about the potty. The director of the school called me to ask if I was "aware" that Orange Door was a no-diaper classroom. After explaining that you were, in fact, (sorta) potty trained, she offered to help. After another week or so of you having accidents and the director (and the office manager, whom you also loved, apparently), changing you when your teacher wasn't available, and cuddling with you when you cried about your accidents, we finally said good-bye to your diapers for good.

We were always being told how wonderful you were, and that even though you were the youngest and only attended 3 days a week, you could keep up just fine. Your teacher told us that you were the best listener in the class and always followed the rules and that you were sweet and gentle and never, ever, ever a problem. And then there was the day she called me at work to tell me that you had mooned the new substitute teacher, Ms. Patti, whom you adored. You didn't even understand why they took you by the hand and led you inside from the playground. You didn't even understand why, after showing your cute little butt to your grandparents and your parents on a regular basis and then squealing in glee as we would chase you around the house to pinch it, bite it, or kiss it, Ms. Patti did not see this gesture as the compliment it was meant to be.

But potty training and mooning weren't the most memorable parts of that year: that was the year you met Lindsey. Your teeny petite little redheaded friend, who adored you as much as you adored her. At the Mother's Day breakfast that year, I was surprised to see her wearing glasses. When I asked her grandmother if they were real or just "for fun," her grandmother smiled and replied: "Oh no, they're for Aidan."

And then came "Church Door:" 5 full days a week. Now I worried about you being there too long. I worried that maybe 9-hour days were way too much for a four-year-old. But once again, as a testament to this little school and its teachers, you loved it. There were days we'd have to drag you out of there.

You started homework. You learned how to write your whole name. You decided you much preferred wearing two (very) different socks. You learned all your letters and how to count to 100 and what Orion's Belt looks like. You finished the year sounding out a handful of sight words, and most importantly, wanting, desperately, to read on your own like your big brother.

And you spent every day with your Lindsey (and sometimes, Bella). It almost became a joke: we'd ask you how your day was and what you did, and you'd always answer: "Good, I played with Lindsey," or "Bad, because Lindsey went to Disney World, I think." That Christmas, you made me take you to Target so you could buy Lindsey and Bella gifts, and you picked them out with absolute certainty ("No, Mama, Bella doesn't wear headbands!" and "No, Mama, Lindsey likes The Little Mermaid."). One morning, when you were unusually clingy and worried about being dropped off, and you started to cry, I watched as Lindsey came over to you immediately, wrapped her skinny little arms around you, and soothed: "It's okay, Aidan. Don't cry."

When we met with your teacher for your mid-year conference, we were ready to ask all sorts of questions: Is he behind? Is he too babyish? Should we keep him an extra year before kindergarten? But it seems that being the youngest boy and appearing particularly babyish and defenseless to your parents means nothing, because we were surprised and proud to hear that you were not only doing okay, you were "exceeding expectations" and "above average" in all the assessments.

Watching you, on graduation night, standing proudly at the very front of the stage as the flag bearer, your dimples in all their glory, your Sponge Bob glasses perched on your little nose, I nearly burst. There is something about you that brings out the mom I'd swore I'd never be: overly sentimental, overly protective, overly in love. And when you walked in with your red cap and gown, a little 2013 tassel hanging right against your still-slightly-chubby cheek, I felt like it was my heart, right out there, walking around. My baby. The last one. The one who still occasionally hides behind my leg when he's unsure. The one who will walk by and casually caress my arm and say "I love you, Mommy" while I'm cleaning up the kitchen. The one who, when I asked him to "please stop growing up," promised: "Don't worry, Mommy. I'm always going to be your baby."

Congratulations, Aidan Kai. We know it's "just preschool," but we couldn't be prouder. We love you.

Mama and Daddy

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Why do we need validation from other people about our own parenting skills?

Contrary to what most teachers will declare publicly, we do have favorite students. Before I had my own kids, I had already been teaching for 9 years, and I always fantasized that one day, my kid would be the Secret Favorite Student. I had students whose families I wanted to be "just like." These parents would attend my class activities, come to my Parents' Nights, and I would think: That's how I'm going to be when I'm a parent. I will be one of the ones the teachers silently praise and think: "That's how you raise a great kid."

And then, my oldest went to pre-k, and he started to go through some interesting phases. There was the "Making The Teacher Repeat Herself A Million Times Phase." There was the "I Will Question Everything The Teacher Says Because I Think I Know More Than She Does" phase. And the "I'd Much Rather Roll Around On The Carpet When The Teacher Tells Me To Sit Quietly For Circle Time" phase.  And, my personal favorite: the "Let's Gang Up On That Kid In The Playground And Punch Him For No Reason" phase.

I would drop him off in the morning and one of the very proper morning-duty teachers would stiffly greet him, "Good morning, Ben." I wasn't sure if I imagined the pinched facial expression that accompanied the greeting, but I was pretty sure I could detect dread and judgment in her voice. I remember the morning she complained that the day before, he'd refused to clean up his area, and she'd had to explain to him "very clearly" that he was, in fact, going to pick up because she said so. (Let me note here that I agree with her's just that I always got the feeling that she didn't think we were trying to enforce that at home.)

That very same teacher gave a Parents Workshop one evening on behavior and discipline. I attended, of course, not only because it seemed that, just maybe, I did not know everything there was to know after all, but also because I was afraid she (and the rest of the staff) would certainly search the sign-up list for our names and snub their noses if ours weren't there: "See? That's why their kid behaves that way..."  Maybe my husband was right when he insisted to me later that there was no way she was talking specifically about our kid the entire hour (hmmm...maybe THIS is where my son gets his It's-All-About-Me Attitude?), but there were two times when she specifically pointed out some of Ben's "personality traits." One of those times, she even nodded at me, and said the words: "Like in your case, with Ben." So yeah, I wasn't completely, totally, irrationally paranoid.

Fast forward 3 years and one more kid...
Yesterday, Hubby and I attended our littlest one's end-of-year party. We were standing there, taking pictures of him eating a cupcake shaped like a graduation hat, and thinking about how quickly the years went by...Both of our boys had grown up and gotten ready for kindergarten at this sweet, little school, and now it was time to go. After 4 years, we would no longer be taking a little boy to "Purple Door" every day for morning drop off. Where had the years gone? Where had our baby boys gone? And what would we do without the teachers from this little place, who had cared for our boys and taught them their ABC's?

This same teacher must have overheard us, because she walked over and said, "So, this is it, huh? The ending?" Hubby and I responded with melancholic yes's.

"You know," she said, "I've always been very impressed with the two of you."

WHAT? Surely, I had misunderstood?

"I was always so impressed," she continued, "by your parenting...the time you two always dedicate to your boys...the way you've raised them. In fact, I told my daughter that when she has kids, THIS is how I want her to be..."

I was so stunned and so moved, I could barely utter a thank you.

All that time, I had been so worried about what someone else was thinking of my parenting. I was sure that she thought we weren't doing a "good enough" job. And all along she was, in fact, watching and judging, but I was completely wrong in my assumption. Maybe my concern of what she thought had a whole lot more to do with what I was thinking of our parenting (and our kid) back then, than it did about her. But still, why did I care back then?

And why do I still care? Why did it feel so good to hear her say that yesterday? Why should anyone else's opinion serve as proof that we're good parents?

After I left, I cried the whole way to work. I'm not even sure why. I felt so raw, already, this aware of the passing of aware that Life is happening. All the time. And we just shuffle around, trying to do our best. Trying to do everything that needs to be done every day, to be the Best Wife/Friend/Daughter/Teacher/Mother/Self, and to take it all in and savor it as we do so. To really feel life.