Monthly Archives: June 2014

God Bless Daycare

If you are a regular reader then you know that I have been on an emotional tilt-a-whirl when it comes to childcare for my son. For a good chunk of my maternity leave I was pretty sure that being a stay-at-home mom was the only route for me. And I was a good SAH mom for those three months. We went out on walks, we visited every store and free activity in a twenty mile radius, and we laughed and clapped and sang songs. All. Day. Long.

Going back to work was hard for me. Pumping at work, missing my son all day, trying to find pants that fit in a professional way–that was a challenge. But I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a satisfaction in not reading the Baby Faces book four hundred times a day. Or in not sitting by the door like a complete stalker from 4:30pm on, waiting for my husband to get home.

Anyway, this past week I re-appreciated the value of spending long chunks of time with my son, as well as the value of having a great daycare.

We spent the past week in a beautiful cabin in Wisconsin. I packed a bag of twenty books to read, and we set off. (I packed sweat pants and a tooth brush, too, if you’re the type that worries about such details.) After a long school year, quitting my job, going through the application process for multiple other jobs, accepting a job, etc, I was very ready for a break.

IMG_2303

We had a wonderful time in Wisconsin. Truly, we did. Also, I did not read a single book.

I had forgotten how hard it is to accomplish anything when you are following around a ten-month-old. One who has just learned how to pick himself up onto any and all furniture, how to find and open pill bottles, and how to fling himself head-first off of furniture (or attempt to, in any case, we have to draw the line somewhere).

I would be one paragraph into a book when he would find a power-cord to munch. Or would pull himself onto the stone hearth and start reaching for the fire poker. Or start throwing items off the coffee table. By the time I got back to my book, I had to reread the paragraph. And by that time, my son would have crawled up on me, snatching my book from my hands, flinging it behind his shoulder. With love, of course.

It wasn’t really a romantic trip, either, since my son decided that he no longer is interested in sleeping on his own, preferring instead to sleep if and only if he is between me and my husband in bed. Which is fine, except it isn’t. If you know what I mean, and I think you do.

baby-sleep-positions

Let me not get too down on the trip, because once I set aside my expectations of catching up on sleep, reading, and sex, it was actually a perfect vacation. We ate well past our caloric needs every day, discovered snakes and wild turkeys on our walks, and drank wine while listening to old records of Joan Baez and Johnny Cash. Idyllic.

I soaked in some incredible mommy-son time. I can hardly believe that he is just weeks away from walking, he’s saying mama and dada, and he has mastered the art of shaking his head to say “no”. It’s magical to see a little human grow and develop and change around me. I am thankful for every moment.

But it was also magical when my husband dropped my son off at daycare this morning. After arriving home well past midnight last night, it was an absolute luxury to sleep until 11:38am.

And it was magical when we went out for lunch, and I got to enjoy sipping on not one, but TWO mugs of tea. At no point during this lunch did silverware drop on the floor, bread debris float in my water glass, or food, eaten in haste, burn the roof of my mouth. I got to taste every bite of my delicious artisan macaroni and cheese.

Do I feel a tinge of guilt about being so gleeful to spend some time away from my son? Absolutely. Am I itching to go pick him up from daycare and smother his beautiful face with kisses? Absolutely.

And…am I going to drop him off at daycare for another “me” day tomorrow? Absolutely.

God bless my vacations with my son, and God bless daycare for the vacation away from him.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

 

 

 

Forgive Me For This Crappy Goodbye

When I was little we went to visit my grandmother every summer in the small town of Gilby, North Dakota. We bought penny candy and played on the teeter-totters at the playground in the one block main street that consisted of a bank, post office, grocery store, hardware store, and bar. What else does a town even need?

I have a million fond memories of that place, and even more of my grandmother. My grandma was a strong, playful, extremely hardworking woman. And she hated to say goodbye.

When it was time for our family to leave my grandmother found it of utmost importance to begin trimming her hollyhocks. Or hanging the laundry to dry. Or cleaning out the pantry.

It was an ongoing joke in our family to talk about where we might find Grandma when it came time to leave. But it is also an inheritance. One shared by my mother, and then me; a deeply-seated avoidance of goodbye.

Today is my last day at school and I would much rather talk to you about dropping my dog off at the vet this morning, or going to Starbucks to get an iced tea than I would like to process how I feel about leaving. It’s the last day of school and I am hiding in my room writing a blog instead of going to say goodbye to the hundred students I have taught over the last four years.

But I also remember that this time of year is never what I expect.

The endings, the goodbyes, are rarely the celebrations or rituals or pomp and circumstance that I think they will be, want them to be. Instead of the meaningful goodbye ritual I create in my head, the last day of school is usually spent cramming the trunk of my car full to bursting with the “last few items” from my classroom that I swore was only one armful, and turns out to be a car-full.

image-8

I forget that trying to get nine-year-olds to sit in a circle and tell stories they remember about the year is about as easy as trying to run a cat circus. So the last day of school often looks like me popping DVD after DVD into the computer, projected onto the scrubbed-clean white board, telling my students, “SHHHHHH! We can’t hear the movie!!!!”

I forget the frustration of trying to hunt down the people necessary to sign off my checklist, showing I’ve completed all the necessary documentation to end the year. I forget that there is always, always, always more paperwork thrown at me that needs to be completed before I can sign out of the building.

I forget that last day of school is usually punctuated with a staff event that is cheesy, with the teachers sitting exhausted, hair pulled up in messy ponytails, barely present to eat a hot dog or luke-warm pasta. I forget that sometimes teachers forgo the party altogether, opting instead to start the summer vacation early, sitting in front of their TV to binge watch the television shows they’ve missed for the last ten months.

I forget that goodbyes are hard for everyone, including my students, and therefore it’s so easy to leave on the wrong terms, saying “Sit down!” and “Stop talking” instead of saying all the things you meant to say, like “I love you” and “I’m going to miss you.”

I forget how quickly I turn into my grandmother, more concerned with the work of cleaning and emptying a classroom than with saying goodbye.

And I forget that the goodbye is one moment, only one moment, but the time before the goodbye is full of thousands and thousands of moments and memories. I forget that we don’t build toward a goodbye. We live. We live. We live.

When I got the call that my grandmother had had a stroke, ten years ago, everything stopped. The family flew in and gathered by her bedside to sing her songs and brush her hair. We told her stories and kissed her head. I had to leave to go back home before she passed away, and so I said my final goodbye to her on a gray Easter Sunday, and then drove the seven hours home to Saint Paul to catch a flight back to my home in Philadelphia.

I cannot for the life of me remember saying goodbye to her.

But I remember sitting with her on the porch and laughing with her as she told stories of the past. I remember the spicy cinnamon gum she chewed, which over the years changed to doublemint. I remember riding bikes around her town, bikes she spent weeks scrounging up for our visit. I remember the smell of the bread she made, “Grandma’s buns”, just out of the oven. If Grandma was to be believed, they were always her worst batch yet. I remember the cards she sent on every birthday and every milestone, telling me how proud she was of me.

And I think my grandma is okay with me not remembering our goodbye. I think she probably prefers it that way. Maybe she somehow managed to arrange it.

Maybe it’s okay to be bad at goodbyes. Maybe it’s okay to not get them right, to say the wrong things, to not say enough, to not say all that needs to be said. Maybe all the good things before the goodbye is enough. Maybe it has to be, even when it isn’t enough.

I’m gonna miss this place, I’m gonna miss these people, I’m going to miss this time.

If you need me, I’ll be hiding in my room.

Slide06

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

 

 

Angry ‘Cuz You’re Moving On Without Me

Street sign

“You can only love what you got while you got it.” -Kate DiCamillo

I’m leaving.

I have one week left at a school that I helped open four years ago. And I have no idea how to feel about it. Relief that the year is almost over, obvious sadness to say goodbye to a community that has embraced me and a community that I love.

I go back to stories and people and find new reasons why I don’t want to leave, and why I do.

And I find myself angry about everything. Anger. Such a useful emotion, and so dangerous because it is so hard to control. But anger, useful in the way it helps me to disconnect, to push away, to let go.

I wish that instead of anger I felt acceptance. I wish I felt mindfulness. I wish I felt calm. But I’m not that enlightened. And it’s the end of the school year. I’m exhausted.

The secret I’ve been keeping is that I want everything to fall apart without me there. I want the whole school to fail. I want scores to plummet next year and everyone to miss me. Because I want to be that important and that amazing. I want everything to be about me.

When talking with my principal about leaving she told me not to feel badly. And I said, “I am just sad.” I know everyone. I know all the cafeteria workers and all the custodians. I bring Christmas presents for the engineer and she leaves me bags of oranges on my desk chair. One of my favorite parents came to my house during my maternity leave to teach me how to wrap my stomach. I’ve taught half of the students in the school. How can I possibly leave?

My principal said, “It really is your school.”

And it is. And it isn’t. Because people and schools don’t belong to one person, shouldn’t belong to one person. Can’t belong to one person.

I’ve been working on this in parenting. I’ve been reminding myself over and over my son doesn’t belong to me. Now I’m having to do the same in regards to my job.

The same part of me that wants my son to love and adore only me also wants my school to cease to exist without me there. Which is ridiculous for so many reasons, the biggest reason being that it is my choice to leave, no one is kicking me out. It’s a self-imposed exile and I’m all kinds of grumpy about it.

I’ve had good friends leave the school and the school has gone on without them, as it will without me. I hope that everyone will miss me next year, but in two, three, five years very few people will know my name.

In five years, when no one remembers me, what is my legacy?

Yesterday I was in my classroom, working on planning the school carnival. While I was there student after student came in. Some wanted to play a game, other wanted candy, others had stories to tell. But Natasha came in just for a hug. She walked in, arms outstretched, and said, “I just wanted a hug.” I hugged her, and then she left.

I’m angry because I’m leaving. Because I won’t be able to control what happens in our school from here on out. I won’t be the voice of dissent or assent in the leadership meetings. I’m angry because leaving means letting go. And I don’t want to let go.

But I’m also angry because leaving doesn’t make me care any less. Instead, leaving makes the small moments, like the hugs from Natasha, even more powerful and even more painful.

And it’s easier to be angry than to be sad.

At lunch today three second graders came up to my room. I asked them what they wanted to do. I expected them to say they wanted to play on my iPads. (The possession of the iPads makes me infinitely more popular.) Instead, they said, “We just wanted to tell you about our weekends.”

If I have any choice in how I leave, any choice in how I’m remembered, I hope my students remember me as a teacher who took the time to listen to the stories of their weekends. In the craziness of testing and Common Core, the decisions about what curriculum to use and how to structure our literacy block, I hope that listening to stories never stops being my priority, regardless of the school I am teaching in, regardless of whether I’m teaching or not.

I’m leaving. And my school is going to move on, with or without me. I want to want this and want to be happy about this. Eventually I think I will be. I’m trying to be thankful for the lesson I’m learning about how I am not the center of the universe, probably not even the center of my school. I’m trying to once again open up my clenched fists and let go.

With open hands or clenched fists, next Thursday will come. Angry or grateful, selfish or gracious, the goodbye is here. One more week left to leave my legacy.

I plan to give lots of hugs.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

My (Almost) Perfect Son

imperfection-300x199

I didn’t really feel like writing this week. I had the idea for the post early on, but the week has gotten away from me and here I sit in front of a blank page wishing I could transfer thoughts into words much more efficiently than with the clackity clack of my computer keyboard. Also, this stuff is hard to write about. Because it’s about me, and my need to control everything in my life and have everything be just…right…

Here’s what happened. I was hanging out at church, rehearsing for singing the next day in service, when a friend casually said to me, “[Your son]’s a grumpier baby than average.”

Everything came to a grinding halt.

My head was full of a million thoughts. The obvious, strongest thought being: “Shut your mouth, you don’t know anything.”

I try not to say things like that out loud, because they are rarely ever helpful, even if they are momentarily satisfying. The clean up from that is rarely fun, and usually involves having to apologize and losing the upper (smug) hand in any given situation. Instead I go for the long game. I blog about it.

OK, snarkety snark. Everyone will be happy to know that my friend and I are reconciled and we send each other funny text messages again and all is well and good and I promise I am not holding a grudge.

But the salient issue here is not whether or not my son is grumpier than average (though he isn’t, I swear it). The issue is that my instantaneous reaction was to reject any and every idea that my son is anything but perfect. My brain went to fifteen separate examples of compliments we’ve been given by random strangers, without bias, about our perfect child. Or even better, it went to thinking about all the examples of other babies who are much, much fussier than my son.

Because comparison always helps every situation.

And it isn’t that any of those things are untrue, but I was so violently angry and defensive. “How dare you!” was much faster to the front of my mind than I would have ever expected. I remember being told about the Mama Bear syndrome, but I didn’t expect the paw swipe to be so instinctual.

bearclaw

My son isn’t perfect. I say this with no conviction, more because logically it makes sense. I’m not perfect, nor is anyone I know. And since I don’t remember an angel coming to me to tell me that I was giving birth to God, then there’s a pretty good chance my son isn’t perfect, either.

So as I sit and clackity clack on this keyboard of mine, forcing a reflection I don’t really want to have, I think my desire for him to be perfect is something I need to think about long and had. Because what happens when I get the first phone call from a teacher at the daycare telling me he hit another child? Will I stand adamantly on the fact that there is no way MY child would do such a thing?

Or will I allow my child to make mistakes, to fall down, to not be the best (a word my friend says is loaded and should be removed from my vocabulary.) Will I allow him to make mistakes and even better, to come alongside and help him learn from those mistakes?

Perhaps more important, will I allow my son to be himself? Even if that means he is grumpier than the average baby? (But seriously, he isn’t.) I thought that giving my son the freedom and space to be who he is would be a lot easier than it is, and I certainly didn’t expect these feelings to arise in me only ten months into parenting.

But I have this wiggling, nagging feeling that allowing my son to be who he is means letting go of my expectations of how things should be, and accepting how things actually are. It may just look a lot less than a raised bear claw and a lot more like open hands, willing to receive feedback, willing to learn from all of it. It may even mean (sigh) starting to say with conviction that my son is not perfect. (Which is easier to do when he’s arching his back in protest or waking up multiple times at night. Can I get an amen?)

The truth is that I don’t really know who my son is yet. I know so much about him, like the smell of the top of his head and the way his pinky toes curl I know how to tickle him in just the right place to make him laugh until he can’t breathe. I know that putting him in a swing on the playground will bring endless joy, and trying to feed him bananas will bring endless pain.

But there’s so much I don’t know yet. And the miracle of watching him explore and discover the world around him more often than not leaves me breathless.

I don’t want my desire for a perfect son to get in the way of loving and appreciating the son I have.

A son who is not perfect. But also not grumpy.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel