On Registering for Kindergarten and Choosing a Catholic School

I can’t complain. I was fortunate enough to have a summer baby, so I got an extra year with my first baby at home while other moms were standing puffy-eyed and runny-nosed in school parking lots late last August. Instead of sending him off to kindergarten at the tender age of barely five, we are sending him off to kindergarten at the ripe, old age of six. I have read all of the research. Hell, I even did some of the research for my freelancing job. I know there are all kinds of statistics on the values of delaying a kindergarten start, just as there are all kinds of statistics on the evils of “redshirting” your kindergartener. But, I’m a mom who saw her child struggle with speech and some fine motor skills when he started preschool. I’m a mom who saw her son hang back even though he wanted to play and knew the answers but was afraid nobody would understand him if he spoke. I’m a mom who made the gut-wrenching decision to have him repeat preschool and watch his very first friends move on to pre-K without him. So, I redshirted my kid. And, I’m so glad that I did.

Homework by Chris YarzabIn this year of pre-K, my sensitive, bright, quiet son has blossomed. He seeks out kids to play with at school, after happily playing alone during his two preschool years. He now has rich discussions with the school helpers and teachers. In fact, the pre-K volunteer who helps the kids write journals once a week had no idea my son has overcome a severe speech delay. He also recognizes sight words and figures out words when we spell them instead of just telling him to do something (“Please bring me an e-g-g.”) He asks questions and makes connections and watches shows on The Weather Channel and The Learning Channel that I never imagined would interest a five year old. He writes notes to us in church. He helps his younger brother and cousin and pretends to read to them. And, he will start kindergarten in a few short months.

Last night we visited his new school and started the registration process. The principal, faculty and staff, and school nurses welcomed us with open arms and impressed me from the moment I stepped inside. I was more impressed by my son, however. He walked into the kids’ room, answered the brand new teacher at an appropriate volume with clear enunciation, and sought out the action. I wanted to follow him, give him a hug, and tell him that my husband and I would be right across the hall, but he turned and gave us a wave and said, “Goodbye.”

And, that was that. This child of mine about whom I have lost years of sleep is going to be okay. He’s going to be more than okay. He’s ready.

And, he’s going to be in a school that values faith and respect and encourages curiosity. He’s going to be in a school that proudly displays students’ writing assignments (completed in cursive!), creative artwork, group projects, and homework schedules on the walls. He’s going to be in a school that uses short, formative assessments as tools to evaluate students. The one standardized assessment utilized by the school is viewed as a tool to evaluate the programs and curricula, and not to evaluate students. He’s going to be in a school with a principal who stood and answered all of my “I’m a former teacher and want to know what goes on here” questions with honesty and compassion. There was no spin. There were no excuses. I may not have agreed with every single thing that she said, but I know that I will be able to communicate concerns to this principal without being snowballed or told “that’s just the way it is.”

I am going to continue fighting for public education with all of my might. I am a proud product of our public education system, and I was a fourth generation public school teacher. I will more than likely be sending both of our sons to public education for grades 9-12. I believe in public schools and the power of students, parents, and teachers to continue to work to get our administrators, legislators, and departments of education to right the course and get back to the business of teaching and learning.

But, our sons will be attending our local Catholic School for grades K-8 because I believe in small class sizes, strong curricula that includes science and social studies, and an educational environment that puts students, not tests first. I am putting my money where my mouth is, by putting my own child/student first while I continue to fight for others’ children and students.

Image via Flickr by Chris Yarzab

Vacation Anxiety – What the Hell?

We’ve finally done it. We’ve finally taken the steps to book a vacation, even if it is just for almost three whole days and our lodge is less than two hours from our house. This is a big deal, so don’t roll your eyes and groan. We haven’t been anywhere together other than our honeymoon ten years ago; we figured it’s time to go somewhere, in honor of our tenth anniversary.

My husband and I don’t come from families that traveled often. When I was little, my parents never took a trip without my brother and me in tow. And, our trips consisted mostly of day trips to local attractions, visits to my aunt and uncle in Hershey, and an annual summer trip to the Jersey Shore. The biggest trip of my life happened the summer between fifth and sixth grade, when we went to Disney World. I was twelve and too cool for the Dumbo ride, and while I enjoyed the trip, I’m not sure that I appreciated the time with my family in the most magical place on earth as much as I should have. Chalk that one up to that pesky adolescent phase.

So, I did the only thing a less-than-worldly traveler can do when she wants to go on vacation with her husband: I took to Facebook and put out an all-call for destinations within reasonable driving distance that are not too outrageously priced. Suggestions came pouring in from friends, and I was astonished by how many people actually travel. We got so many wonderful ideas from so many people who encouraged us to get out there and not feel guilty about leaving our children for almost three whole days that I made an Excel spreadsheet and started researching potential destinations.

Long story short, we are going to an outdoorsy spot close enough to home that I could rush back to a kiddo with a scraped knee and still make it back in time to hike with my husband. I didn’t mean to pick the spot that’s nearly closest to our home base, but I just couldn’t bring myself to be too far away from our little guys. Some day, I’ll be able to travel without the guilt and anxiety associated with being Mommy. That day is not today.

I’ve talked my parents into staying with the boys, and it didn’t take much arm twisting at all. (No regular readers of this blog should be surprised by that!) We officially are heading to the great outdoors, complete with a suite fitted with a fireplace, hot tub, and private deck. We’ve booked some adventures with local outfits, and I truly am looking forward to not cutting someone’s meat and lugging three bags full of iPads and trains and trucks to dinner. I can’t wait to talk to my husband without being interrupted every other word with such important issues as a broken truck or a turtle whose arm won’t move or a movie that won’t start. I’m looking forward to being able to do things after 8PM, for goodness sake.

And, now that I know our reservations are set and our confirmations have been received, I am starting to feel that old anxiety creeping in every time I give a thought to our upcoming anniversary getaway. What if the baby won’t sleep without his dad being the one to put him down, because he’s the one who puts him down every night? What if somebody’s asthma flares up and I’m not there to notice the first signs of wheezing? What if the five year old doesn’t transition well to his preK class and is having issues with getting out of the car and up the steps to his classroom? What if the two year old can’t find somebody who understands the new word he’s trying to say?

And, my anxiety is not limited to all of the imagined problems at home. I’m starting to think about all of the things that can wrong on our trip, too. What if there are bears that roam a little too close for comfort? What if we encounter bed bugs, even though I researched our lodging site and followed up with references and made sure that it’s the cleanest and friendliest place to stay? What if the bathroom is scummy and small and has hair stuck to the shower drain from the last vacationer? What if there are annoying people staying near us, with their loud talking and their door banging and their question asking? What if there are SNAKES? What if there are more mosquitoes and ticks than there are in my own backyard? What if I can’t relax enough to just have fun?

This is a problem. I don’t even have to worry about these things for more than two months, and here I am. It’s already been keeping me up at night. I’m sure that as the departure date draws near, I’ll be more excited than anxious. I’m sure I’ll hug my boys and have trouble keeping back the tears, all the while knowing that they are in the best second set of hands they could be. I’m sure I’ll look at my husband apologetically and hear him sigh when I check in with the homefront for the twentieth time in one day. And, I’m sure that when we return, I either will want to book another trip right away or never think about traveling again. Or, at least until our boys are older and begging us to just go.

I’m going on a three-day anniversary getaway in October, and I’m already freaking out about it. What the Hell?

Confessions of an Anxious Mom – What the Hell?

I don’t know if I’m ready for this. So far, our five year old has been in one activity: soccer. It was just a six-week program, once a week for an hour, and we did it for three separate sessions: twice outdoors and once indoors. When he wanted my mom to take him, which was almost always because he likes her more than he likes me they are very close, she took him. I got to stay home with the baby and make supper or do laundry and wait for him to come home. When he graciously allowed me to accompany him to soccer, I felt honored. And then I felt the old anxiety creeping back in.

I worry about everything. (My husband and mother would tell you that I make things harder and more complicated, but I like to think that I just worry.) Because I’ve always felt the need to make other people happy and to make other people comfortable – the last thing I like to do is inconvenience someone or make them have to wait for me – I worry about how my children are behaving in public and interacting with those around them. I also have very high standards and know that I’m teaching my children manners and patience and how to follow directions, (being a teacher means that I really do take that whole idea of these-children-have-to-be-out-in-society-so-let’s-make-them-as-respectful-and-obedient-as-possible to heart) and I worry when they don’t live up to my expectations.

I don’t rule with an iron fist (although my they’re-our-grandchildren-so-we-spoil-them-rotten parents would disagree), but I get anxious when I see our five year old not listening to the coach. Or not watching what the other kids are doing and following suit. Didn’t you think that you should stop playing with your soccer ball when all of the other kids did? I worry about the perception that others have of him as a child, of me as a parent, and of us as a family. I don’t want to seem like a sham of a mother or a passive parent who bows to every whim of her hooligans.

I enjoy getting compliments from the pediatrician, waitresses, family friends, and others about our children: their behavior, manners, patience, etc. It’s not about being able to brag or about telling them how wonderful they are at every turn; it’s about raising boys who contribute to society rather than make society want to lock them away until they’re 25.

So, I remind our older son that it’s polite to listen with both ears and pay attention. I play-act with him so he knows how to handle certain situations and people. I question him about what to do if he sees other kids doing certain things. And, then I worry that I’m not letting him figure things out for himself. And I worry that if he encounters something that isn’t exactly as we practiced, he won’t know what to do: kind of like stage fright in real life. So, I’m happy to say that I’ve backed off and relaxed… a little.

But, I know all of our hard work is working because he attended a graduation party with my parents a few weekends ago and encountered his first bully. The kid was three years older and one head taller and he wanted to shoot my son with a water gun but not allow him to return fire. My mom, a veteran elementary teacher, stood back and let the situation play out. She may not always honor my wishes of not allowing him to have soda or not buying him a toy every time the opportunity arises, but she knows how to handle kids and their confrontations. When the kid shot my son for a second time and screamed in his face because he returned fire, my son told him that he shouldn’t shoot him if he didn’t want to get wet in return. Way to go, kiddo! When the kid told my son that he’d “get it” if he shot him again, my son made a fist and punched his own hand. Not the best warning, but he got his point across that he was going to stand his ground. When the kid shoved my son as hard as he could, my son punched him on the shoulder. I don’t advocate fighting or violence. But, I’m proud that he stood up for himself. This boy who only has had his voice for a little more than a year stood up to a bully. We’re already working on the no-hands part. But, for being five years old dealing with an eight-year-old bully in the best way he knew how, I think he did okay for himself.

And yet, I worry about attending organized sporting events. It’s really ridiculous, what goes on in my mind. I don’t expect him to be the most athletic or the “best one out there.” But, I do want him to give it his all and enjoy himself and handle himself appropriately. I always tell him to do his best and have fun and to remember that I love him. That’s it for my pre-practice speech. In my head, it goes on for ten minutes: Listen to everything your coach tells you. Watch what the other kids are doing. Make sure your listening ears are on. Run as fast as you can. It’s okay if the other kids pass the ball to each other and you have to wait for awhile. If that kid puts his hands on you again, tell him not to do it. Relax and wait for them to pass the ball to you. Don’t whine. Be aggressive… And I sit at practice on the edge of my chair, knuckles white from gripping the armrest because I want him to be himself and have fun and do it right. And I envy the other parents who sit there, relaxed and smiling, just enjoying watching their kids be kids.

And now, we’ve signed up for a beginners tumbling class. At a dance studio. With other moms who I’m sure know the routine and the instructor and where to park and where to sit and how to dress their kids… and all of the other things that I’ve been worrying about since we signed him up to attend. At least I know he won’t be the only boy there. But, this brings back horrible memories of when I was five years old and my mom signed me up for dance class with this same instructor (no joke) and I didn’t even get out of the minivan. I didn’t want to dance and I didn’t know how to do it, and somewhere in that five-year-old brain of mine I knew that I wouldn’t fit in or be graceful in this body of mine.

And I want to stop. I don’t want my son to be like me. I don’t want him to worry at every turn and try to anticipate every possible situation that could be a challenge or a problem. I don’t want to turn him into an anxiety-filled worrywart because I’ve made him that way. I want him to say, “I’m starting tumbling tonight!” and see only possibility and fun and new friends ahead of him. I’ll handle all of the other stuff.

He can just have fun, being a kid. And that makes me jealous and happy at the same time. What the Hell?

Update: We both survived the first night of tumbling class. I loved it as much as he did because the instructor is a genius. The parents hang out downstairs in a very lovely waiting area while the kids play and learn upstairs. And, there’s WiFi! It’s an anxious mother’s dream. I really should take her some wine and chocolate as a thank-you gift. Wait. She probably doesn’t do wine and chocolate since she’s a dance and tumbling instructor…

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They’re Trusting Me With Their Children? – What the Hell?

I remember my very first day as a classroom teacher in my first teaching position.  I was fortunate enough to have had a fantastic, dedicated, amazing (enter any glowingly sappy description here because she was all of these things and more) cooperating teacher during my twelve-week student teaching placement, and I had no fears about teaching on my own when she missed two weeks of school due to pneumonia.  The substitutes let me do my own thing, and I felt very confident and comfortable in a notoriously tough middle school.

So, when I interviewed with two districts before I graduated from college with a BA in English Literature and PA Secondary English Teaching Certificate in my hand, I felt fairly good about my chances of landing my first teaching position.  Not only did my first district hire me before I graduated, but they also paid me to write curriculum over the summer before starting my new position.  And, not to toot my own horn, but I had been in the top of my high school and college graduating classes, had received several writing honors in both high school and college, and received several thousand dollars in academic scholarships.  Confidence in the classroom and in myself had never been a problem, neither as a student nor as a student teacher.

That all changed when I became THE TEACHER.  I never subbed a day in my life, so I was not sure what it would be like to face a roomful of teens without the safety net of my cooperating teacher or one of her substitutes.  That first morning, I shook for the entire forty-five minute drive to school.  I hadn’t slept for one second the night before, and I hadn’t eaten for two days (for me, that was a big deal –  I love to sleep and eat).  I paced inside my classroom and hid from colleagues and administrators who tried to track me down and wish me luck.  I looked at the class lists again and again, trying to memorize my seating chart and imagine what the faces attached to those names would look like.

When that very first morning bell rang, I was ready to puke, faint, and run away screaming all at the same time.  I didn’t know what I was going to say, how I was going to earn their respect and trust, or why I had wanted to become a teacher in the first place.  It wasn’t that I hadn’t prepared.  I had spent weeks planning lessons and icebreaker activities and gathering advice from my new colleagues.  To this day, I can’t remember who walked into my room first or what I said at any point during the school day.  I merely remember thinking one thing, and the thought was stuck on Repeat for the entire day: “People are trusting me with their children?  WHAT THE HELL?”

This became the first of many “What the Hell?” moments in my eleven-year teaching career, but only one of several hundred “What the Hell?” moments in my lifetime.  At some point, they may all end up on this blog.

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