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Teaching love

standard April 6, 2011 Leave a response

“What makes you crabby?” I asked C in the car this morning as we drove to school?

She thought for a moment before answering.

Being hungry. Being tired. Being nervous or impatient about something. The answers came out slowly at first, then faster as she warmed up to the subject.

We were talking about a little boy she’s been having issues with at school. She thinks he’s mean to her, that he singles her out and says stuff to hurt her feelings on purpose.

I’m not saying she’s wrong, but the fact that the teacher has never noticed (in a classroom of 12 kids) makes me think that maybe, just maybe, she’s perceiving meanness where only grumpiness resides.

So, in the car, instead of telling her that I thought maybe this little boy got grumpy at times and lashed out at her, I tried to get her to come to that conclusion herself.

It didn’t take long for her to make the jump.

I don’t want her to spend her life making excuses for people when they’re mean to her, but I would love for her to learn early on that few people are really intentionally mean and that often they’re just caught up in their own issues. It’s unbelievably easier to forgive people and move on when you realize that.

“But what if he isn’t crabby, what if he’s just mean?” Her little voice reached me from the back seat. Timid, sad and a little subdued. Because if he’s just plain mean, then no amount of empathy will change anything.

“Well, then you remember how many people love you and think you’re awesome and you just walk away.” It’s only taken me some 30 years to learn this. I didn’t think she’d buy it in a five minute car chat. One glance back in the rear view mirror confirmed my fears. Mommy’s mumbo jumbo wasn’t being swallowed.

“Babe? Who loves you?” I asked. She shrugged and looked down. I prodded a bit, but got no further than a few shaking points in my direction and in the direction of the absentee passengers who usually ride with us – daddy and Little L. I was running out of time so I filled in the blanks for her.

As name after name rolled off my tongue I watched her in the mirror. First her head perked up, then her shoulders moved back, her chin lifted, her eyes started to shine. When her smile appeared I started to skip people in my list and she filled in the blanks in a voice that kept growing louder and louder.

I filled her with the names of all the people who loved her unconditionally and when she was full to the brim with all of their invisible support I reminded her that for every person who will ever be mean to her, there will always be tons more who can show her how that one person is not important.

When I dropped her off at school there was a bounce in her step that hadn’t been there when she’d walked to the car. And tonight… well, tonight she asked for that little boy to be added to her birthday party guest-list. Because apparently, when he’s happy and he laughs, he’s really very nice.

Opting to step way off the beaten path

standard September 10, 2010 2 responses

Last Thursday we all attended a new parent orientation at C’s new school. The girls went to childcare in the Kindergarten room and M and I went off to meet the rest of the new parents.

I knew when I picked this school that I was opting for something different. This isn’t your average school, not by any stretch of the imagination. It’s way above average really. Instead of aiming to teach children their 3Rs and everything else you’re supposed to pick up in school, they also aim to nurture and develop the kids’ sense of self-awareness and kindness.

To put it bluntly it’s a school that follows and teaches Buddhist principles.

To put it another way, the school’s curriculum is built around teaching kindness and recognizing the good in each other and in the world around us.

I picked this school because I knew the staff would nurture my sensitive child. I picked this school because the early childhood development teacher is an artist and has built art into every aspect of the curriculum. I picked this school because I was blown away by the emotional maturity of the kids I met. I picked this school because everything I saw in the classrooms showed that the level of education the students were receiving was well above average. But most importantly I picked this school because it felt like a new home for C and for the rest of us.

I’m glad to say that the meeting we attended on Thursday has confirmed my first impressions. The staff and the parents were everything I’d hoped and expected them to be – welcoming, smart, funny, truly committed to the school, the students, and the school’s mission.

At the same time, the meeting we attended on Thursday confirmed that by opting for this school we are definitely opting to step off the beaten path. This school is different. The teaching methods are different. The way the kids are separated into grades is different. The way the classrooms are managed is different. The way the entire school community is organized is different. Different in a great way in my opinion, but different nonetheless, and it does take some courage to say “we’re opting out of test based teaching and everything else the traditional system upholds.”

It’s a good thing the school is filled with other great people who also had that courage and will help us in case we ever doubt our choice. But for now, we’re stepping off that path with our head held high and a grin on our faces. It feels like the right choice.

Realization dawns as the end nears

standard August 20, 2010 5 responses

We’ve been talking about the end of daycare for months now. C has always known that when she started school she’d stop going. She’s always known, but she’s never really understood.

How could she? Every weekday for the last five years I’ve dropped her off at daycare and picked her up nine hours later. When she learned to speak she started referring to the place as home, and it was, to all extents and purposes it has been her second home for that entire time. Her daycare providers have been her extended family, people who have loved her intensely as she’s gone through her infancy, her toddlerhood, her preschool years.  Her daycare friends have been like siblings. They’ve grown up together, day after day.

And now she has to go somewhere new. Somewhere completely foreign. Somewhere without her surrogate siblings. Somewhere without all those loving arms that have known her forever. 

Yes, really, forever. Or at least ever since she was 12 weeks old.

I’ve tried to stifle my own anxieties and mounting sadness about all this. Starting Kindergarten is stressful enough without having to also ponder the disappearance of an entire support system. But next week her closest daycare friends start Kindergarten and so this week there has been a lot of talk at daycare about how it’s all coming to an end.

They even had cupcakes. As if frosting could make the separation easier.

And yet, until tonight, C has been chipper about everything. I made an offhanded remark about how I’m putting them to bed a bit earlier so they can start waking up a bit earlier to prepare for when we’ll be getting up for school. As comments go it was pretty innocuous. I was closing the shutters and I missed her initial expression.

“Then I won’t go to Kathleen’s house any more?” She asked in a really quiet voice. I looked over. Her eyes were filling with tears and her lower lip had started to quiver. It didn’t take long for her tears to spill over and her face to contort into a sad grimace. Only the ringing doorbell stopped my own tears in their tracks.

By the time I got back to their room the moment had passed. She was curled around her lovey, half asleep. I bent down to kiss her and hug her tightly.

“You’ll go back. I promise. You’ll go for vacations and to visit. It’s not really over.” I don’t know who I was trying to comfort more. Me or her.

A new home away from home

standard March 11, 2010 3 responses

When I was four months pregnant with C I realized I’d have to do a little research to find a daycare. I started right away, combing the online listings for local home day cares, checking their credentials and licenses. Then I met someone who mentioned that their next door neighbor ran an in home day care that I should check out.

It was the first day care I visited. It was also the last.

As soon as I walked in I felt, well, at home. I watched the children play, listened to the caregivers tell me about their day, and I wanted to stay. I wanted to spend my days there. And I knew that this was the place my baby would go when I went back to work.

When I was researching preschools I looked for a place that gave me that same feeling. The school we started at was convenient and good, but I just didn’t have that “we’re home” feel to it. When I toured the school C is at now I instantly felt it. I followed the director through the classrooms, listened to her rave about her teachers and students, and I wanted to spend the whole day there. Again, I knew that this would be the place C would go.

When I started out looking for a Kindergarten, that’s what I looked for. I’d been spoiled and I wanted a place that C could call her second home. I wanted her to feel nurtured and loved as well as get a good education.

I didn’t realize that that might be too much to ask for, so after weeks and weeks of searching for that perfect Kindergarten and finding nothing that came even close I had almost given up. I was starting to think that you just don’t get to feel at home in elementary school. It’s school. I assumed I’d just have to focus on good academics, good class size, decent arts programs and hope that she’d be happy enough.

But today I found it.

The perfect school. The “I feel at home here” school.

It’s a tiny school. Doesn’t look like much from the outside, but inside it’s just perfect. I adored the director, loved the teachers I met, and wanted to come spend my days in the classrooms. It’s exactly the place I’d want to go to school.

And if all goes well it’s where C will go starting in the fall.

There are no words to express the relief of not having to settle for “good enough,” of being able to stop looking. We’ve found C’s next home away from home.