Sep 15 2011

Work Day

So I just finished my second preschool work day! At Peter Pan, all of the parents rotate through all of the stations (art room, library, block room, snack station, and outdoors—actually there are two outdoor stations, but they work together). You spend a month (four workdays) at one station before switching to the next. I’m starting out in the library, which is a pretty low-key area. It’s not just books, though. The physical library room also holds the guinea pig cage, the fishtank, a dollhouse, some stuffed animals, a light table, and some other toys and games. The kids tend to be drawn to this stuff early in the day, so on the two days that I’ve worked, I’ve had about five or six kids in my room for the first hour or so. They mostly play together; my job is to referee disputes, engage any kids who seem to be in the “odd man out” role (while respecting those who want to play alone), and, of course, read books on demand. It’s not really hard; the library is adjacent to the art room, so there’s another parent right there to help out. And the kids are pretty self-directed: honestly I just sort of do what they tell me, and then pick up afterwards once they’ve abandoned me.

I can’t really generalize much from two work days, but so far nobody’s been interested in books until after the first rush clears out. When the majority of the kids migrate outside, I’ve been left with one or two that are in the mood for some one-on-one attention, and then we can read the books. I like these quieter interactions, because it gives me a chance to get to know the kids a little better. For instance, on my first day I had a little girl named Pearl Eden hang out and play marbles with me for a bit, and now me and Pearl Eden are buddies. Today she told me “You’re the best teacher ever in the whole wide world!” So—despite the fact that I’m pretty sure she says that to all the moms—I have to admit that was awfully sweet to hear.

The kids do “free play” from 9 to 11, moving through the various stations as they see fit. Then we herd all the kids together for group story time. Not all the kids can sit still for group story time, so it’s my job to take any particularly restless ones back to the library so they don’t disrupt the main group. The first day nobody needed to break off; today I did have one child wander back to the library, and we read a book together, which was nice. After group story time we all go down to the park, and then my station is at the swings. Again, it’s not really a hard job. I push the kids on the swings. It’s not rocket science.

After park time the kids play outside (in the school’s own, fenced playground area) while the indoor-station parents go back in to clean up. I vacuum my area and do some extra picking up, and then all the parents have a little conference with Gail (the administrator) about how the day went, and then we all go home.

My impression so far is that the co-op pretty much has everything broken down to a level of granularity that keeps things whirring along smoothly during the day. I have a little laminated card to carry with me during my work day that breaks down all my responsibilities into very small, simple steps. Like: “9:45 issue potty reminders,” “10:55 move the kids into the block room for group story time,” or “12:15 collect discarded coffee mugs and make sure they get washed.” (Don’t you like the phrasing on that? “Make sure they get washed?” Like, if I stand around at the sink with the discarded coffee mugs, perhaps the coffee-mug-washing-fairy might descend and I can supervise her while she does the work? They’re not saying I have to wash the coffee mugs, they’re just saying that at the end of the day the coffee mugs need to get washed. Which is fair enough really.) The only part of the day I feel stressed-out, actually, are those times when there’s no kids in the library and I worry that I’m not doing something I ought to be. I know at those times I’m supposed to look around and see if any of the other parents are swamped and need help, but so far everyone’s had everything under control, and then I just kind of stand around feeling like dead weight.

Robin seems aware of me, on my teaching days, but he definitely doesn’t spend all of his time in the library. He comes in and out more frequently than some of the other kids, but he really likes to play outside. During group story time he does come and sit on my lap—so did Pearl Eden, today, so they had to share. Pearl Eden was very sweet and patted Robin gently while Gail read the story. He ignored her utterly. He doesn’t seem to have any particular friends yet, but the other kids say “hi” and “bye” to him, and he participates happily in group games.

So that’s what my work day’s like!

Sep 6 2011

First Day of School!

Robin had a good day but was a little overwhelmed, especially towards the end. When I came to pick him up he kind of stared past me for a minute before he even recognized me. As soon as we got home he crawled into bed for a nap. It’s a high-energy place! Gail, the school administrator, suggested that I come pick him up a little bit early for the first week or so.

Davy really, really wanted to stay and play too. Next year he can start going for a couple of days a week.

More to report after I’ve had my first work day, on Thursday…

Sep 3 2011

Nectarine Thief

Tonight as we were unpacking our veggie box (two yellow onions, a big cabbage, two eggplants, about a pound of luscious Early Girl tomatoes, a big cucumber, a small watermelon, three ears of corn, four red and green sweet peppers, a bunch of Chinese broccoli, a few potatoes, a bag of loose arugula, and three nectarines), I turned my back for a moment, and when I looked again I saw Davy had helped himself to a fresh juicy nectarine:

nectarine thief

He’s the cutest little fruit thief ever.

Around here, we’re mostly gearing up for Robin’s first day of school, next Tuesday. He’ll be going four days a week (Tuesdays through Friday), from 9 to 12. And since it’s a co-op school, I’ll be working as a teacher on Thursdays, while Sam works from home and keeps an eye on Davy. This has meant filling out a lot of paperwork: today we were scrambling around to get me a TB test. There have also been a lot of school meetings to get us new parents up to speed on how things work at Peter Pan. They seem to have gotten a pretty smooth system worked out (the school has been open since 1947, so they’ve had quite some time to work out the kinks), and their general philosophy of child-led learning is very much in line with my own opinions and values.

Basically each teacher is in charge of a “room” at the school—there’s a “block room” (which is really for all kinds of imaginative play, as it also has dolls and cars and dinosaurs and so forth), an art room, a library, a snack station, and then the outside areas, which are devoted to kinetic and sensory play. For most of the day the kids, ages 2 through 6, all move freely throughout the school: they mingle together, going where they like and using the materials as they please. It’s the parent-teachers’ job to facilitate the kids’ interests in a nurturing and age-appropriate way. The parents jokingly call the kids the “customers,” as each teacher stays in their room and “serves the customers” as they come and go. Towards the end of the morning all the kids are herded together to the park, and then back inside for a group story time.

I’m really looking forward to the start of school, even though I’m a bit nervous about this new part-time job I’ve taken on—in addition to the day of teaching duty every week, we’re also expected to put in maintenance hours keeping the school updated. Last week I went in and cleaned out the fridge. It will be a lot of work, but I want to be deeply involved with Robin’s school, and I’m really looking forward to having a bit more structure in my days. Despite my best intentions, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when I’m alone with both boys, and hard to keep up a good energy level. I think the start of school will be good for everyone.

Anyway, I’ll wrap this up with a bonus picture: bubble bath!


Apr 1 2011

Breaking Breaking This Just In

Robin was accepted into the awesome co-op preschool! I am doing my happy dance all around the house!

Jan 27 2011


So after I posted the news about Robin having a playdate this weekend, he got two more invitations—one from our friend Amy (hi Amy!) whose lovely daughter Elena is also a Thomas fan, so we’re going to get them together to play with some trains. And then I got a call from another mom at the park, whose daughter Mariel is a bit younger than Robin, but plays well with him. The funny thing is she’d actually told us about Owen before we met him: “You know there’s another family that lives across the street from me,” she said, “and they have a boy just about Robin’s age…” And apparently she’d called Owen’s dad to set up a playdate with him and Mariel on Sunday, but of course Owen already has a playdate with Robin, soooo (said Mariel’s mom) why don’t we all just come over to her house?

So now the Sunday Playdate has become something epic—it’ll be six adults and six kids (as Mariel, Owen, and Robin each have younger siblings) and I must admit I’m starting to stress out about it now. I mean, the “playdate” is such a weird concept anyway, because not only do the kids have to get along, but the adults have to like each other. Owen’s parents and Mariel’s parents already get along, so I kind of can’t help but view the whole thing as a sort of audition for Sam and myself. If we do well, Robin gets to have friends and Sam and I will have some new connections in the neighborhood. If we do poorly, we’ll never be invited back and Robin will be alone and friendless and eventually grow up to the be the Unabomber. Or something like that. I think I’ll bring zucchini bread: zucchini bread is approachable and friendly and says, “hey, I share your values!” Right? Right.

Speaking of social anxiety, tonight they had an open house at the preschool where I really want to send Robin. It was packed. They obviously have many more applicants than they do open spaces, which is also the case at the other preschool we toured, but this is the one where I really, really want my kids to go. They do so many things right—mixed age groups, activities that kids can enter or leave at their own initiative, an emphasis on socialization and open-ended imaginative play…plus I just love the co-op model. It’s like homeschooling, but with friends! At the open house everyone was talking about what a tight-knit group it was (they do camping trips together!). And we actually already know a lot of the kids and parents because we see them at the park, and they’re a great bunch.

(There is something knocking around in the back of my head about class, and how co-op schools silently select for parents from a certain demographic—they are substantially cheaper than other preschools, but that’s because you’re required to work as a teacher one day a week, so it’s only an option for families with either flexible work schedules or an at-home parent. So while this preschool is made up of a diverse group of families from some points of view—there’s a nice spectrum of skin colors, and at least one same-sex couple—from another point of view they are all recognizably the same. Cute hairdos, sassy eyeglasses, jobs in tech, academia, or design…I would eat paste if any of them vote Republican.)

Anyway, they are very frank about screening for families that will be “a good fit” with their existing group. So I spent the evening trying very hard to ask the right questions, make the right jokes, and leave a good impression: to say, without saying it, pick me, pick me, I am one of you. And this is only the very beginning of the preschool admissions process: next up we have the guided tour, and then the written application, and then the “supervised playgroup,” and then if and only if we are given an “Admissions Invitation,” the three observation days “when you and your child will come so we can all play together and determine if we like you if Peter Pan is the right fit for you and your family.”

So basically, while ostensibly Robin is the one who needs socialization, it’s actually my social skills that are going to be scrutinized over the next few weeks. Wish me luck.

Jan 6 2011

Play, Again

Yesterday at the park there was another little boy who Robin was delighted to play with, except this boy’s mother kept yelling at him the moment he stepped off the paved areas. “No, Javier! It’s dirty!” Over and over, the moment the kids wandered into the sandbox or under the trees: “No, Javier! Get back over there! It’s dirty!” I try not to be judgy about other moms, but I was pretty boggled by this—it’s not like the kid was wearing his Sunday best or anything: he was in gray sweats. And Robin was obviously confused every time his playmate got reprimanded. We’d brought one of his trucks, and he really wanted to share it with the other boy—who was quite interested—but of course what the boys wanted to do with the truck was run it through the sand, an impulse which seemed to horrify the other mom. Eventually I felt so bad about what was going on that we left the park.

This morning the New York Times has another article on the endangered activity of play, which reminded me of yesterday’s sad scene. But also one factoid jumped out at me: “Only one in five children live within walking distance (a half-mile) of a park or playground, according to a 2010 report by the federal Centers for Disease Control.”

We live three quarters of a mile from the park, and now that the rain has cleared up we walk there almost every day. It’s a bit long for Robin (he’s quite tired by the time we get home), but he can and does walk it. In fact he’s eager to: sometimes he comes up to me with his shoes in hand, saying brightly “Take a walk!” I think car culture has really warped people’s ideas about what “walking distance” is.

Anyway, it’s just sad that the conversation is starting from this crazy point, a point where elementary schools have eliminated recess, and doctors are handing out 75-page instructional manuals on how to play, and little boys have mothers who won’t even let them run a truck through a sandbox.

Dec 31 2010

Quick Link

I think it’s absolutely heartbreaking that there’s even a need for educators to argue in favor of letting small children play. This is so freaking obvious. How have we lost our way so far that we expect kindergartners and first graders to spend their time filling out worksheets? It’s sick.

Dec 27 2010

Your Opinion Sought

Internet, I want to know: Should I let Robin play with his food?

Currently he’s leading a troop of plastic dinosaurs through the primordial landscape of his afternoon snack (banana and raisins). The dinosaurs are smooshing the banana, but he’s being careful to lick them off afterwards, and he seems to be admiring the tracks they leave.

On the one hand, it’s messy and it interferes with the project of learning good table manners, so maybe I should make him stop. On the other hand, it’s self-directed and imaginative, and there’s something very charming about his little-boy focus as he creates this intricate play world. You’re only three and a half once, so maybe I should let him enjoy his childhood innocence and not squelch his delight in this creative endeavor.

I’m genuinely torn. What’s the right thing to do here? Probably I should try to redirect him into a more appropriate activity (using playdough with the dinosaurs, maybe, instead of banana?) but then I’d have to make some playdough and it would take a while. And he just got the dinosaurs today.

Update: Never mind, Internet. In the end I let Robin play with his food for exactly as long as it took him to come up with the bright idea of fetching his trains and running them through the mashed banana. Now he is playing with his dinosaurs in the bath, I am cleaning up the table, and I am planning to stick to a food-is-strictly-for-eating policy for the forseeable future. On reflection I think it unlikely that this will crush his budding artistic spirit. But I’m still interested in how other parents, and maybe especially the grandparents, would’ve handled this situation!

Update the Second: Wow, as I was clearing the table of Robin’s mashed banana, Davy (who had been happily observing the show from his high chair) began issuing an increasingly urgent series of hoots as the banana migrated closer to him, and when I picked it up for disposal he let out an earsplitting wail. He didn’t use a single word but I don’t think the message GIVE ME THAT BANANA could possibly have been communicated with more clarity. (I gave him the banana. He dropped most of it on the floor, but he seems satisfied with the banana flavor he was able to lick off his fingers.)

Jun 25 2010

Ongoing Projects

1. Still pregnant. Last night I had about three hours of mild contractions, and I was so psyched, but they never went anywhere. I was pretty bummed when I figured out it was only Braxton-Hicks contractions (“false labor”), which is something I never had with Robin. I’m still a week away from my due date but I feel just impossibly huge and awkward and achy and ungainly and exhausted—and, if you couldn’t tell, whiny.

I’m remembering, now, an interaction I had with a nurse last week when I told her I felt certain the baby would be born closer to 38 weeks than to 40. She just smiled and told me kindly, “They all say that.”

2. Potty training continues. Robin’s happy to sit on the potty and be read to for ten or fifteen minutes at a time, but he has yet to make the crucial breakthrough about what he’s supposed to be doing there. Today I’m pretty sure he was holding a bowel movement while he was sitting on the pot, because as soon as I put him back in diapers he dropped a big load in his pants. I tried to tell him that he could have pooped in the potty, but he shook his head and told me “no!” So, I dunno.

I’m aware, by the way, that whenever people complain about parents blogging, it’s always the potty posts that bother them most. The thing is though, potty training is a pretty big deal when you’re in the middle of it! Anyway, let’s just say that I certainly don’t hold it against anybody who chooses to skip over these particular posts.

3. Robin’s bed is working really well so far. Yesterday and tonight he fell asleep cuddled up in our bed, and then we moved him into his own bed, where he slept until the early morning. Both mornings he climbed back in with us to snooze for a few hours before getting up to face the day. But he doesn’t seem upset to wake up and find himself in his own bed, and we’ve gotten our bed to ourselves for the majority of the night. It’s been really nice! I like snuggling with Robin, but I also like sleeping in my own bed without getting kicked in the ribs, or having to balance on the very edge of the mattress while a little boy pretends he’s a starfish in the middle of the bed. So we’re enjoying having our bed back, at least for now.

4. It’s been a while since I’ve posted a vocabulary update? I am proudest of teaching Robin to say “please” and “thank you”—or “pease” and “tank you!”, as he actually says them—and I think Sam is proudest of teaching him to say “cookie” and “dude”! Robin also asks for “nums?” when he’s hungry, which is pretty cute. Or he requests specific foods, although his vocabulary on this front is limited to “noodles,” “orange,” “bee-yeah” (banana, an evolution from the original “mmm-yeah!”) or, again, “cookie.” He pronounces orange very well, although this is a very context-dependent word: he does like to eat oranges, but sometimes he’s requesting orange juice, or even talking about something that happens to be orange. It’s easier to tell when he wants milk (“nolk”). He’s also started talking about the bath (“baf”), which he now quite enjoys so long as nobody is trying to wash his face or hair. He will even scrub himself with the washcloth!

Other than that, it’s pretty much all Thomas all the time. Robin frequently tries to initiate conversations with us, other family members, or complete strangers at the grocery store about Thomas (“Dass”), James (he pronounces this pretty much spot-on), and Emily (“Ah-me”), and I think just today he was talking about Harold and Toby as well. The problem is that once he’s initiated the topic, he can’t tell you much about them other than the fact they go choo-choo. It does get repetitive, but the attraction of the topic is, for Robin, apparently inexhaustible.

Although he continues to add new words to his vocabulary, Robin still doesn’t often make longer sentences. We’ve heard a few two- and three-word sentences, but mostly it’s baby babble with the pertinent word stuck in at the end. I think what Robin really needs to stimulate his language development is to spend more time with other kids, and adults who don’t already know (as Sam and I do) what he’s likely to be talking about.

There’s a local preschool, the Peter Pan Cooperative Nursery School, that I would like to sign Robin up for: they’re full now, but I’m going to try and get him in for the fall. They’re right next to our local park, and they take the kids to the park every day, so I’ve started timing our visits to coincide with theirs. It’s a nice group of kids and adults: I like that they mix kids of different ages together, which seems more natural to me than strictly age-segregated groups, and I also like that their focus is on socialization and play. And because they’re a coop school (meaning that parents also volunteer as teachers) the costs are insanely low. $255 a month for three mornings a week is very, very reasonable by Bay Area standards. I’m not entirely sure how I would fulfill my teaching commitment with a baby on hand too, but assuming I could work that out, I really like the idea of being fully engaged with Robin’s school in that way. And every time I take Robin to the park at the same time the Peter Pan kids are there, he tries to leave with them when they all line up to go back inside! So I think he’s itching for a larger social environment.

Jun 17 2010

Potty Training

Thank you, everyone, for your kind words and thoughts about Marlis. We’re still grieving. It comes in waves. It will sound faintly ridiculous to those who have never had a beloved family pet, and very obvious to those who have, but sometimes I just feel stunned by the pain of her loss. There are moments when it just hurts and all I can do is concentrate on breathing and getting through it. But those moments pass. And already sometimes my thoughts of her are gentler and more bittersweet. I know that soon my memories of Marlis will be nice ones.

As for Robin, I don’t think her absence has really registered with him. He saw her after she had died, and I explained that she was gone, but I don’t know how much of that he understood. He seemed more worried that I was crying so much. He hasn’t asked about her since. We kept him inside while we buried Marlis, beneath a tree in the backyard that we’ve finally managed to identify as a California bay laurel (Umbellularia californica to you, Mom). We put a couple sprigs of the aromatic leaves in the burial box with Marlis, so that she could rest on her laurels. Her other grave goods included a comfy blanket, a squeak toy, and her rhinestone collar with brass nametag. So the archaeologists of the future will know her name, and that she was loved.

On another subject, today seemed like a good day to start potty training. I’ve been putting it off because my books all say a) not to start potty training when your family is experiencing major change, like, oh, for instance, a move to a new house, or the arrival of a new baby; and b) they also say to wait until the child himself expresses an interest in using the potty.

Well, conversations with Robin about the potty go like this:

Me: “Robin, look at this little potty we bought for you! Would you like to sit on the little potty?”
Robin: “Noooooo.”

Me: “Hi Robin! Yep, here I am in the bathroom, pooping on the potty. Someday you’ll go poop on the potty just like Mommy and Daddy!”
Robin: “NO!”

Me: “Sweetie, look! We got you a little toilet cover so that you can sit on the big potty like Mommy and Daddy! Would you like to sit on the big potty now?”
Robin: “NoooOOOOoooo!”

Then, sometimes, he runs away and hides.

For me, though, some kind of crucial threshold was crossed yesterday, when Robin found our Roku remote, turned on the TV, navigated through the Netflix-on-Demand interface to select a Thomas episode, and sat down to watch it. I thought to myself, “If he can do that, he can darn well poop in the potty!”

So, today, I set up the child-sized toilet cover, and the stepstool, and I got a couple of books, and I took Robin’s pants off, and I cajoled him into the bathroom and up on the stepstool. I could in no way cajole him to put his butt on the seat, and finally, in direct defiance of everything the potty training books say, I just sat him down by force as he screamed and bucked. Then I immediately distracted him with a picture book.

And the amazing thing is that it worked! He sat there, on the potty, while we read Where the Wild Things Are and Crazy Hair, and he was perfectly happy to do so! He even kind of commented a few times on how he was sitting on the potty: he pointed down at his bare lower half and said “Poopy!” and “Pee pee!” I responded by rhapsodizing about how, yes, he was sitting on the potty, and it would be absolutely wonderful if he decided to go poopy or pee pee while he was there, because that is what the potty is for.

He did not go poop, nor pee, but after the stories were over I lavished him with praise, and then he hopped down and I put his diaper back on. I’m completely thrilled just with the demonstration that Robin can sit on the potty for five minutes without it being a major ordeal. I’m hoping we can repeat the process tomorrow, and the next day, and then maybe build from there.