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

Am I Doing Anything Right? – What the Hell?

Being a mom means there is a constant chorus of “Am I doing it right?” and “How can I do it better?” playing in my head. There is absolutely no way of knowing that you are doing anything right or that you are making anything better. You ask others – mainly, your own mother – for advice and you automatically judge those who you know are doing it WAY WORSE than you are. (Be honest. You know you do it.) But, there’s always that little voice in your head at 2AM when you can’t sleep, anyway: “Are you a good mother?” And then, you have no hope of sleeping for the rest of the night.

One thing that I know I must do for both of our boys is to work every day at helping them to gain self-confidence. I had self-confidence, I think, until my self-awareness trumped it. In about third grade, I began to notice that people called me names because of my weight and people disliked me because I was smart. I never thought that being smart could be a bad thing, and thank goodness I never put myself down because I was intelligent. The weight, on the other hand, proved to be a giant obstacle from that point on and continues to be one of the biggest challenges and paralyzing forces in my life. I can go from feeling like I’m having a great day, to catching a glimpse of myself or seeing one of the million pictures the little guy took of me with my phone that day, and think, “Ugh. There it is again.” And it’s on those days that I feel like people are looking at me and judging me more harshly than others. And, it’s on those days that I pull into myself and try to get as small as possible so people don’t see ALL of me. I put that seed of doubt in my mind, and I convince myself that others see me as I see myself. It’s ugly. I’m working on it.

Knowing my own hang-ups makes me worry even more about being a good mom. I don’t want any of my self-confidence challenges to become apparent to our very sensitive boys. I constantly am on guard, trying to build up their self-esteem and their self-worth without being a helicopter parent or making them feel like they are perfect children. And I try to push down my self-doubt and portray myself as a very together, confident mom, wife, and woman. It’s a balancing act, and I don’t think I’ve fallen off the parenting wagon yet.

Then, I realized that their self-confidence meters are not solely controlled by me. Our older son had a significant expressive speech delay. I didn’t even think “delay” was the correct term for it, no matter what all of our evaluations and IEPs said. I thought it was more of a there-is-no-speech-coming-out-of-this-child’s-mouth-and-I-don’t-think-he’s-ever-going-to-talk problem. We started working with local agencies and our pediatrician right around his first birthday and were doing baby sign language by eighteen months. After grueling speech therapy, medical and psychological testing, and several creative games devised by yours truly, our son is speaking circles around kids his age in terms of his vocabulary, including emotional literacy. He’s not on any of the spectrums or labeled with any of the abbreviations that so many parents and teachers deal with on a daily basis; he just had a tough time getting his mouth to say what he wanted it to say. He’s scary smart and has ideas and language skills to back it up. I could not be more proud of his hard work and dedication to become the talker that he is today.

But, I see how his continued struggles with a few enunciation patterns are dogging him. He uses synonyms or flat-out descriptions, just to avoid having to say certain words. He whispers words that contain his “trouble sounds” because he doesn’t like to be wrong or misunderstood (more on that damn perfectionism issue we’ve got going on in this family in an upcoming blog post, for sure). This smart cookie of ours who scored off several of the pre-K and kindergarten and first grade and second grade charts for vocabulary and problem solving at age four doubts himself and allows his lack of confidence in his speaking ability to impede him from doing things I know he wants to do. And, it breaks my heart.

I watch him want to sing along to songs kids his age have been singing for years; yet, he stops himself just as he starts to let the first sound fly out of his mouth. He never has sung “Happy Birthday” or “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” He never has really sung the alphabet song, though he has known his letters forever. He won’t sing any of the songs at school that I’ve been dying to sing and act out with him: no “I’m a Little Teapot” here! I’ve been told by our saint of a speech therapist that it’s because he’s afraid of not being able to keep up, and that he doesn’t want to be embarrassed if he can’t. More of that perfectionist issue he inherited from his mother, which is more of that guilt complex I’ve formed for myself since I first held him in my arms.

I watch him at the playground and park and other social situations with kids, and sometimes I’m in awe of him. He is afraid they won’t understand him when he says his name, but he says it anyway. And then he asks them how old they are. He’s developed his own icebreaker, bless his heart, because he knows most kids love to report their ages to one another. And, he knows that when they ask him for his age, it’s a short answer that they will understand.

I watch him walk over to a mother with a baby and ask if it’s a boy or a girl and stand and talk about his own brother for long stretches of time. He’s coming out of his shell on a regular basis, and I allow myself one thought: “I might actually be doing something right!” I want to do cartwheels and a little cheer. But I stop myself. People would laugh.

Thank goodness my kid has more self-confidence than I do. What the Hell?

(Connect with me @baileyshawley or share this post on Facebook so your friends can see what you’ve been reading.)