Posts Tagged With: what’s best for children

mother’s day

I struggle with Mother’s Day.
My birthday is always the week of Mother’s Day. Sometimes even falls on that particular Sunday. I don’t remember it bothering me until I became a mom. First one precious little girl and later, two precious little girls called me their mommy. They were SO focused and excited about Mother’s Day that my birthday often fell by the wayside.
When they got old enough to understand, I explained how much I loved their beautiful appreciation of me. I explained that I was their mommy every day. That it was the most special thing EVERY DAY. But that my birthday was only one day and it was special. It took a bit for them to get it, but they knew how important I made their birthdays and they began to come around. So while Mother’s Day remained special, “birthday birthday” became the focus that second week of May.

Mother’s Day is painful for me because I don’t have my mom anymore. However complicated our relationship was, she was my mother and I loved her.
I took Thing C and Thing G to get cards for their mom. I went with YBW to get a card for his mom. I spent the day with YBW and his mom.
It was agony.
I no longer have a mom. It hurts more than I can even communicate.
Thing 1 called to tell me Happy Mother’s Day. She thanked me for being her mom. She talked about the life she’s building. She talked about going back to school. She told me she sent a little gift, but it was going to be late. She told me how much she loved me.
My heart sang with joy!
Thing 2 did nothing. (I don’t know if she was being purposefully hurtful or not…I honestly don’t think it matters. It was hurtful enough.) People that I did not actually give birth to called and texted to wish me Happy Mother’s Day. I’m just sayin’.

When my girls were little and I was teaching preschool, I was blessed to be surrounded by some of the most truly awe inspiring women I’ve ever known.
We were a family. If something happened to one of us, joy or sorrow, it happened to all of us. These women helped me realize who I could be. They let me help them see things from my unique and sometimes brash perspective. (I may or may not have publicly accused the director of being on crack at a faculty meeting…in my defense, it opened a new way of talking about a serious topic.)

When I started this blog I promised my family and friends anonymity. That’s why I never use anyone’s real name…apart from my own. My girls and Sundance have expressed their ambivalence regarding this promise. I keep it because YBW is especially protective of his identity, and the identity of his sons. I respect that. Nobody “signed up” to be part of my public words regarding my private life. I want to keep those who need to feel safe feeling safe.
That said, I’m going to use the names of the women from that perfect moment in time when we lived and loved and worked in the safest and most creative environment.

It kind of started this way:
On Sunday, Nicole posted in our private group chat:
HAPPY MOTHERS DAY!!! I would not have survived young motherhood without you all!!

I was thinking something along those lines when I was washing my hair that morning. I was thinking about some of the women that influenced my life. What I learned from each of them and how I incorporated that into my parenting style, and into my own personal development.

I learned from my mom that always having to be in control will wear you the eff out. That it breaks you and makes you miserable. My mom taught me the value of creativity and expressing opinions because she squashed those out of us as children. She taught me that love is conditional, you must be exactly what someone wants or they can’t love you.
She taught me that you just have to keep fighting for what you believe in. She taught me what true sacrifice looks like. She taught me that a color book and box of crayons eases heartache. She taught me that birthdays are the most important celebration, because the day you came into the world is sacred. She taught me to love books. She taught me Elvis is the King. She taught me that being redhaird is the most precious gift, and that only a few of us ever have the luxury to receive it.
Some of the things she taught me made me a better mom because I did the exact opposite of what she did. Love is unconditional. Creativity and expressing yourself are the most important life stills to possess.
Some of what she taught me formed my most basic ideology. Birthdays are sacred. New crayons are priceless. Books are uniquely portable magic.

Nicole taught me that organized chaos is a great way to raise children. She taught me that love is fierce. She showed me how to see things through the eyes of a child. She taught me the value of true and long lasting friendship.

Jessica taught me that I was more capable than I ever realized. She taught me to listen differently so I could truly hear. She taught me to ask the most important question: What’s best for children? She taught me the value of my own mothering. She taught me when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. She helped me believe in myself at the lowest point in my life. She showed me the fire in my belly still had embers to nurture. She loved me when I couldn’t love myself.

Becca encouraged me to trust my gut, because she never seemed to be able to do that for herself. She taught me to appreciate every contribution. She brought out even more nurturing in me, she needed and still occasionally needs to be taught self-love. She taught me how innocent kindness can change lives. She taught me that my tough as nails hide could benefit from softening up a bit.

Terri taught me to see my firstborn in a new and different light. She provided much comfort and support when I was struggling with learning how to mom a three year old and a new and extremely sick baby. She was an example of love and tenacity through her own terrible illness. She taught me how to approach the enigma that is the three year old with the perfect mix of fear and appreciation.

Nancy taught me that I must embrace and celebrate my gifts. She is the first person who said out loud that I am a writer. That moment caused a change in my life that I will be forever grateful for. She supported me with love and hope when I didn’t know who or what I really was. She taught me that life is so much more than simply putting one foot in front of the other.

Marianne taught me that letting go is so much better than holding on too tightly. She taught me the importance of repetition. She helped me realize that a classroom was one of the most loving environments in the world.

Cory taught me that I matter. She helped me understand how to be a mom and a real person too. She accepted me for who I am. She guided my learning of that most important skill. I’m not great at it, but I am working at it every single day…even all these years later.

Julia encouraged me to take risks. She helped me realize that fear is a part of life, but if I didn’t try new things I might miss out on something extraordinary. She taught me a new kind of patience.

Sara gave me the courage to breathe when I needed to take a step back. She showed me the importance of kindness when Thing 2 and I experienced serious separation anxiety.

Like Nicole, I would never have gotten through young motherhood without these women. The gifts they gave me have gotten me through the last twenty two years.
It takes a village to raise children.
It takes a village to raise parents too.

I’m so blessed to know and love these women. I would not be the woman I am without experiencing their love and support.
I saw Becca this weekend, we talked about how those years were a sacred moment in time. We will never be able to recreate that, but we’re lucky enough to forever be better mothers and better women because of it.

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Categories: education, love, me, on being a mom | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

shouting from my soapbox

I saw an article this morning on Scary Mommy: Our Kids Don’t Need F@*#ing Pedal Desks, They Need Recess.
A Kentucky kindergarten teacher got a $12,000.00 grant to install ‘pedal desks’ in her classroom for (wait for it…) “when kindergartners get tired of sitting still.”

I BEG YOUR PARDON!?! (or: WHAT THE EVER-LOVING F**K!?!)
Kindergartners are five and six years old! Five and six! Is there ever a time when they DO sit still? They need to move their bodies! Their brain development relies on that!! How can they be expected to learn anything ‘strapped’ to a desk?
Is this simply another example of the misunderstanding about recess? Recess is about social interactions and imaginative play in addition to movement and exercise. Some of the most important social-emotional development happens when children play together freely.
Recess is a time for unstructured play. Children learn to respect and appreciate each other’s feelings by cooperating and taking turns. They understand that there is a natural give and take to play. If play is designed by one child and doesn’t evolve in a way the all the children like, two things can happen. They’ll either walk away which forces the change in play or they will discuss the changes they’d like to see. More often than not, the entire group will work together to create play that pleases everyone. These children practice negotiation and cooperation without even realizing it.
I’ve focused on social and emotional development and completely ignored the benefits of play to gross and fine motor development. But that seems more obvious to me.

Children need to move their bodies fairly regularly! I’m forty four years old and need to move mine often!
A classroom can and should be a place where you can move about and have different kinds of learning centers.
I know it’s hard to “meet each child where s/he is” but it’s easy to create a safe and authentic learning environment where students and teachers can move their bodies to help the teaching and learning process.

I started kindergarten in our country’s bicentennial year. I realize things have changed since then.
I remember my kindergarten class had a housekeeping area, a “writing center”, dress-ups, blocks and interlocking bricks for math. Sometimes we sat in chairs at big tables and other times we sat in a circle “Indian style” on carpet squares. We got read to and we honed our social skills through play. I could already read and write when I started kindergarten, but that’s just me. I remember loving being at school. It was fun and I actually realized I was learning. I was in half-day kindergarten and there was time for learning, snack, AND recess!

Thing 1 and Thing 2 had individual desks and chairs in their kindergarten classes. But they were grouped into fours in the center of the room to make room for the play based learning centers. Interestingly they were similar to the ones I talked about in my kindergarten classroom. There was a math center with big and little blocks and clocks to play with. I loved that! Little and big hands to move around the numbers. There was a writing center with crayons and markers and colored pencils. (Any scribbling is the beginning of writing.) There was a little kitchen and a mirror and babies.
Thing 1 was in kindergarten twenty three years after I was and there was still learning through play in kindergarten classrooms. Her teacher told me: I need them to walk into my classroom and be able to recognize their name and write it in some way that I can read it, even if it’s not right. I need them to be able to recognize number up to twenty. I need them to know their colors. The rest is up to me and the first grade teachers.
Thing 1 could do all those things, even though she wrote her nine letter name in a mix of capital and lower case letters. She was already reading a little. She was the only white girl in a class of nineteen kids. I was thrilled that she was going to experience that much diversity!
(There were 33 countries represented in our elementary school of 500 students.)

From the pedal desk article:

“Our kids need recess, not pedal desks so they can move while they work like little bots. Seriously, is this real life? Why are kindergartners even sitting in one place long enough to need pedal desks? That’s a question we should be asking ourselves.”

I believe in asking that question. But the people answering it are not educators. They don’t know what’s best for children. Here’s a thought: what if we have educators creating curriculum and education policy? Politicians designing this country’s curriculum can’t see past test scores. Gotta keep up with the Chinese and all that rot.
But in Peter Gray’s article, Give childhood back to children: if we want our offspring to have happy, productive and moral lives, we must allow more time for play, not less, he writes:

“Educators in East Asian nations have increasingly been acknowledging the massive failure of their educational systems. According to the scholar and author Yong Zhao, who is an expert on schools in China, a common Chinese term used to refer to the products of their schools is gaofen dineng, which essentially means good at tests but bad at everything else. Because students spend nearly all of their time studying, they have little opportunity to be creative, discover or pursue their own passions, or develop physical and social skills. Moreover, as revealed by a recent large-scale survey conducted by British and Chinese researchers, Chinese schoolchildren suffer from extraordinarily high levels of anxiety, depression and psychosomatic stress disorders, which appear to be linked to academic pressures and lack of play.”

What’s sad is teachers have no real choice. This woman was trying to make the school day better for FIVE and SIX year olds(!!) while accomplishing the unrealistic and inappropriate goal the government set for when these children leave her classroom.
There is something inherently wrong with this country’s education system. How many lives will be negatively impacted before something changes?
Childhood was snatched away from children. They’re forced to learn and do things at ages when their brains aren’t actually developed to do them. This skips natural and necessary building processes in the brain! And they can’t go play!
My heart breaks.
And my hackles go up!

Categories: education, love, me | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Just you wait, Henry Higgins. Just you wait.

I haven’t written anything in a while. I just haven’t been feeling well…or feeling like writing. It’s not an excuse…it just is.
Monday starts my last two weeks in my classroom. While I’m sad to say goodbye to my babies, I’ve never been happier to leave a job in my life. And that’s saying something. I used to run the nursing department of a home health care company. Every day on the way to work I would fantasize about being in an accident. Not enough to be hurt, enough to not make it to work.
It’s not the kids, I adore them. Even the ones I don’t actually like. It’s the way the administrators (None of which have any early childhood experience.) never bother to ask the most important question.
What’s best for children?

I ask that question every single day. And I do my damnedest to answer it.

It disgusts me that they are treated like chattel with dollar signs on their chests. Is that what’s best for children?
If parents knew how decisions regarding their children’s care and education were being arbitrarily decided would that be acceptable?
But some parents don’t care. Their careers, their lives are more important to them and they’re content to believe the hype as long as someone looks after their children all day long.

No one gives a damn about emergent curriculum. Or learning through play. Or brain development.
Is that what’s best for children?

I’ve never been truly satisfied at this school. I’ve had moments of great joy. But I’ve always known it fit me ill.
It’s made me question my passion for early childhood education. It’s made me question my love for young children. I’ve been wrestling with “hanging up my spurs” for quite some time. It fascinates me that something beyond my control made the decision for me. Is the stress from this job really creating the sickness in my brain?

Perhaps I’m just a whiny crybaby? Perhaps I’m just lazy? Perhaps I simply don’t want to have to go to work everyday?
I’ve asked myself these questions. With the exception of the first one, the answer is no. (The answer to the first question is: occasionally.)

It’s occurring to me as I write this that as bad as that other job was, this one goes against my personal beliefs. That just might be why it feels so much worse. I care so passionately about young children and their beginning education that I absolutely cannot participate in the degradation of the most important time in a person’s life.
From zero to five years is when everything we need for our entire lives starts being built.

I was discussing with a couple we know, the brain situation and leaving my job under medical advice. The husband (Who is an engineer.) said something to the effect of: But all jobs are stressful. The wife (Who is a teacher at an elementary school.) replied something to the effect of: Teaching is so stressful. It’s not like other jobs. You can turn your brain off occasionally while you’re working. But we never can.
I agreed and said: I am almost constantly engaged with my kids. My brain works even harder than my body does. When a child comes to me with a question or is excited about an accomplishment, I have to be ready to go! I have to give that child my undivided attention while being completely aware of the others.

Most people have no real understanding of what early childhood educators do. It’s not quantifiable but it lays the foundation for every single moment of learning.

I’m going to step down off my soapbox.
I’m going to enjoy the last two weeks with my babies before they move into the “junior kindergarten program”.
I’m going to walk away with my head held high.

It occurs to me in this moment that I haven’t been writing because I was filled with all this poison. It was making me fell unwell. It was making me cranky.
Well, I’ve just spewed the poison it onto this page and I actually feel a great deal better.

Am I crazy?
Am I cutting off my nose to spite my face?
Are personal beliefs and principles so sacred that to go against them makes one ill?
Don’t we skew our principles a teeny bit just to make it through each day?

I don’t know the answers to those questions. Well, I’m pretty sure I’m not crazy…

I am going to take time in September and October to heal my brain. (I’m extremely stubborn so I plan to do that through the sheer force of my will.) I’ll take that time to finish wedding planning. I’ll spend a good deal of that time with my own precious Thing 2.
And when YBW and I come home from our honeymoon, I’ll find a new job. One that suits me and that I suit.

I’m reminded a little bit of Eliza Doolittle: Just you wait ‘enry ‘iggins. Just you wait.
My brain is Professor Higgins. Life is Professor Higgins. And just like Eliza Doolittle, I plan to show my brain and the world what’s up!

Categories: education, me | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Say it proud!

Rick Bragg writes a column for Southern Living Magazine titled “Southern Journal”. This journal entry for May is called “Donkey Business (How I went from a proud rancher of bulls to a jackass man)”.
Mr Bragg writes about feeling a bit ashamed about being a writer. He writes that he feels other southern men judge him for not having a more manly profession. In the column, he explains how his family’s property had Hereford cattle until one day his mother asked to sell them off because she’d been chased by one of the bulls.
Like most good southern children, boys especially, he wasn’t about to disobey his Mama and the cattle were no more.
Which resulted in him no longer being able to tell folks he “raised bulls”.
Apparently, his Mama then decided the land looked lonely and wanted miniature donkeys…wackiness ensues.
And now when Mr Bragg is asked by some “real man” what he does, he tells him he’s a writer because he surely doesn’t want folks to know they are mini donkey on his family’s land.
(P.S. Mr Bragg, you are a beautiful writer, shout it out with pride!)

This struck my funny bone. The humor and telling of the story.
It struck my heart too.
Once upon a time, I was a very young stay at home mom…not college educated…”just” a mom. These years were the happiest years of my life, which I would trade for absolutely nothing and sometimes wish I could revisit. But I remember being in groups of people and when it came time to share what I “did” I would say: I’m a stay at home mom.
I wouldn’t feel prideful when I said it, I would feel less than.
I knew it was the most important job I would ever have. I knew I wanted to raise my own children. I knew I wanted to be the person they could trust most in this world to keep them safe.
But at that time I assumed the “rest of the world” with their fancy degrees and their office jobs would just look down their noses at me.

I remember the first time someone looked at me with awe when I told them what I did. Clearly the “rest of the world” understood the dedication and love and work that went into being someone’s (Two someones.) mommy all the live long day.
I saw respect in that face. The respect I had earned through my hard work at this labor of love. The respect I deserved.
It took me a while to understand how to reconcile the way it felt. It seemed to me that I might be viewed by the “rest of the world” as someone of no importance because my worth wasn’t in my job like most of the people I knew.
Only it wasn’t my worth that was in my job. I had the most important (and lifelong!) job in the history of all jobs. My job was to help, create a foundation for the girls to build their lives upon. My worth was irrelevant in my job. My job was to start them on the paths to their own worth.

It wasn’t much longer I didn’t hesitate to say I was a mommy. When I tell people now that I was a stay at home mom for fifteen years, I say it with pride and joy. I say it as though nothing I’ve done (as “work”) before or since matters a fraction as much.

I’m forty four years old. It took me a long time to stop comparing myself to the “rest of the world” probably longer than it should have…but that’s a story for another day.
I am me. The me I am because of the live I’ve lived. The choices I’ve made. Being a mom made me stronger than I might have been otherwise.

Sure, they might be miniature donkeys instead of Hereford cattle…but they’re my mini donkeys. And I’m their Mommy.

Categories: me, on being a mom | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

of no party or clique

I’m sad, angry, hurt, and frustrated.

I never pay attention to the rumor mill at my school because I am a grown-up and not a seventh grader with a bank account. But there is a “new and exciting” rumor about me and it was brought to my attention by the one person I really trust. She shared it with me out of love.

I’m the kind of girl who doesn’t really talk about other people. (Well, I guess I sometimes do, but never where I work. I’m not a gossip.) I’m a listener. I have a knack for listening to everyone and never repeating what I hear.
I’m that person who’s not really in any “party” or “clique” but everyone likes to talk to. I hear the most awful things. I also hear some wonderful things.
I don’t know if people talk about me or not. I honestly don’t care. I’m me and that’s quite enough.

The rumor that was brought to my attention is that I “laid hands on” a child and another teacher in the building didn’t want her kid in my class.
I cannot express how much this sickened and upset me. I’m stern and no-nonsense but I am also loving and playful and for someone to accuse me of hurting a child honestly makes me sick.

I went to the curriculum director this morning (our director got hitched this weekend and is out for her honeymoon) with a whole lot of WTF?
She was appalled! She had no idea about this. She has not been told by a parent or another teacher. She says she knows me and knows what I’m like with kids and while “I’m very stern I’m the most loving” teacher. She was apologetic that this happened and she’s going to investigate.
I thanked her and shared the news that I’m considering leaving this summer. I assured her it had nothing to do with this situation, that it was simply time for me to hang up my spurs.

I have spent the better part of the last twenty years working with young children. I absolutely can’t believe anyone would think I didn’t always try to do what’s best for children.

I’m disappointed that my name finally got dragged into the rumor mill. But I’m absolutely heartbroken that this is what the subject matter is.
I know the people that “matter” know there is not truth to it. Parents and children and my co-teacher and the administration know the truth. Most importantly, I know the truth.
Doesn’t make it any less hurtful.

One more reason in my list of why I should be finished here, I guess.

Categories: me | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

do what you love

I’m in existential crisis. It sounds ridiculous to say, but it’s true. I’m struggling with the difference between a job and a calling.
From the time I was a little girl, I’ve always felt I as meant to spend my time with little children. As a mom, as a teacher. But I’m beginning to wonder if that’s my actual calling. I’m experiencing feelings that the time has come to “hang up my spurs”. The part that gives me pause is the fact that I can’t clearly identify from where those feelings come. I keep thinking if I could understand the why I could apply logic to it and be able to make a more informed decision.
I don’t know where these feelings started, it’s not that I’m tired or whatever, it goes beyond that. It’s deep in my gut. And if I’ve learned anything in forty three years of life, it’s that my gut is NEVER wrong. My brain can argue both sides until I’m completely lost. My heart knows what it wants and will stop at nothing to have it’s way. But my gut just ‘knows’. I’ve learned to trust that instinct, because when I haven’t I’ve paid the price.

So I’m hearing the gut feeling, but don’t know what it means exactly, neither do I know how to articulate what I’m feeling. Hence the crisis of existence.
I’m sad. I’m confused. I’m frustrated that I can’t figure it out. (Have I mentioned patience isn’t at the top of my skills list?)
I feel so strongly about early childhood education. About what’s best for children.
I’m not so sure I’m what’s best for children.

I am so sad about this situation. It’s absolutely consuming me.
I was in the car with YBW last night and he said: Are you OK.
I shrugged and said: Yeah.
He asked: Are you sure.
I asked: What do you want me to say?
He said: You just look so sad.
I replied: I am sad.

I’m sad because I don’t know what to do with the feelings I know I have to trust.
What do I want to do?
Ideally I’d like to be able to write or take photos to earn my living.
What inspires me?
Children.
Do what you love.
I love to write.
I love to take photos.
I love children.

YBW expressed his concern about me leaving this job I’m spectacularly good at for some random job. He has a valid point. I oughtn’t “jump out of the frying pan into the fire”.
There really is no solution at the moment. I need to understand the ‘why’ so I can figure out how to proceed.

Le sigh. Le really big sigh.
See how I get nowhere?
I’m walking away from the vehemence of my gut’s opinion. I’m just going to be in the moment.

Categories: education, me | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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