Friday, September 12, 2014

The Questions About First Grade

A few years ago, my friend started dating an ultra-marathoner - as in, he runs 100 miles at a time and runs shorter, but still insanely long distances on a regular basis. I will call him UltraMarathonMan, even though that's not his real name. My friend tended to date interesting people for short amounts of time. By the time Ed and I had dinner with UltraMarathonMan, a few months AFTER she had started talking about him, I figured he was doomed to the scrap heap soon. If there was anything I wanted to know, I better ask it.

And there was stuff I wanted to know. Questions about how you make your body move for over 24 hours. Do you sleep and run at the same time? What about the other standard body functions? And your feet...what do they look like after that? And what is the end game here? You injure yourself and never run again, or do you just get bored running and decide to do something else? I was interested in UltraMarathonMan in part because I had never even pondered running these distances and it was hard to understand.

It seems that Helen is her own version of UltraMarathonMan to the girls in first grade. Her teacher has been trying to get my attention after school in a subtle way, but after school is possibly the craziest 10 minutes of my life these days. I should describe that another time, but I start hyperventilating just thinking about how much action is contained in those few minutes.

Friday morning was the first change the teacher and I had to connect, out of earshot of Helen.

Teacher: The other day on the playground, the girls came running up to me and had the following conversation.

Girls: Helen didn't learn anything in Kindergarten!

Teacher: What do you mean?

Girls: All she did was play all day. She didn't learn to read or write or anything!

Helen: Yep. I just played all day.

Now at this point, it strikes me that all the other girls should be saying "Dude, you have the most awesome parents in the universe! We were confined to desks and chairs and were taught rote skills that the research very clearly show have little to no benefit at our age." But instead, the girls are acting as if this it is a problem that Helen neither reads nor writes proficiently, and still gets confused between what a 6 and 9 look like.

Teacher: Helen, did you learn how to be a good friend last year?

Helen: Yes!

Teacher: Did you learn how to play and make up games?

Helen: Yes!

Teacher: Then you know exactly what you are supposed to know to be in my class. You all should go play.

Girls: But we are going to teach her. We are going to help  her!

Teacher: No thanks. That's my job. I'll make sure Helen knows everything she needs to know.

I understand the girls are extremely curious about this non-academic Kindergarten class that Helen talks about. To them, she must be UneducatedCrazyGirl. And they've never run in to UneducatedCrazyGirl before, and her background was something that nobody ever talked about before. And they have questions, oh, they have questions.

So, girls, and anyone else who wonders what happened in that Waldorf classroom last year, here we go.

Did you learn anything? What did your classroom look like? What was your teacher like? What did you do all day? And what about the afternoons? Was there a lunch room? Was there recess? What about art? Did you miss out on anything? What is the end game, will you just be the dumbest kid in the class forever?

Answers: Yes. She learned how to deal with other people, she learned conflict resolution skills, she piled blocks, boards, rocks and other objects together in the greatest study of physics performed at the Kindergarten level of all time. She learned how to divide the toys in a fair way, and when she made pretend lunch in her pretend family, she learned that everyone shared in the meal. She learned that time moves in seasons, that the week and year have their own rhythms, and that she was in an extremely safe space. She perfected her finger knitting skills, made a sword, sewed a case for the sword, and like St. Michael, she is ready to conquer her dragons.

The classroom was painted in beautiful pastels. The room was free from distractions on the wall. Where you saw letters, words, and pictures cluttering every space on the walls and even the floor and ceiling sometime, Helen saw a seasonal wool picture.

The teacher told some of the most beautiful stories she'll ever have the opportunity to hear. Her assistant teacher was as good as having a grandmother in the class, always smiling, always loving. Her teachers would clear space for play, but didn't direct the play. Her teachers were there to help her learn how to get along with everyone in the room, a skill I see adults fail at daily.

Afternoons were spent with her mom or a babysitter. They went to parks, shared a leisurely lunch, went swimming, painted on the sidewalks, made crepes, make yogurt cakes, and read stories. Lots of stories.

Nope. No lunch room. Snack was shared in a room with two tables, and Pico the gnome sat next to the children. Pico has very sensitive ears, so the children learned not to shout in his presence. Helen had the honor of placing Pico at the table every day. We have our own Pico, because Helen loved that gnome so much.

Officially, no recess. Helen started her day outside on the playground, moved inside for indoor play, and ended the day on the outside playground.

For art, Helen colored once a week and painted once a week. These creations were bound together and represent the only papers Helen brought home all year. I treasure them. All of the creations came from her imagination, and I can see how it changed over the year. She started out mostly working with different colors. Then there was a rainbow phase, a cave phase, a sunshine phase, and more.

Helen didn't miss out on anything she needed. You'll understand by the end of the year.

The end game? She'll rock first grade just like her brother and the other children from her Waldorf school who have gone through her elementary school. She comes with a rich vocabulary, a rich imagination, and she can pay attention better than anyone in the classroom. These things she'll carry with her for her whole life.

This afternoon, I'm going to be sure and talk to Helen about this. I think her best response is "My mom just wanted me to play!", which I think will mean her friends can start thinking of her as Helen, the girl with CrazyMom. I'm tough. I can take it.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Grade 4

Connor started fourth grade this year! And because third grade set the bar sufficiently low (academically) for me at least, I'm confident fourth grade will be better. Key to happiness is low expectations, right? After school playdates picked up exactly where they left off, with Connor and classmates trading homes regularly. Fun times are in store this year.

Connor shares a locker with a good friend of his - which is very lucky for him. Upon hearing the news of his locker mate, he told me "I'm glad to be sharing a locker with G. He's not an extremely neat person himself, so he won't mind if I'm on the untidy side as well". Fastidious does not describe these two boys. I'm hoping that by week three, they'll still be able to close the door.

I know nothing about his homeroom teacher except her name, which is a steep departure from past years. We missed the open house because we were on vacation and I've been so concerned with Helen's transition that all my energy has been directed toward smoothing that. I dropped Connor off the first morning at the cafeteria (where the older children meet), pointed to another student in his class, and gave him the sage advice "follow W. He went to the open house and knows where the classroom is." It worked, I guess, because he made it to class - as far as I can tell.

I emailed the teacher a few days ago to see if I could bring Connor's cupcakes in tomorrow and apologized for not dropping by yet, but letting her know things must be going pretty well since Connor seems happy. She sent a nice note back, and I do look forward to at least seeing her tomorrow so I know who she is when I'm up at school. Back-to-school night is next week, which is when I should figure out who his other teachers are.

Connor is playing soccer again, and in a huge win for my sanity, has opted to not play baseball this fall. The baseball team is considerably smaller in the fall, and I just didn't think I could get through another two-season sport with Connor. Running from baseball to soccer last fall and this past spring were not among my favorite memories as a parent. Plus, Helen starts softball again this weekend, which is a logistics problem that at least does not involve me trying to have one child in two places, but will require some man-to-man defense employing both cars and both parents in this house.

Here's how much Connor grew from the first day of school last year to this. Same bad photography, unfortunately, but taller kid. He looks a little more confident to me as well.

Start of 3rd grade

Start of 4th grade

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

How to break your mama's heart in one quick step - and then put it back together

Day 1. Announce, matter-of-factly, while getting your hair braided, that you will probably be the dumbest kid in your whole class because you don't know how to read or write. Then, come home and tell your mom that you just played by yourself at recess because everybody else has so many friends from kindergarten!

Day 2. Announce you spent your whole recess running around with your new friends on the playground.

You got this, kid. Two more days and you will have completed week one.

On a side note, Helen has an extremely loose front tooth. Her plan was to pull it out on day one, but she changed her mind - and it's still hanging on. She discussed its looseness with at least one classmate, who told her that slamming a door would be a good way to get it out. Helen replied that at her home, they are not allowed to slam doors. So the classmate offered that apples are also a good way to get a loose tooth to fall out. Helen requested apples in her lunch today.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Let's Start This Thing Right - Grade 1

Dear Mrs. H.,

Another year has started. I am thrilled Helen will be in your class. You were amazing with Connor. I'll never forget two things about you. First, you have been teaching for many years now, but you bring an energy to the classroom that is hard to miss. Second, you recognized Connor's every change and changed right along with him. Thank you. I realize I'm sending you another child who cannot read, but I know she'll be rocking this by the end of the year, due in large part to that magic you work on a daily basis.

And thank you in advance for every day you come into my child's classroom and insist that she be her best. Thank you for every time you agree to meet with me (trust me, it won't just be at conference time - but you already know this). And mostly, for every time you absolutely insist that every child in your classroom treat you and every other child in that classroom with respect and kindness, thank you. And thank you also for that day when you look up and notice my child for the individual she is. You're helping me raise one of the two people I love most in the world, one of the two people's who success I care about more than any other, and one of the the two people who carry little parts of my heart and soul with them everywhere they go. Take care of her, please, she is my everything. Our hearts bruise more easily than we might let on.

I'm going to give you enough information about Helen that you won't have to bore her by trying to figure this out in the first month of the school year. Efficiency is the name of the game, friend. I'm not giving you a free pass this year, and I expect you not to give Helen a free pass either. We're all going to have to work hard - this is the year it all begins for Helen. Please use your time thoughtfully, I promise to return the favor.

Helen has never sat at a desk for longer than it takes to complete an art project - and typically, she's on the floor when she's working on her art projects at home. It's just more comfortable down there. Plus, if she sits on the floor, both her desk AND chair can serve as horizontal surfaces on which to stash things. Did I mention Helen loves stuff?

This love of stuff is important. You see, Helen's trying to be an inventor - like Violet in the Lemony Snickets books. Just this past summer she created a lifesaving device that can be used on our rafting trips, a chocolate mint cake that is divine (DO NOT EAT! IT CONTAINS MUD!), headbands that she is marketing to other girls with crazy hair, and she crafted a blanket from potholders. If nothing else, that last item shows you her sense of dedication to a project! She is also learned to knit last week and already has about 2 feet of a scarf completed - a scarf that is so precious she plans to gift it to every member of the house. But I already know once it's completed it'll be used for something else entirely.

I know you will notice this immediately when you meet Helen, but she is tiny. Like - off-the-charts, looks like she can't open a door tiny. And when she's a little intimidated, I swear she can become even tinier and someday, you might look around and wonder where the heck she is. If you are like most people, you will be physically drawn to doing things for her. I know this phenomena well - I've lived it. Just ask my older sister who still resents all the reaching and door opening she did for me. But here's the rub. Resist this temptation to do physical things for her. Let her spend the longest minute of your life as she struggles with that door, and eventually figures out how to get enough leverage to open it. Because if you don't, you are selling her short. And that's not helping anybody. She actually can climb from floor to stool to counter to cabinet to get a glass, climb back down, open that refrigerator door that looks so heavy compared to her, fill up the water glass with the pitcher that is entirely too full for a little girl to handle, and deliver a glass of water to each person sitting at the dinner table. This appears hugely inefficient - which I already alluded to not liking, but you know what? She is really proud of the system she devised - by herself. And she needs to know you have confidence in her to perform basic activities as well. Go spend a minute with that kid at the back of the line teaching him about patience, and let her get that door for you. Please be mindful of the long-term. You may only spend a year with her, but if I'm lucky, I'm going to spend a lot more of them with her. She needs to have the confidence it takes to maneuver through this world.

Helen has a terrible sense of direction. And while she has mostly adapted to this, it can make things seem scarier than you might imagine. She comes by this honestly from me and her maternal grandma. Sorry about that. But here's my advice: do not send her on a mission alone unless you are willing to lose her. She's unlikely to break the perimeter, so you have that going for you, but she's also highly unlikely to get from point A to point B in any sort of reasonable manner. We've lived in our home for five years now and still, she must pause to figure out where the front door is and where the back door is. Did I mention the back of our house is mostly windows - so she can SEE the backyard?

Helen cannot stand being unable to do something, and like most kids, she'll feign not being interested. But as soon as she figures it out? She will follow along full tilt. As long as she knows you're not going to give up on her, she won't give up on herself, either.

Look, I know the days can be long. Days with a particularly stubborn little girl can be even longer. Just keep moving. Your smile and calm will get you and Helen through this year.

Call me if you get stuck or think things could be going better. I promise I will be able to figure out what's going on in less than an hour. And if you don't need me, that's fine, too. I'll be the mom in the back of the room putting together Friday folders and sharpening pencils. I loved spending time in your classroom three years ago. I'm going to love it even more this year, I think.


Monday, August 25, 2014

It Takes a Village

As the school year approaches, I've been thinking about how it's going to take a village to get through it. For the first time since Helen was born, my family will not have full-time, live-in childcare. It was time for a change, and with Helen and Connor both in full-day school (which ends at a shockingly late time - 3:45!) it seemed like full-time care just wasn't needed. (Yes, I already know that I will eat these words, and hire someone within a few weeks!)

The book 2 A.M. At the Cat's Pajamas highlights this theme. A nine year old's mother is dead before the book begins, and her father has sunk into depression. So the neighborhood ladies get her through the day chronicled in the book. Now, I'm grateful that I'm unlikely to need the kind of aid that these women provide throughout the day, but I may need occasional help picking a child or two up at school, caring for a child or two while I rush home from a meeting, or helping ferry Connor and Helen to school if Ed and I both have to be to work before school starts.

And then, of course, there's the after-school practices. Finally, Connor is at the age where it seems fine to drop Connor off if Helen needs me elsewhere (though a shocking number of parents sit through each practice and game). I'm happy to be there for other children on the team as well, while another parent runs an errand, takes a call, cooks dinner, or tends to something else. Most of the team has been playing together for at least three years at this point.

The book, though covering only a brief period, clips right along at a fast pace - which I'm sure the school year will do as well. Or at least I hope it does. I can't take another year like last year, which has truly left me numb towards school.


This post was inspired by 2 A.M. At The Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino, a novel about hope, love, and music in snow covered streets of Philadelphia. Join From Left to Write on August 28 we discuss 2 A.M. At The Cat’s Pajamas. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Parenting Fail

A few years ago, Connor accompanied me to sit in the Player's Wives' Suite of the Baltimore Orioles. Among the offerings in that suite were endless cookies.

A fan was born.

So now, we have the very embarrassing situation of sitting in sweet seats at the Nationals-Orioles game and one member of our group roots for the wrong team.

Helen has suggested we try and buy Connor off with some cookies at Nats' stadium. This seems like a battle that can't be won.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

When It All Began: Running

I think a lot about beginnings. How did a friendship start? Where was I when I made a decision? What did choosing one path over another mean?

Every year, I have a fitness goal for myself. In 2013 - that goal was to run 5 consecutive sub 10-minute miles. I accomplished the goal at a St. Patrick's Day 8K. Immediately following that race, I knew I was going to become a runner. I went to a local running store, tried on a ridiculous number of shoes, and walked away with these babies.

Since then, I've switched to a more minimalist style shoe (which I adore), but I rotate between wearing my old (very padded) kicks and my minimalist kicks, depending on how long I'm running, how recently I've run, and how fast I hope to run. These shoes are that old friend that sits in the closet with so many stories of how everything went right, that I smile whenever I see them.

But after more miles than I ever should've attempted to run on these shoes, I have to finally admit, they do more harm than good. The last 20 miles I have run on them have resulted in lower leg pain that affects my gait enough a friend thought I was seriously injured. The pain goes away quickly, and doesn't return until I try running with these shoes again.

They'll always hold some great memories for me - most of all, they will always be those shoes I wore when it all began. I'm going to miss them.


Monday, August 4, 2014


Helen started violin lessons a few weeks ago. As it turns out, learning the violin is a huge exercise in patience - for both the parent and the student. Helen's teacher uses a modified Suzuki approach. For practical purposes, this means Helen must have a "practice parent" and that parent must attend each lesson, take notes, and then work with Helen throughout the week. In our home, that duty falls to me. It's so outside Ed's skill set that we didn't even discuss it.

Of course, I don't actually know anything about the violin (except that I wish Helen was playing cello!), so it very much feels like a blind leading the blind sort of situation. I have been tempted to get a violin sized for me, because I figure if I'm tasked with teaching Helen, I might as well get the satisfaction of playing the instrument myself. But that's probably extremely bad form. This is Helen's instrument, not mine.

As everyone knows, the violin sounds just absolutely terrible when someone learns to play it. Well, at least that's what I am guessing. You see, four weeks in, Helen has still not been able to actually put bow to strings. It sort of feels like an endurance contest, to see how long Helen and I can last before she actually gets to play the thing. It's not clear whether this delay is actually to build all the skills needed to hold the bow and violin properly (as the teacher purports), or if the teacher is dreading those first few notes, and is delaying their playing as long as possible.

In any case, Helen has the tiniest violin ever, and it is super stinkin' cute. We were told last week, that this week, she might get to play a note.

We are both really excited for this big step!

When I took this photo at the instrument store, Helen was super embarrassed to be the kid with the mom with the camera. I think we can all be confident this will not be the last time she is embarrassed by me and my camera.

Stay tuned...I hope the violin does, too!


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Hot Nails! for Helen

Helen is totally a girl's girl. She insists on wearing dresses and skirts most days, she'll often add a necklace to her outfit, and the idea of painting her nails is truly thrilling.

Unfortunately for Helen, she has me for a mom. And since the pottery phase of my life, when I was in the studio 2-3 times per week, my nails have been very short and not painted. When I was working on pottery, this was by necessity. Now? It's just convenient.

However, our au pair is the opposite of this. She actually won a contest on Facebook that awarded her every single color of nail polish from some company. She has A LOT of nail polish, and she almost always has toes and fingers painted. This definitely intrigues Helen.

Enter - Hot Designs, and their awesome nail polish pens. One side is polish, the other side is a pen. I received a sample of the polish/pens. And...if you are my au pair with a penchant for nail polish, you can do things like this with the polish and pens. My daughter loves the designs.Check out more on their facebook page.

Hot Designs is giving fans the chance to win the ultimate beach package including a $250 Target gift card by entering at Just submit a selfie of your summer style using the hashtag #WinHotLooks and at-tag @GetHotLooks on Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, or @Get_Hot_Looks on Instagram.

So...go enter the contest. Win some bucks and enjoy your fabulous nails. You can compare them to my completely colorless nails. Yours will be prettier, I guarantee. But...maybe when I'm at the beach in a few weeks I'll give them a try myself. I'm thinking it'll make for some fun bonding time with the three nieces of mine that will be with me.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Screaming in the Car

I haven't been in the car with a screaming child for a long time. Not that I'm a stranger to it - neither Helen nor Connor liked the car when they were little, and they were willing to let me know it.

But for the past several years, I don't tense up at car rides. And it's fair to say that although I remember the trauma of those rides, I don't really remember what it was like to navigate a car through the noise.

On Sunday, we made a last minute decision to head to an outdoor concert. The concert ended at 7:30. Helen had a ball, skipping back and forth through the amphitheater, smiling and high fiving me as she passed. Connor enjoyed it as well, but in more of laid-back manner, propped on my lap.

Helen wanted to walk to a nearby stream, and Ed and I decided that would be fine. It's summer, right? What does she need to get up in the morning for? Well, those things are true, but that doesn't mean she doesn't get tired at night. I don't think either of us realized how close she was to the edge.

To save time, I had brought a little treat for the kids so that we could get them to bed once we got home, rather than serving them their traditional night-time treat. Helen didn't want to eat the M&Ms I offered her at first, because she wanted to wait until she could have them from a little tube she has that came with M&Ms. And so I tucked the packet of M&Ms back in my purse and she opted for a lollipop instead. Only I thought we were delaying the M&Ms until another day. She thought she was getting them when we got home and they could be put in her little tube.

Somehow, this came up on our walk to the car.

Helen was mad. And by the time we got the car, she had started to work herself up. And after a few minutes, she got quite a scream going.

This was actually incredibly painful for me, because I knew if I could just hold her I could help her calm down. But she was in the way-back seats of the car, and I was in the front. She cried for about 30 seconds and then I turned around and told her that we would be home and I would hold her soon. She cried for another 30 seconds and I turned around again and told her it was very difficult for Ed to drive with her screaming, so while I was happy to let her have a good scream when she got home, she needed to take a deep breath and be quieter in the car.

She did. And in this process, she got a piece of hair in her mouth, which is really quite funny - and led to a conversation on hairballs and other gross things Connor, Helen, and I could think about. We got inside our house and I pulled out a child size chair, sat on it, asked Helen to sit on my lap - and calmly explained "Helen, I can see you are very angry. You are angry at me. You are angry because you thought I was going to give you the M&Ms when we got home, and I thought you were opting to have them another night. I am happy to put them in the tube, and you may have them tomorrow."

Helen was totally on board with all of this.

And then I told her, as she sat in my lap "we have time for you to either sit in my lap and have a good scream - as long as you need to in order to get all that negative energy out, or we can read more in our book "These Happy Golden Years". It's your choice, but we really don't have time for both."

Helen sat for a moment, took a breath, and said she'd like to read instead of scream. She also said "but can I have just one M&M?".

"No, Helen, the M&Ms are for tomorrow." Because I happen to know a little bit about Helen, and that is that she thinks if it's OK to have one M&M, it's OK to have the whole tube.

Ed smiled. He would've caved and given her the M&M. Helen laughed. She knew the answer was no before she verbalized the question.

I am, of course, grateful she made the choice to read. We ended up having a lovely bedtime that is worth remembering.

But wow...I can't believe how bad screaming in the car can be. Not remembering it in all its gory detail was a gift my mind had given me. Now, I only hope I can wipe the memory out quickly!

I've been meaning to post this picture for a while, Helen. You are the master of disguise these days.