First Days

IMG_6982First Days…we’ve all had them.  First day on the job.  First day of a new relationship.  First day of marriage.  They are exciting.  They are important.  They are milestones.

I am very familiar with first days of school.  If you count my first days of preschool through college and then my first days of school as a teacher, I think I’ve had 39 first days of school (40 counting tomorrow).  As my principal mentioned in our meeting yesterday, that’s the exciting thing about teaching.  We get to start fresh every year.  So do the kids.  New hopes, new excitements, new firsts.

Tomorrow is our son’s first day of kindergarten.  Now this is a milestone that I am still absorbing.  In fact, it keeps jumping up and poking me in the heart at the oddest times, leaving me in tears made of something I can’t quite describe–not sadness, not joy, but some misty combination of pride, deep love, and sorrow at the quick passing of time.  Our sweet, high-energy, deep-thinking, silly, sensitive, imaginative, roller coaster of a little boy is heading off to kindergarten.

E loved preschool.  He loved his teachers, the books, the block center, the kids, the playing!  Now he’s headed to all-day kindergarten.  In my heart, I know that he will love it, but of course, I am filled with fears too.  I want him to grow and learn and to feel accepted, loved, and confident every day.  I want him to make friends and happy memories.  I want it to go well.

Did I mention E will be attending my school?  Yes, while my husband drops E off at his classroom for his big, important first day, I will be welcoming a bunch of amazing students who are also excited for their first day.  While my son, this huge part of my heart, will be down the hall, timidly beginning his elementary journey, another part of my heart will be expanding to take in these special fifth graders for the last year of their elementary careers.  I want to create a wonderful fifth grade experience for them.  I will work so hard to be the best teacher I can be for them, just as I know E’s teachers will do for him.

There is so much to take in on such a big first day.  Yet my mind keeps roaming back to that first, first day.  After 19 hours of labor, that warm, fragile baby boy of mine was finally placed onto my chest, his heart near mine.  His first day in the world; my first day as a mom.  I kissed his forehead, thanked God for him, cried, and began a life of dreaming, worrying, and loving.  Tomorrow, my husband and I will send E to his first day of kindergarten.  E will be okay.  I am pretty sure we will be too.  It’s a big first day, but we know there will be many more firsts ahead of us.  We will kiss him on the forehead, thank God for him, cry, and continue to dream, worry, and love.

slice of life

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First day of school sign from Remodelaholic.

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Sock Wisdom

21 months–that is when my daughter started her “terrific twos” meltdowns.  Our sweet, good-natured daughter with the angelic smile now has moments, minutes, even halves of an hour of pure loss of control.  They do not happen often but enough to leave my husband, Scott, and I shaking our heads in dismay.  Our daughter will cry, lie down, push away any consolation.  It is heartbreaking, troubling, and absolutely exhausting.

A little secret that I must confess–I have no clue what I am doing some days.  Oh yes, I have read some articles; I’ve studied child development in school.  I have got the knowledge and instincts of a teacher.  But my kids–probably like all children–are not textbook kids.  Distract her from a meltdown?  No way.  Firmly restate directions or choices to a screaming son?  Not having it.  Count 1-2-3?  Heck no!

During a recent meltdown, I found myself lying next to my daughter on her bedroom floor. I had let her be alone for a few minutes, but she was so upset, I needed to put myself near her.  I had to let her know I was nearby and ready to give her any support she needed.

While resting there, trying to find a comfortable way to wait patiently on a hard floor, I looked down at my socks.  “I am a great mom.”  At least that’s what my socks were telling me.  They were a fun gift from my sister on my 40th birthday (from www.notestoself.com).  At that moment, I tried to use those words as a mantra of some sort.

I am a great mom

“I am a great mom.”  Yes, I must believe it.  No, I will not kid myself to think that means I know what I am doing.  I am even willing to admit that I have already made a ton of mistakes and will surely make many more.  I will keep trying, however.  I will seek answers.  I will read fellow blogs or articles, talk to my husband, friends, and family, and definitely pray a lot. Basically, I will just do the best I can.

When in doubt, I will go back to my old standby–love (this is what my parents used too). Scott and I will love our children through the meltdowns, love them through the growing pains, love them through the sleepless nights and the noisy car rides, and (may God help us) love them through the teenage years.  Oh, there are many easy times in parenting too–the giggles, the hugs, the happy routines.  That’s the good thing about love–it is there through it all.  In the meantime, I think I’d better get Scott his own pair of socks.  This is quite a journey we are on!

 

Mommy’s Note: In case my daughter reads this years from now, I want her to know she really is a happy, sweet girl.  She just likes to save up for some big meltdowns to remind us that she’s human.  We love you!

 

You Can’t Judge a Book…

Do you remember that book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, by Robert Fulghum?  I discovered it in college, and I couldn’t believe how true much of it was. It kind of made me wonder, for a moment, why the heck I was spending all that tuition money.  Now I haven’t read that book in a long while, so I apologize if I’m stealing from Fulghum.  I have noticed, however, that much of what I need to know about reading, I am learning from my preschool-aged son.

The lessons are simple, but important.  After watching my son enjoy his books over and over again, the pleasure and importance of rereading has become apparent.  (See my post from last year, The Joy of Rereading.)  I also have learned about the meaningful, social aspect of reading.  Stories are ways to connect with my children–a shared experience to enjoy while actually reading the books or when making connections to the stories as we go throughout our days.  This summer, the main lesson may sound a bit familiar–don’t judge a book by its cover.  To be more specific, E has taught me to not judge a book by its cover, yellowed, torn pages, cracked spine, old copyright date, and more.

At the beginning of this summer, I brought home two boxes of old picture books that I had been storing in my classroom for some time.  I already have picture books out for my fifth graders, but these didn’t make the cut.  They have a stronger appeal with the younger crowd–perfect for my little reader.

On day one, it was a total book festival at our house.  E picked up, thumbed through, smiled over, and asked about every single book.  Each one was a treasure, despite its age or condition.  Some of these books were purchased before I was born, hand-me-downs from my student teaching mentor when she retired.Old Books

All summer long, these books have been my son’s go-tos.  It has been wonderful to revisit old favorites like Crosby Bonsall’s The Case of the Missing Stranger, Ezra Jack Keats’s Whistle for Willie, and Esphyr Slobodkina’s Caps for Sale.  I still can’t figure out how that cap salesman can place all of those caps on his head, but the monkeys distract E from such frivolous questions.

The real surprises are the books that I didn’t remember well. I guess I’m not up on my 1954 award winning books, but Madeline’s Rescue (a Caldecott winner), by Ludwig Bemelmans, was truly delightful.  Oh, how the girls rally together to find their dog, Genevieve!  In Tikki Tikki Tembo, retold by Arlene Mosel, we cannot help but relish in repeating the first son’s name over and over, “Tikki tikki tembo-no-sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo.”  And when the second son mixes up his brother’s name when in a panic?  Giggles all around!

Crictor, by Tomi Ungerer, was another gem.  A story about a woman getting a pet boa constrictor, it was most likely the reason my son kept asking to see the snakes at our last visit to the zoo.  One thing about this book and several others we’ve read was the old use of just two or three colors for the illustrations.  In this case, it was just black and green.  E does not seem to miss the depth of color choices used by modern illustrators.  The pictures still do an amazing job of telling the story.  We especially love the picture of Madame Bodot “walking” Crictor in the snow, with him all snugly warm in the sweater she knitted for him. This book has cracks and rips in so many places, but E doesn’t seem to notice.

I hope to remember this lesson from my son.  Always excited to get the new, shiny book at the bookstore, I must not forget the worn ones on the library shelves or on my own bookshelves.  I hope to encourage my students to do the same.  With my classroom library aging with me, I know some of the books are starting to look a bit dated.  Hidden behind the newest finds from the book fair, I hope my students will discover some greats–old, worn, falling-apart works of beauty!

Reliving Great Endings

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I always tell my students not to conclude their stories with “The End.”  If they have written their story well, we should be able to figure out that it is the end without them telling us.  I also then admit to them that I think crafting a good ending is probably the hardest thing about writing.  I agonize over it forever, rewriting, revising, and sometimes settling for a mediocre ending just because my non-writing life has to go on after that conclusion.

That said, I really appreciate a great ending–both in books and in movies.  The creativity and effort that has gone into their conclusions makes certain works stick out in my mind. The other night, for example, I caught the last twenty minutes or so of the movie, Bridget Jones’s Diary.  It’s an okay movie–not a favorite–but I really love the ending: the fight scene, her parents reuniting, her crazy, supportive friends, her realization of the lie that made her wrongly judge Mark Darcy, and the usual Bridget bumbling and fumbling that led to great embarrassment but eventually to her getting her guy.  A good ending. Worth revisiting.

This got me thinking.  What other books and movies have those endings that I would love to go back to–even for just a few minutes or chapters?  (Spoiler alert–I’ll try not to be too specific about these endings, but I can’t make any promises.)

  • J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Yes, of course, I expected great things from Harry, Ron, and Hermoine in this final book of the amazing series. Surprisingly, however, it was Neville Longbottom’s triumphant actions and Mrs. Weasley’s kicking butt after such great loss that really made my heart race during the final battle at Hogwarts.
  • Some Kind of Wonderful — My best friend in high school, Jill, and I would actually watch this 80’s teen masterpiece and rewind the ending just to see Eric Stoltz bite his lip before running to the girl he was meant to be with all along.  Good writing or just good acting?  Not sure, but I can still picture it.

  • Jerry Spinelli’s Maniac Magee — When Amanda Beale comes with Mars Bar to the buffalo pen to give Maniac a piece of her mind and to finally call him home–this makes me laugh and cry every time I read it to my students.
  • Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner — I still can remember the hope and possibility surrounding that final scene of flying kites in the book.  To go from such amazing tragedy throughout the story to finally a glimmer of something good again. It was too beautiful.

Those are just a few of the great endings that stick out to me right now–worthy of a reread or a re-view.  If you only had 15-20 minutes, what ending would you revisit?

Oh, and on that note (and this is for all of my past and future students)…

THE END

Parental Truth Telling

Have you ever had that friend that called it like she saw it? Told the truth even if it made you squirm a bit?  Stacey is that friend to me.  I’ve known her since college, and I look forward to the many more years of our friendship.  She’s a quiet, gentle soul, but she’s got spunk.  She’s not afraid to say the truth.  I’m truthful too, but I’m much more guarded in what I say.  I take things in, process them through rose-colored glasses (which I inherited from my mother), and then consider all audiences and their feelings before sharing my thoughts.  Stacey just says it.  I love that about her!

Recently Stacey stayed with my family for a few days.  It was so good to see her.  I always feel like my tank has been filled, my soul has been repaired and restored, after visits with her.  While here, Stacey, my husband, and I enjoyed reconnecting with each other’s children.  Stacey finally got to meet our sweet daughter, and she showered her with snuggles and attention.  She also talked to and played with our loving, energetic four-year old son.  Scott and I marveled at how much her teenage boys have grown, and we smiled as we watched them relate so wonderfully to our children.

Stacey also had the honor of witnessing the multitude of tiny (and sometimes big) meltdowns our son had while she and the boys were here.  Due to the change in routine and extra stimulation of having visitors, E had even more tantrums than usual.  At some point on the last day, hearing me sigh after yet another scream from Mr. Fussy Pants, Stacey put her hand on my shoulder and spoke two words that, after my initial shock, warmed my heart.  “Parenting sucks,” she said.

Now before you get too offended, please know that Stacey loves her children more than anything.  She is an amazing mom (the mom, other than my own dear mother, like whom I constantly hope that I can be), and she is a talented, loving teacher.   I, too, love my children, marvel at them daily, and count being their mother as one of the greatest gifts God has given me. But, full disclosure here, parenting IS hard.  It is exhausting.  To be so invested in these little beings, these special extensions of my heart, and then to have them scream or tantrum or make poor choices—it’s enough to knock down the strongest of parents.  Not to mention the worries and frets they cause you as you watch them now or think about their futures—yikes!  Following Stacey’s bold lead, it just feels good to be honest about this.  For a moment, at least.

This truth telling may seem to run against the themes of my other posts.  I know I’m not alone.  We all post happy pictures of our kids on Facebook or Instagram, gushing with pride and love.  It’s not dishonest.  Those are the parts that we hold onto at the end of the day.  Those are the moments that lift us up and make our buttons burst.  If I am like my mother, I’m pretty sure those will be the ones that I remember when my children are grown.  But maybe we need to hear from each other now and then, so we don’t freak out that we’re doing something wrong.  Let’s just remind each other.  Parenting is hard.  It can even “suck” sometimes.  Totally worth it, wouldn’t trade it for the world, but it isn’t easy.  Thank God we have our spouses, our dear friends, and our families to lean on in the process.

The Sounds of Infancy

My daughter noisily entered the world last fallDaughter 1.  From day one, she made herself known vocally.  The sounds of A’s first few days and weeks were distinctly different from the sounds her brother made when he was young. She used a high-pitched scream to alert us of any frustrations.  Her cry when tired or when waking every two hours for a nighttime feeding shifted between the call of a bleating goat and the mew of a kitten.  Hearing her cry, we would quickly pick her up.  “It’s alright, baby.  You’re okay.  Mommy and Daddy love you.”

Over time, A has grown and so have her sounds.  Oh, I cannot describe the joys of hearing her happy “ma ma mas” and “da da das,” even if she doesn’t mean “Mommy” and “Daddy” yet.  “Yes, Ma Ma, that’s ME!” I affirm.  She also has developed a concentrated, throaty sound that friends have helped identify as similar to the hum of a locust.  She uses that sound when sitting around and studying things, much like a singer might unknowingly hum a melody under her breath.

Now in her tenth month, A is “talking” all the time–happy squeals, repeated vocalizations, the ups and downs of mimicked speech.  She has a lot to say!  Indulging in new tastes and flavors every day, she lets out a delighted “nam nam nam” while chewing.  Of course, nothing can match those belly giggles she’ll produce when watching her silly big brother or getting tickles from Daddy.

A still wakes up in the middle of the night several times a week with a cry that melts this mommy’s heart.  I go to her crib and gently pick her up. “It’s alright, baby.  You’re okay. Mommy and Daddy love you.”  As she sighs a contented reply into my shoulder, I realize there are too many of these sounds that I want to hold forever in my ears.

When I’m Bigger

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I don’t know if this is rare in children, or if it will change in a couple of years, but my son, who is almost 4, is in no hurry to grow up.  And I love it.  For a while this year, whenever someone called him a “big boy,” E would stomp his foot and be quite adamant.  “I’m not a big boy.  I’m a little boy!” he would shout.

Now that he has finally resigned himself to potty training and the world of Toy Story and Cars underwear this summer, E is not as upset about being called a big boy, but he’s still very clear about the levels of big boyhood.  He repeatedly asks for assurances from my husband and me that he will watch Spiderman when he’s older.  Other than that interest, however, he is perfectly happy being his age–being a little big boy.  He likes his freedoms. He accepts his limitations.  He enjoys being a helper.  He loves just being.  E is a model for living in the moment.

Over the past month or two, E has even turned being young into an excellent excuse for putting off all that causes discomfort or fear.  When faced with eating an undesired food, going potty in a public restroom, or doing anything too noisy or frightening, he calmly states, “I’ll do that when I’m bigger.” No regret. No self-judgement. E is perfectly comfortable with where he’s at in life.

While certainly as a mother, I want E to explore new things and gain confidence as he ventures into this world, I also am comforted by the fact that he is clinging so greatly to his early childhood.  I know already how quickly these years are slipping by us.  So many times, I’ve teasingly admonished E and his sister for growing too fast.  I’m grateful E is willing to stay my little boy for at least a little longer.

Of course, I still have the typical motherly worries of how E will do in school, whether he’ll have friends, and if he’ll be nice to others and make good decisions. Instead of dwelling on those concerns, I need to follow E’s lead and live in the moment too.  I need to look at bugs with him, blow bubbles, listen to his stories, and take every single request for a snuggle.  When my son is so deeply entrenched in living the good life on his (almost) four year old terms, I might as well join him!  Those other worries?  I can face them when I’m bigger.