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  • Pennies

    September 25, 2009

    Last week Sean came home from school with a tiny padlock.  I asked him where he got it and he told me that he had earned it at school.

    I’m not quite clear on the specifics, but from what I gather, if you stay on “green” all day, you get four pennies. If you get in trouble for something, then you go to yellow and half of your wages are garnished.  If you are really troublesome and have to go to red, then you have to go out in the school yard and pull weeds.  No, not really, but I wouldn’t object to that.

    Anyway, at the end of the week, you get to spend your pennies in Mrs. D.’s fabulous gift shop and maybe get something cool like a padlock.

    So, on the way home from school earlier in the week, I asked Sean how his day went and if anything noteworthy happened.

    “I got four pennies today!” he beamed.

    “That’s great!” I said.  “I’m so proud of you!”

    “Yeah, and the best part is that I was on yellow, but Mrs. D. forgot and gave me four pennies anyway! I was only supposed to get two!”

    “Oh,” I said quietly.

    He didn’t see taking the two extra pennies as a lapse in character but rather a windfall.

    I asked him if he thought there was anything wrong with that, taking the extra pennies even though he hadn’t earned them.  He said no, that she had given him the four pennies, so they were his.

    We had a brief discussion about how whenever you take or keep something that you haven’t earned or doesn’t belong to you, even by mistake, it’s stealing — even if it’s a small thing and even though it might seem like not a big deal.

    I asked him what he thought he should do. He fell silent as he tried to think of a solution other than fessing up and returning the two pennies.

    Finally he asked, “Give the pennies back?”

    The next day when I picked him up, I asked him if he had remembered to give Mrs. D. the two pennies back.

    “Yes,” he said, “and I did it the very first thing when I got there.”

    “Very good,” I said, “What did she say?”

    “She said thanks for reminding me,” he reported.

    “Look right in my eye,” I told him.  “I’m about to tell you something super important.”

    I told him that I was very proud of him for doing the right thing, every bit as proud as when he earns four pennies.

    He blinked both eyes at me and smiled and then abruptly changed the subject.

    Hopefully, when I talk to Mrs. D., I’ll find out that it’s true, that he gave the pennies back. Otherwise I’m raising a stealer and a liar.

    Who Knew Tally Marks To Be Such A Comprehensive Subject?

    September 20, 2009

    AD and I are both creative types, so it is not so surprising that Sean is creatively bent as well.  AD is creative in a money-making, problem-solving, making-the-world-more-functional kind of way.  Whereas I don’t know how to do any of that; I just seem to need to swim upstream.

    Having been upstream a time or two, I know that insisting upon doing everything your own creative way can make life harder than it has to be.  And I don’t want that for Sean.  I want him to understand that sometimes, in certain matters, it’s better to just go along — even if you do know of a prettier way to do things.

    Recently, I wrote about how I tried to teach Sean how to make tally marks and how I was met with some resistance.  The resistance wasn’t willful disobedience; it was just that he knew deep down in his heart that his way was better.

    The next day, we had another tally mark homework assignment, and again, he wanted to make tally marks in his own way, in groups of six.

    And once again I tried to explain to him that where we are located in the time and space continuum it is universally accepted that tally marks are made in groups of five; four vertical lines with one diagonal line cutting cross the group of four.

    On another planet, I told him, it could work differently, but here on Earth, someone, somewhere, long, long ago, maybe even God, decided that this is how tally marks should be made.  Enough people agreed and thus it became a convention, meaning that’s just how we do it.

    I could tell from his glazed over expression that my dissertation on tally mark norms and conventions had fatigued his spirit.  And that as a creative person he did not much esteem norms and conventions.

    He twisted his mouth and looked up to the left, as though he was giving the matter thoughtful consideration. He tapped his pencil on the counter.  Then he shook his head.  I had failed to persuade him.  No, he said, he was going to go with groups of six.  He said that six was a nicer number than five.

    I told him that would be fine, but that IT WAS WRONG! And then I pulled all my hair out in one clump.

    No not really.

    I smiled and gave no indication I cared one whit. I just told him that he probably wouldn’t find that many people who would be willing to change over to his system.

    “That’s okay,” he said, “I like it better this way.”

    Whatever dude. Jump in and swim upstream.

    Sometimes in life, you need to be creative and other times you just need to follow the rules.  And the wisdom is in knowing the difference.

    How to teach that? I have no idea.  Maybe he’ll figure it out on his journey upstream.

    Know Thy Child

    September 17, 2009

    The other day, my sweet friend Meg, who has an 8-month-old little fella and writes Spicy Magnolia, asked me in comments if I had put Sean in a Mother’s Day Out program and if so, at what age.

    Well, I emailed her back, because as y’all know I email almost everyone sooner or later (so if you don’t want to get an email from me, don’t leave a comment) and when I finally hit the send button, I was several chapters deep into my dissertation on preschool. It was like I was just waiting for someone to ask me about our preschool experience.

    Because I’m not one who is dialed into what is hip and happening in the motherhood, it probably would have never occurred to me all on my own to put Sean in a Mother’s Day Out or preschool program.  But one Sunday at church a friend handed me a flyer for the MDO program and suggested that I might want to enroll him.  At that point Sean was two and I was kind of itching for the chance to go into a TJMaxx dressing room alone, so I slapped myself on the forehead, had a V-8 and then enrolled him in their twice weekly program.

    Every mother I ever talked to told me how much her little one loves preschool, how they would ask to go to preschool on Saturday, how they couldn’t wait to get up and go to preschool, how much they love playing with the other kids. And I figured that Sean would be the same. I figured wrong.

    So I enrolled Sean in preschool at our church the year he was two.  He pretty much hated it.  He got really sick a couple of times and it just never felt like the right thing.  Yet I persisted. I was bent on giving it the old preschool try.  I was bent on Sean being one of those kids who loves preschool.  Everyone kept telling me that he’d get used to it, that he needed to be with other children, but both of those things were false.  The only benefit to having Sean in preschool was for me and TJMaxx.

    The second year of preschool, when he was three, was the apex of preschool misery.  I moved him to a church school closer to our neighborhood, one that came highly recommended and was touted as being loved by all children!  I feel the need to exclaim that last sentence, hence the exclamation point.  Neither one of us ever found our groove at that school; it was just a bad match all the way around.  He would cry all the way there and I would cry all the way home. And I would wonder, What is wrong with us? Everyone loves this school.

    And so every other day for an entire school year, I put him in the car thinking that today would be the day that he would magically transform into a kid who loves preschool and playing with other children.  In spite of my blind and hopeful persistence, it never happened.  To this day, nearly three years later, when we drive by that school, he’ll point to it and say, “Boy! I’m glad I don’t go there anymore!”   When I try to find out what it was about the school that caused him so much dyspepsia, all I get out of him is that they made him take naps.

    The third year, I enrolled him in the nap-free school he is at now and although he would have rather stayed home, he didn’t hate it.  He grew to even like it. As the year progressed, he learned to like playing with the children to some degree, but always preferred playing with the teacher.  We skipped school a lot and went to the zoo.

    We are now in our third and final year at this school and finally, I think I can say that he loves it really likes it.  I think a lot of that has to do with the school and the people who run it and I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that he is now ready to be at school.  But given a choice, he’d still rather stay home with me or skip school and go to the zoo.

    Having the benefit of the backward glance, I can see now that in the name of “hanging in there” I spent far too long trying to hammer a kid who didn’t want to go to school and play with other kids into a kid who loves preschool and wants to play with other kids. My mistake. My bad. Mea culpa.

    My advice to Meg, which she didn’t ask for, was this:  Know Thy Child.

    Had I paid more attention to what I know about my child and what I could see with my own eyes and less attention to what others were telling me about how children are supposed to be, I could have saved myself and Sean a fair amount of dyspepsia.

    Homework

    September 13, 2009

    Every Monday, Sean brings home a folder from school with his adorable little homework assignments for the week.  Each day he has some small task to do which takes him no more than 10 minutes.  I supervise his work, nudge him if he stalls out and then initial it when he has completed the work satisfactorily.

    Now I know that some of you are heaving big sighs and thinking, “Homework? In kindergarten? Already?”

    I actually think it’s a great idea.  Each little assignment is a great exercise in following directions, counting, writing or problem solving and it gives us an opportunity to work on something together and to talk about what went on at school that day.  But more importantly, I think it is good practice for the years ahead.  Hopefully it will become engrained in his thinking that homework is just what you do after school, right after Meerkat Manor.

    Anyway, the assignment for Thursday was to make tally marks.  He was supposed to go around the house counting televisions, computers and telephones and use tally marks to total his findings.  I explained to him that he would put a line for each item he found up to four and then if he found a fifth item, he would put that line across the four previous lines to make a group of five.  After that he would start a new group if he found more than five of any one item.

    He argued that point saying that he was supposed to make five lines and then put the sixth line across.

    “Well, okay,” I said, “but that’s not how we did it when I was growing up.”

    “Well you know mom,” he said, “Things aren’t the same as they used to be.”

    Oh great. So it’s come to this and he’s not even six.

    “Like we don’t draw water from a well anymore either!” he said to validate his point.  “We get it from a bottle!”

    We are currently reading the 7th book in the Little House series.  Perhaps I should explain to him that Laura Ingalls Wilder was not actually a peer of mine.

    The Trail Head

    September 9, 2009

    Last week, I started putting the positive spin on how exciting it was going to be to get back to school, to see the teachers and the other kids.  But my five-year-old was not buying it.  “Sean!” I enthused, “You are going to be a kindergartner! You are going to be one of the big kids of the school! That’s a big deal!”

    “You see Mom,” he said slowly and diplomatically, “Here’s the thing.  I’m not that big on kindergarten. I would rather just stay home with you.”

    “But you see Sean,” I said, “Here’s the thing. I like you a whole lot better when you go away for a couple of hours.”

    No. I didn’t really say that.  Even if it is somewhat true.

    So then, Tuesday morning, we set up the tripod and took some pictures of our tiny tribe to mark this milestone.  And then together, AD and I drove Sean to the first day of what we hope will be a long and distinguished academic career, the trail head of a lifelong path to learning.

    When we pulled into the parking lot, Sean unbuckled himself, grabbed his backpack and sprinted to his classroom never once looking back.  Whatever misgivings he had about going to kindergarten last week had vanished. Somewhere in the parking lot he became big on kindergarten.

    When we finally caught up to him, he was already in his classroom and in the swing of things.  We peeked in the windows and watched him for a few minutes.  His posture was attentive, his hand eagerly rocketing up to answer questions we could not hear; not one stinking thing to indicate that he wasn’t comfortable and confident.  So we left. We were not needed here.

    All in all, it was a rather anticlimactic milestone given that he is returning to the same school he’s been at for the past several years — he knows the drill, he knows the teachers and many of the students. Nothing new with which to contend.

    When we got home, I got busy taking care of a some things that I had put off all summer and Antique Daddy got busy having himself a good sloppy man cry.

    I guess it was not an anticlimactic milestone for everyone.

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    Movin’ On And Draggin’ Feet

    July 23, 2009

    As I was driving Sean to day camp yesterday, we got to talking about the upcoming school year.  I was hoping to stir up some enthusiasm for kindergarten.

    In his dream world, he does not go to kindergarten but stays home and builds forts in the den with me all day. And eats popsicles for breakfast.  In my dream world, he trots happily off to kindergarten for a few hours while I get a few things done.  And then comes home and builds forts with me in the den. And then later we watch Deadliest Catch re-runs and eat Ritz crackers on the sofa.

    I am always convinced that something fabulous is waiting for me just around the corner.  It is just my nature.  It always knocks me for a loop when my rose colored glasses fog over, yet still, I just can’t wait to see what’s next.  I look ahead and expect good things.

    My child is unlike me in this regard.

    In this regard, slap some whiskers on that boy and he is his father.

    Instead of being excited about all the new friends he will make, about enjoying all the privileges of being the oldest kids in the school, about the awesome smell of new school supplies — he was dour.  He does not care for the forward motion of the universe.

    In his defense, I will say that his pre-K class was a golden little tribe. They were all especially bright and a uniquely cohesive little group – a dozen good eggs.

    “I don’t want new friends,” he said, looking out the window.  “I want my same group.”

    “Well, I know,” I said.  “Those kids will still be your friends, but you are going to get even more friends! Isn’t that great?!”

    “No.”

    “Make new friends, but keee-eep the-uh oh-weld! One is silv…”

    “Mom stop it.”

    “Why do things have to change?” he asked. “I like things the way they were.”

    “Well Sean, that’s just how it is.  Get used to it.  The world and life and circumstances are always changing. Things never stay the same for very long.  The world moves forward and never back.”

    Silence.

    “Sometimes you say you wish I was a baby again.”

    “You know what? That’s true. Every day I wish that. Just a little bit. I look at you and can’t believe you are my four-pound baby. But at the same time, I love the boy that you are now!  And I am excited to see what God has in store for you, how you will grow and what you will become.  I’m convinced that something wonderful is waiting for you in kindergarten – more friends, more fun, more challenges. You just have no idea how awesome it will be.”

    “What if you never moved on before you went into Pre-K? You’d have never been part of the Blue Group. Wouldn’t that be sad?”

    “I’m just not ready to move on.”

    “Yup. I know.  But there is good stuff ahead. Trust me.”

    * * *

    No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”  1 Corinthians 2:9

    Goody Bags

    July 16, 2009

    I was chatting up some other moms on Twitter yesterday and it turns out that some of us — and not just crusty old me as I previously thought — do not like the whole culture of the goody bag that is prevalent among the preschool crowd these days.

    Yes, we are bitter. We did not get goody bags when we were growing up, so why should these little twerps?

    At Sean’s school, he gets a goody bag for every child’s birthday, every holiday, every minor occasion. At the end of the school year, he got an “end of the school year” goody bag and by bag I mean a giant brown grocery bag.

    Each mom was asked to contribute a “summer fun” item (x13 kids) which made for a giant bag of plastic goody goodness that thrilled and delighted the little children for all of 20 minutes.

    I don’t approve of all this goody bagging, but I go along because I don’t want to be “that” mom or Sean to be “that” kid with “that” mom. Although at one time I wanted to be That Girl.

    Anyway.

    As I trolled up and down the aisles of the dollar store looking for a suitable goody bag contribution, just to amuse myself  I composed a mental list of inappropriate goody bag items:  disposable lighter, Sterno, gift card to the liquor barn, pocket knife, small bottle of capers, car air-freshner cards, can of WD-40…

    Ended up going with brightly colored bug boxes with the tiny butterfly nets and tweezers. Got the pocket knife for myself.

    Now I know that some of you are going to say that you would just say no and not go along, but you don’t know what I’m up against.  The other moms are a lot younger than me. They are the original goody bag generation.

    Lunch and Taxes

    May 4, 2009

    Sending my child to school with a lunch is a lot like paying taxes. It just has to be done in order to stay on the good side of the law.

    Every morning I expend a considerable amount of energy preparing a lunch I know he will not eat.  And I have to go through this exercise in futility because what kind of mother sends her child to school with no lunch? I will tell you the kind, the kind who are not afraid of the condescending looks from other moms.

    My child does not eat food.  Food is for lesser mortals. My child has no need of food!  I sometimes see other children eating food and I say to him, “Look son! A child! Eating food! Wouldn’t you like to try this food eating thing? It’s fun!”  He shakes his head at me as if to say, “Silly silly woman! I cannot be bothered with eating! I have better things to do!”  My child is an air fern disguised as a boy.  And that makes me a little crazy. Would it kill him to eat a cracker to make his mother happy? Is that too much to ask?

    Oddly enough, the “output” seems unaffected by the lack of input, thus proving that you can indeed make something out of nothing. To put it delicately.

    Sean is now in the third year of his academic career. That means I have packed approximately 540 thoughtfully prepared, appetite-inducing, visually-pleasing lunches that June Cleaver herself would be proud of. Of those 540 lunches, Sean has eaten approximately 1. And actually, he didn’t eat that lunch, he just picked at the Teddy Grahams.

    And so like taxes, making lunch everyday is a constitutional obligation I must fulfill lest I suffer the wrath of the republic and the other moms.  And just like my taxes, lunch will go right down the drain.

    Jokestress

    February 21, 2009

    For the better part of the school year, I have been sending Sean to school with a “lunch box” joke. I write a lame little joke on an index card (and by lame I mean suitable for 5-year-olds) and I put it in his lunch box and then the teacher reads the joke to the class during lunch. And hilarity ensues.

    One day I forgot to send the lunch box joke and I was met in the car pool line by a crowd of angry five-year-olds and threatened with a plastic spoon. No not really, but when I picked Sean up from school he demanded to know what in the heck happened to his lunch box joke.

    A typical lunch box joke goes something like this:

    Q: Why did the chicken cross the playground?

    A:  To get to the other slide!

    Ha! Ha! Hoo! Ha! Is that a knee-slapper or what!? Sean’s mom is SO funny!

    However, this morning I discovered that my gig as a jokestress may be over when Sean asked,  “Mom, why did the squirrel get a tummy ache?”

    “I have no idea.  Why?” I asked.

    “Because he ate too many ache-corns! Get it? Ache corns?”

    “See?” he explained,” It’s a little play on words — Ache? Acorns?”

    “Oh yes. I get it. Quite funny.”

    I asked him if he made that joke up. He claims he did.

    If so, my career as jokestress to the five and under crowd is over and he can start writing his own lunch box jokes.

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    Lunch Box Joke by Antique Mommy

    No School, But Still A Lesson

    January 20, 2009

    Did you know that yesterday was a holiday? And that there was NO school?

    Well, I didn’t. Until I showed up at Jennifer’s house to pick up her child to take to school. After I rang her doorbell several times, she opened the door in pretty PJs and her hair all (sigh) askew in a really cute and fabulous way and  looked at me like I was from Mars (where school is in session!)

    Yes, it was on my calendar in big black Sharpie letters – NO SCHOOL! – but I seem to have trouble operating a calendar. Too many moving parts.

    Several not-that-great things about this situation: 1) I got dressed and put on make up for no reason. Dude asks me why I bother to do that just to drive the kids to school and I tell him because if I don’t, the next logical step is going to Wal-Mart in my pajamas and slippers, so it’s a preventative measure.  2) I woke, fed and dressed my sleeping child for no reason and 3) I had a really pressing matter to attend to and now I had a really pressing child to attend to and the two pressing matters were not compatible.

    So Sean and I went back home with his little lunch box and my dream of working on a very pressing matter and we put both in the fridge for the next day.

    Let me be honest here. When Jennifer answered the door and informed me that there was no school (and didn’t even flare her nostrils!) I didn’t not leap off the ground and punch the air with my fist and shout “Yes!”   In fact, I may have dropped my chin to my chest and mumbled something under my breath, something more or less like “Crud!”

    This was not how I envisioned spending my day.

    So yesterday, the pressing matter went unattended while Sean and I set up an art studio in the kitchen and painted all kinds of pictures.

    Sean really is a pretty good little artist, but his conceptual skills are somewhat ahead of his abilities, so sometimes he miscalculates how much space he will need for the composition he has in mind, which is typical for a 5-year-old.  And this is very frustrating for him.

    At one point, after painting one little circle on the paper, he sighed loudly and huffed and asked for another piece of paper.  And being the mean mom I am, I said no and told him to turn the paper over.  With an elaborate expression of discontent and duress, he turned the paper over, drew another little circle somewhere in middle of the paper and huffed and sighed again and stated that he realllly needed another piece of paper.

    I told him that in art, as in life, you can’t just get a new piece of paper when something doesn’t work out the way you envisioned it.  I told him that his job as an artist was to re-think the composition, to accept the challenge of seeing what he could do with that misplaced circle. I told him that often mistakes are opportunities for something wonderful to come into your life that you had not planned on.

    Like spending the day painting pictures with your five-year-old.