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Placement: Grade 1

19 Jun

 

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Maybe it means more to me than her, the last long look into the first classroom she ever entered, wave goodbye to her desk, hug her first teacher. Maybe she won’t remember this year, the way I remember my kindergartens in spurts, tiny spores released into the air of my memory. Maybe the memories will just be warm spring sunshine, the cold dark air of winter in her mouth. Singing, running, joy.

But it means so very much to me, on the verge of tears as we say goodbye to the woman who helped my daughter learn to read, who can be thanked, years from now, when Vivian accepts her Masters, or flies to Mars, the woman who has started Vivian on a road she can never fall from, a passion for words, and knowledge, and someday, hopefully wisdom.

How can you repay that? How many words match this gift?

Last September, I dropped Vivian off with a fair amount of trepidation, and a lot of relief, and shock. That we were there already. That she was so very eager. I read her last report card on the way home, focused more on the teacher’s perceptions of her than the evaluation. And I cried, quiet tears, swallowed as we walked through the playground. My daughter, called amazing and wonderful and bright, all those things I understood, all these things I’ve molded and helped create. To see it reflected back, to see her blossom under the tuteledge of another woman, and learn. It fills me with awe this change. It fills me with awe for my daughter, for her mind, for how nimble and thirsty it really is.

Seeing “Placement for September: Grade 1”, for all the smiles it gives, makes me feel old. She’s growing up, this magical girl of mine. She’s growing up,sprouting in her mind and legs, and leaving her mother behind already.

Maybe it does hit me more, my memories being sporatic, full of wisftul nostalgia. Maybe it’s just how it should be.

Sick Day Formulaic

18 Mar

The tug and pull and coercion of another Wednesday morning leaves me snarking at Vivian to get her bloody pants on, and hurry up and eat. She’s already looked up at me 3 times with those enormous brown eyes teeming with seeming pain and said

“But I’m tired and don’t wanna!”

I kept you home on Monday I say. I felt you were getting sick and in the interest of not having the health department in our home, scratching at the corners looking for the plague we’ve unleashed, I kept you home.

I go in to the bathroom, come out to her puking, but without the usual crying and melodrama that generally accompanies heaving your guts out.

“Did you make yourself puke?”

She says nothing, runs to the toilet, but is fine. Maybe it’s the cereal she tells me.

The cereal she loves, and would eat all the time.

I know her sister, she of hack hack, coughed her little head off all night and likely kept Vivian up, but that’s tired. I mean, I’M that tired all the time, what with the “Fill up my water jug” visits and the “I peed a teeny bit in my pants” visits and the “I want you to cuddle me at 3am, but only in MY BED” visits. I get by. And while she looked a little peaked, she didn’t seem that bad. Once I said we’d be lazy and take the bus the 1 km to school, she perked right up.

Heh.

Of course, by the time we’re at school and I’m giving her teacher the heads up, she’s drooped her eyes again and started moving slowly. I tell the teacher that since Vivian is such a good actress, I’m sending her anyway.

“I’ve noticed she’s a good actor.” she says “I’ll watch her.”

(Her teacher is so awesome. She loves Vivian, but she is also ON to Vivian. It’s perfect.)

Walking away, it hits me that I don’t ever remember staying home as a child. I’m sure that I must have-there are very few children who are never sick, especially as small children. But remembering my mother, I would have needed to be VERY VERY sick to stay home.

How do we know? How do we decide what’s bad enough to stay in bed, and what’s a play for a day off? Does running a fever count, or is that just the body rallying it’s defences, and not to be worried about? Should there be more puke, more pain, tears, disinterest, extra whining?

I’m not good with telling with kids, not on the maybe days. I know when they are SICK, but what about those days when they just feel blah-sorta like those days you call in to work occasionally on, the day before your period when it feels like your intestines are attempting to wander out your belly button while inflating. Do we keep them home? Do we risk them knowing that exact key to a sick day?

Don’t kid yourself-it’s a game. I played the same one with my father before he stopped giving a shit. Of course I was a teenager, but it was the same formula-enough to stay home, but not enough to warrant one on one attention.  No one wants to end up in the ER after all.

But then what if you’re wrong? What if I’ve sent her and she pukes her guts out all over her classroom, all over the teacher, and she’s sitting there crying for me and just wanting to come home? What then?

How do we decide? How do you decide? Do you have a formula, or is it your gut? Thus far-I go with my gut, especially since I AM a fan of mental health days. But how does this work in your house, especially those of you with older kids?

Are ALL kids as seemingly manipulative as mine, or is mine just destined for politics?

When the least they could do to you was everything, then the most they could do to you suddenly held no terror.

26 Feb

Most mornings, rain or shine, I walk Vivian the kilometre to her school, trudging with half shut eyes through ice and slush. Most of this isn’t just walking-it’s tugging, cajoling, threatening and bribing for speed. We walk so slowly that sometimes I swear we’re going backwards in time. You’d never know that she loves school.

Winter in a schoolyard is a magnificent thing. Snowbanks to climb, to slide down, to jump in and off. Snow, simple, intricate snow becomes so many places or things. After the last snowstorm, I smiled, thinking of all the joyous voices I’d hear, running and playing on those hills.

We walk onto the schoolyard, and all the kindergartners are restrained to one, sterile area, trapped even, pacing in many cases, the length of the “play area” they’re allowed. I walk past a group who have started sliding on their bottoms down a tiny, foot high snowbank. Immediately a “teacher” rushes over, and micromanages them to the point that it’s just not fun anymore, and they scatter.

I stand with my mouth open, confused and sad.

******************

While I don’t trust people necessarily, I firmly believe in independent children. I believe in bruises incurred falling down on the driveway, small cuts after wandering around in the woods, skinned knees after tipping over your bike. The possibility of danger, the thirst of fear. I believe children should have these simple things, and I don’t mean it in that old foggie, uphill both ways kinda way.

What do we lose when we take a person’s sense of adventure? When we remove the potential for harm, for consequence? What core part of our being is affected when we minimize the world down to things you can touch, and things you can’t? We’ve evolved chasing fricken mammoths after all.

I think back to the playground “equipment” we had when I was Vivian’s age. This rickety, rusty metal spinning merry go round type thing, some metal bars that ripped the skin from your hands, a yard. In the front of the school was this huge wooden climber, complete with a long, wide metal slide. It was likely 12-15 feet high.  I remember vividly the time a classmate jumped off the top, completely missed the snowbank, and shattered his elbow. No one ever did something that dumb again.

Some kid got his tongue stuck to the fence one cold morning, the little brother of a friend. The blood mark stayed forever it seemed, and in my head, I can see, exactly where this happened. I rode a bike into a moving car once, skidded under a parked one another, tearing up one side of my body impressively.

Sure, these are stupid acts, the acts of children. But they’re more than that.

They are lessons. Mistakes let us determine the right path, on our own, or damn close. Watching Jeremy screaming and crying as hot water and blood poured down his front, we all learned in a much more lasting way, why you never EVER stick your tongue to anything metal, no matter what anyone says. Healing from road rash, I learned to pay attention to whether the bike has pedal brakes or hand brakes BEFORE trying to make the corner that fast. I also learned to better anticipate events, plan a little better (snort. that lasted) PAY ATTENTION!!! as my mother was always yelling.

The point is that I began to come to my own conclusions, learn my own lessons, and actually take them with me. As opposed to every time an adult told me something. I was one of those kids, who just HAD to do whatever she was told was bad.

Yes, I’ve stuck my fingers in a light socket. Literally. It’s not that bad to be honest.

I never wanted to listen, and take some one’s word for it. I needed to prove it. And then learn the lesson that in some things, my father wasn’t lying.

The problem with the cocoon, and managing every single second of a child’s life, telling them how and where to play, what’s safe, what they can eat, what they can wear, is that you might turn around in 15 years and have an adult living in your basement who is COMPLETELY incapable of anything resembling acting like a mature human. Because you’ve done all the acting for them. They might not have the courage to fly the coop because they’ve never truly spread their wings.

We complain that kids are far too wrapped up in themselves and their things-what else do they have if we’ve taken exhilaration from them? They have what, new cell phones and fucking left? If you take the thrill from life, what’s left to it? If you destroy the chance to hurtle down a snowy hill on a rickety piece of wood doing close to 10kms an hour, if you keep your children from feeling the snow in their face, the sun on their neck as they laugh as much from fear as from joy, are they even still human? What are they? Who are we raising then?

We truly have so little to fear now, that we create boogeyman. I know people who see the world outside as riddled with scary men in the bushes, who can’t imagine leaving their children where they might get a bruise or stumble a little. We cover everything with helmets and protective gear, leaving me thinking wistfully of long bike rides on Sunday afternoons, the silky August wind in my hair, bathed in the sun as the world felt so open and fantastic.

What will freedom be for our children?

*************************

I pick Viv up, the sun warming the snow, melt water trickling down the roads. She sprints immediately for the giant snow hills, those which are verboten during the day and taunt her. Her friends join her. I stand with their mother and watch as they slide, with absolutely no regard for their safety, down the hill, bouncing and jolting, avoiding pointy parts the next time.

“They’re still bendy at this age” I laugh with their mother, and she nods, and we just watch, the joyous cries of youth filling the air between us, around us.

That laughter sounds long into the night in my ears.

“Given the nature of life, there may be no security, but only adventure.”

17 Aug

We’re in the grocery store, her and I, on a chaotic Saturday full of grocery tourists and genuinely harried couples and parents. Here and there a baby screams-not the “I’m hungry” cry but the “FUCK YOU I WANT OUT NOW!” cry which was the sole reason I NEVER took my children to the grocery store as infants. The screaming continues sporadically in the produce section, likely a mother unable to get out otherwise, and I cringe in sympathy. Crying doesn’t bother me anymore-it just makes me want to take the child so the parents can just get their shit done.

Of course, hearing the yuppie parents of one single, quiet maybe 2 year old boy explain in perfect enunciation that “We aren’t going to squish the bread today!” made me walk quickly away laughing. What 2 year old WON’T squish the bread? It’s fun! I don’t bother making any type of contact since I do know the type of parents-they won’t acknowledge me, they won’t exchange pithy jokes and comments. And this rings true later when we go to the cash behind them, and my comments with Vivian about the toy the little boy is lucky to get are ignored. Perhaps they’re busy, perhaps they’re deaf, but right then, rude was rude. I remind myself they could be many things going on, and gee he’s pretty darn cute.

I’m not the center of the universe.

Vivian, now used to grocery shopping, has morphed into the child we know and love from Saturday morning cartoons:

“Can I have this?”

“I want this. Can I have it?”

“It’s got SCOOBY DOO ON IT! I need it!”

“Please? Please?”

The entire trip involves me saying NO every 4.2 seconds. Reminding myself why I do prefer to do this alone.

But then it’s not as fun. She comes around the corner with a stack of beer cups held to her eyes like goggles, and I laugh and giggle and block the aisle. She walks into a display while doing this, and it’s all I can do to not fall down I’m laughing so hard. I can feel the soft glow of other people smiling as my world spirals to just Vivian and myself, our eyes and laughter. I forget about the asks and remember my fantastical little girl who creates such wonder and delight around her.

“Back to juice boxes.” I snigger.

I give her a little speech on how we’re gonna get a second Klean Kanteen for school, and this is just for now. She’s not paying attention, and I wonder if the speech was for her, or the people around her. She randomly chooses some sugar laden box, and we move on.

It hits me. I am buying school lunches.

In 2 weeks, give or take, she starts school. And most of me, mainly my ears, are ok with this. She’s growing up, she’s FIVE (holyshitwheredidthoseyearsgo?) and I need to back off. I let her run ahead, I let her lag behind. I trust her to make small decisions. It’s time to start pulling back. But holding juice boxes, granola bars, Joe Louis’ in my hands, I wanted to be sad. My mother stood there once, trying to decide what was best for lunch, what was needed, what I would eat out of sight. She held those boxes, reading. She imagined a life emptied, for a time, of her daughter.

Connection with a long dead mother in a grocery store. I felt her then, in front of plastic fruit snacks. I felt her indecision, her pride, her love, such warm love, for me, and for her granddaughter, for the woman she’d one day be. I felt the conflict of that first day, of letting go of your baby. I felt that it was ok to feel this-to want to hold closer than skin and push out, all at once. That this was the least of my trials in the years ahead.

We got home and I realized I forgot garbage bags, cat food, cheese. But I held something much sweeter to my chest.

“Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

30 Jun

I had a wonderful post percolating in my head for days-a post about those blue skies in late June, those same blue skies you said good-bye to your childhood under, the same blue skies you left home with, packed your things, spent a last few days quietly with friends, not thinking ahead with sadness but with excitement.

I spent the last little while thinking about this post, thinking about my own ambivalence when high school ended, my hidden fears, manifested by tension headaches my entire last semester and compounded by falling in love. I was terrified, sad and excited all at once.

My friend and I would walk our small town streets at night, and walk to the top of the single overpass in town, staring out across the river, pretending the equally small American town was actually a city, Montreal, Toronto, that place where our lives could begin. We’d sigh and keep walking, waiting for sunrise.

We assumed we’d always be friends. It was implied that we’d always be there for each other as she watched me leave town without a backward glance. It was assumed that the lovely day in the park that last June, with the apple blossoms dancing on the soft kissing breeze in the sunlight, balanced against the glass like sky would not be the last, that we could continue those halcyon days, those precious, simple, slowed days where time is like taffy and we only pull at the very edges, the insides staying heated and full.

We were rich then, and we didn’t know. It wasn’t a perfect time-our edges stuffed with shitty home lives, the navigation of other fucked up teenagers, the fear and absolute confusion we felt at our futures. But we were rich with each other, our small group of friends, piled on each other in a park, high as kites, imagining UFO’s as we scared our selves silly. We we rich with those sunrises we talked until, satiating our minds and eyes on a quiet fire that still burns. We talked and laughed and ate and lived. No more, no less. We were pure in ourselves, even if the world around us felt like crumbling.

I’ve had this post in my head because there have been days where again the sunlight, the blue forever brings to mind that wild exultation that living in your future can’t bring. The possibility we lose growing up, having responsible lives. The clarity we once had, even in our wild states.

***********************************

It’s raining here today, as it has for days. The kind of rain that makes you wonder where the magic disappears to, and then you wander out into your yard and stumble upon wild strawberries growing with abandon. Not all are nibbled by slugs, and in the rock hard rain, they’re the sweetest bit of wonder you’ve had in quite a long time.

They do indeed taste good to her.

“The child becomes largely what he is taught; hence we must watch what we teach, and how we live.”

28 Feb

I’m holding a bad cup of coffee, too much cream, not enough sweetener, talking to my neighbour about our kids, our street, her new house. Sitting sedately in a semi circle, making small talk with people you don’t really know, people whose kids will soon possibly become VERY known at your house. Vivian is in the gym, doing whatever it is that we came here to do. The letter just said “activities”-we could have been sorting counterfeit for all I knew.

Vivian told me to leave, so leave I did.

I hear a snuffling sad sound, and realize that Vivian has lost her shit.

“I wawaswas scared without you mommy.”

She’s red with crying, with holding it in, trying to be strong like I ask.

“I’m scared sometimes too Vivian.”

*****************************************

This school thing, this leaving my kid in the hands of strangers, especially the bitchy looking one-I’m not comfortable with this. Visions of homeschooling dance in my head instead I realize that we rely mainly on my income, and Mogo has made it quite clear that he wants no part in any nutso homeschooling ideas. But I feel so…turned inside out, reversed, record played backwards about the whole thing. I don’t know if I’m ok with it, with leaving her with people to learn by rote, to learn not to question answers.

I watched her doing her own thing tonight, drawing the ladybug big, not little, and be corrected. And that hurt.

It’s not like I’m raising Che Guevara or anything-I’m not looking for a counter culture overlord. But I want a child who questions everything, and questions it well. I want a child who explores her boundaries, who isn’t satisfied with stopping at the lines, or mimicking perfectly what someone else has already done.

Why all this interest in mimicry? Why is there never the same interest in newness?

I am concerned about the tomorrows. The 10 years from now. I am worried that like me, she’ll need to fight her way back to learning how to stop listening to that voice in her head that tells her she’s wrong, that there’s a “right” way to do things. The smartest people I’ve ever known knew that there was rarely a single “right” way to do anything-but many, many possibilities.

And perhaps this is what it’s really about. Potential. Possibility. People feel no compunction about arguing against abortion, claiming we’re limiting potential. But the same argument isn’t always used about schools, and their ability to suck the love for learning and curiosity out of all but the rarest of children. She has such sparkling potential, such a rare spark and gift for oration and relation. She wants to know-constantly-in that way that I truly believe most kids want to know yet have it smothered out of them.

The chubby, slow disinterested children scared me the most, their potential almost completely buried under 4 years of something that wasn’t even close to being ideal. Watching Vivian get less attention for knowing the answer-this I remember from my childhood, and still resent. The message I always got was “You aren’t worthy of anything more than you already are.”

Imagining anyone thinking that about my daughters, or your sons, makes me want to curl up and cry.

I’d like to think it would be different if they weren’t attending public school. (And yes, that IS catholic school kid snobbery-I confronted it earlier tonight) But I don’t think it would be. There’s something terribly wrong with a system that creates so few true scholars and learners, a system that makes the mechanically inclined feel stupid (when we all know that the plumbers and the mechanics will make more than I would even WITH my english degree). There is something so wrong about a system that makes me question whether or not I even want my children in it so much.

Receiving letters reminding me to read to my children really depress me. The fact that people need to be told these things-doesn’t that maybe tell you that something has been broken for a very long time?

*****************************

“I want to put my sparkly shoes on.” I had carried a pair of “inside shoes” with me just in case we needed them.

“Sure baby. Sparkles always make me less afraid.”

We put them on, her little body still trembling in that sheer terror you only fear as a little girl. The younger teacher, the one I want her to have who is pregnant and likely to pop over the summer leads her to the water fountain, holds her hair gently as Vivian figures it out for the first time, the first of many drinks.

My heart flops. I remember the kindness of many soft blonde teachers. I remember many trips to the fountain, the joy of something finally your size.

We walk back to the gym.

“You need to stay with me Mommy.”

I hover behind her the rest of the night, comforted by another mother doing the same. The only downfall of never using daycare.

Vivian regains her confidence, starts blurting the answers before remembering herself and her manners. She tries to follow the instructions, she really does. Mostly she succeeds. She turns now and then, looking for me. If she doesn’t immediately see me, her hair flips from side to side to side, her eyes fill, her lip quivers. Then she sees me.

“I’m right here honey. I’m not going anywhere.”

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