Wednesday, November 28, 2007

School of Rock

When my kid didn't get into the local super-secret school district preschool program (thanks for the phrase, Christina) for kids with special needs (because significantly delayed in adaptive and motor + average everywhere else = admitted, but significantly delayed in adaptive and motor + advanced in verbal = DENIED, according to their math), I just kept him home again this year, because the KinderTotKidzKeeperAcademies in my neighborhood scare me, and I didn't want to deal with this sort of crap trying to get him into the local fancy private preschools after the application deadlines had already passed.

So, right now, at least theoretically, he's in home preschool, run by me.

Home preschool run by an introverted, bookish, dreamy sort of intellectual, equally prone to fits of whimsy and fits of melancholy. A sometime-workaholic who worked to pay her own way through college, who worked 50 hours a week right into the seventh month of her pregnancy. A mother who quit work gladly to stay home, and is proud of her decision to stay home. A professional who still misses regular work outside the home terribly, goes through phases of feeling completely unmoored even three years later, and often acts childishly cranky because of it. A girl who helped raise her own brother, and was once a nearly excellent nanny. A woman with an obscure college degree who speaks educated English, passable Spanish and a little bit of Hindi, and twitches when she encounters a comma splice in the newspaper, and likes to read science journals, just for fun.

I really haven't the foggiest whether any of that means I'm qualified, or even currently sane enough, to do this.*

We haven't devised an official curriculum. I am not sure if I believe in devising a curriculum for a three-year-old. But of course there are plenty of days when I feel like an idiot and a bad mother for not having yet devised a curriculum, because surely, the other three-year-olds these days all have an Official Curriculum, and a List of Educational Goals, and a Program Mission Statement, and a College Admissions Strategy, and, hell, probably a CV AND a resume. Don't they?

We do have a sort of a schedule. He has music class with other kids his age every Monday, so on Mondays, before class, we make crafts for music class and sing songs from music class and dance to the music class CD. He has occupational therapy every Tuesday (so Tuesdays are largely devoted to crying in frustration, laughing in triumph, and trying not to cry some more in frustration) and every Wednesday morning without fail we go to the library for storytime, and then stay for a couple of hours while I have him read a few books to me, and then I read him books in English and Spanish. And about once a week, we bake something; I make him repeat the ingredients from the recipe back to me, and have him help measure and count.

I've taught him the days of the week in English and Spanish, and numbers in English, Spanish and Hindi. Sometimes read him sonnets by Shakespeare, or excerpts from the Odyssey, just for kicks. The other day, when he asked me, "Where's the sun today, Mommy," instead of saying, "Behind those clouds," I said, "The sun, dear boy, is approximately 93 million miles from the earth. That is also known as one Astronomical Unit. However, please remember that 93 million miles is really only an average, as the earth makes an elliptical orbit around the sun. Oh, and the reason you can't see it today is because the sky is cloudy, and the clouds are blocking the sun's light from view."** (I already knew he knew what "orbit" meant-- he'll show me the difference between a planet's revolution and a planet's orbit by either spinning in place or running in a circle around the coffee table, the same way I showed him when we were playing with his astronomy flash cards.)

I feel pretty smug when I do things like that.

But then, there are the days when I let him play on the computer or just sit him in front of PBS for two or three or even four hours, sometimes so I can clean the house or work but more frequently lately just so I can have a couple of hours to myself, in my own head, maybe reading something that has more than ten words to a page and isn't about kittens, and it's those days that I feel horribly guilty-- even while I continue to let a glowing screen babysit him-- and feel that I am failing. Why am I not doing more, for instance, to teach him math? Why don't I practice his occupational therapy exercises with him every single day, like I should? Why don't I draw with him more? Why don't I play with him more? Why don't I spend more time with him outside? I am unmotivated. I could do much better at this than I am.

At a preschool outside the home, he would get regular math lessons, and drawing time, and playing time, and time outside. He probably wouldn't get Shakespeare, or explanations of the sun's orbit, but, does he really need those things, right now? Or do I?

I do know that, at the very least, here at home with me, he has someone who will make sure he eats balanced meals every day even though he is an unbelievably picky eater. I know he is with someone who won't freak out when HE freaks out over an extra-sticky batch of playdough or a weird noise or a sudden draft-- someone who tries her honest damnedest not to hold his sensory issues against him. I know he is with someone who will not hit him in frustration, or fail to notice he has a fever until he passes out***, or forget him in a van.

I hope I am also doing most of the other stuff right.

*Of course, that also applies to mothering in general.

**My husband, overhearing, hinted I was setting our child up to get his butt kicked on the playground someday when he starts prattling on about astronomical units. Which is probably true. But what else am I supposed to do with all this hard-earned college knowledge swirling around in my head, when I'm not working outside the home, besides impart it to someone else? I tell myself I'll just get him karate lessons, too, so he can be a nerd AND a hard ass. As long as he doesn't actually hit anyone.

*** This happened today to a little girl who was at the library with her daycare group. She couldn't stop coughing, and her cheeks were flushed bright red, and there were two daycare workers there, but they wouldn't take her out of Storytime until she actually passed out. I wanted to kidnap her and take her to the doctor. I thought about it seriously. But I don't think they let kidnappers off for good intentions.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Conversations with a Three-Year-Old: Black Friday

CHILD (watching the news with MOTHER): Are those people in line at Walmart?


CHILD: Why are they at Walmart in the dark?

MOTHER: The people just said why. They want to buy a TV.

CHILD: I think we need a new TV. Our TV had static the other day.

MOTHER (laughing): Oh, really?

CHILD: We need a new TV from Walmart.

MOTHER: We don't need a new TV. There is nothing wrong with our TV.

CHILD: But our TV has static! And it keeps skipping!*

MOTHER: You just want a bigger TV, don't you? Like the one in the Walmart circular?

CHILD (seriously): I think we need a Sony.

MOTHER starts blogging about conversation on laptop. Child reads over MOTHER'S shoulder.

CHILD: What are you doing?

MOTHER: I'm writing about you.

CHILD: You typed about the TV skipping.

MOTHER: Yes. I thought what you said was cute. Are you mad at me?

CHILD: No. I am not mad. I just want a new TV. Tell them I want a new TV. This one we have was made in China.

*He means skipping like a CD player. It does not matter to him that this is actually impossible.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Trillionth Mommyblog Lead Post

Several years ago, back in my young, single, pre-parenting days, I spent some time working for the Mary Engelbreit Store. If you don't know who Mary Engelbreit is, you obviously haven't spent enough time around middle school English teachers, teapot collectors, quilters, grandmothers, nuns, or progressive lesbian-owned independent bookstores.

I have actually met Mary myself, and yes, she is really about as nice as her work makes her seem (though I'd estimate, not quite as cutesy). My co-workers at the store were nearly all easy to work with sorts of people. And my primary job there was to help sell lots of cute, cute, so-cute-you-could-almost-go-blind-from-the-sheer-cuteness-and-in-fact- years-later-I-still-question-my-ability-to-judge-colors merchandise, mostly to teacherly, grandmotherly, teapot-collectorly, etc. sorts of customers, the vast majority of whom were already TOTALLY, MANIACALLY, RABIDLY OBSESSED with collecting the merchandise I had to sell.

In other words, in a lot of ways, my job was pretty easy.

But it was still retail, and, as anyone who has ever worked in retail (or for that matter, anyone who has ever worked in food service, health care, or as a club bouncer) knows, no matter how generally pleasant to work with your establishment's target demographic may be, if you spend eight hours a day interacting with a variety of people, eventually, you run into people who happen to be totally insane.

People who know me casually tell often me I seem exceptionally nice. People who know me well inform me that I am indeed very, very nice a good deal of the time, up until the point I get in a mood about something and morph into a poison-tongued passive-aggressive bitch who could probably verbally lash the U.S. Congress into stunned submission if given the opportunity.*

But apparently it's first impressions that count, because after my first six months or so of employment at the store, an unspoken consensus was reached among my co-workers that whenever an angry crazy person called, I would be given the phone.

Once, a woman called the store several times asking to speak directly to Mary about a complaint she had regarding an entire line of Mary Engelbreit dishes. When it finally became clear to this woman that Mary herself was not in fact answering phones in the customer service department, she asked to speak to the store manager. The store manager, of course, handed the phone to me.**

"Are you aware," the woman I'd been warned was crazy asked me, with the cool patience of someone who is certain the listener is NOT aware of the facts about to be stated, "that the [blah blah line of] dishes being sold in Mary Engelbreit's name were manufactured in China?"

"Yes," I said. "Those dishes are made under license by the [blah blah company], which is based in the United States, but manufactures in China. Do you have a problem with some dishes you have purchased?"

"No!" The woman replied, "I haven't purchased any of those dishes. I am calling to tell you, and would you please pass this message on to Mary-- I am calling to tell you that I am not purchasing any of these dishes, because they are made in China."

"Well, I'll be sure to pass on a note--"

"I will not buy any dishes that are made in China. I don't buy any food containers that are made in China."

"I'll be sure to pass on your concerns, but I do want to let you know that Mary Engelbreit does not own that manufacturing company. She has licensed some of her images to them, but she is not in charge of manufacturing. She is simply the artist who created the artwork they used on the plates. It's that manufacturing company that chose to have the dishes made in China, and if you would like to complain to them directly, I can give you their phone number--"

"Do you KNOW what the problem is with dishes that are made in China, young lady?" At this point, the woman's voice had reached almost a religious fervor.


"It's not just that the Chinese are taking manufacturing jobs away from hardworking Americans. It's not just that the dishes get shipped halfway around the world, which is bad for the environment. It's the Chinese government. There's a conspiracy, you see. The Chinese government is conspiring to poison American children-- with LEAD PAINT! They put lead paint on the dishes, on toys, on everything. Our own government doesn't test things properly. They don't bother to test things, because the big businesses that built these factories in China don't want their goods tested, so they pay off the government to stop testing. Then our children eat off of the plates, they play with the toys, and they get brain damage. This is all part of a plot hatched by the Chinese government to take over the world by poisoning America's youth! And our own government is turning a blind eye!"

At a loss for words, I gave the woman the dish manufacturer's phone number politely, and hung up.

Then I said to my co-workers, "You were right. That woman was batty. She was prattling on about some Chinese government conspiracy to poison American children with lead! Can you believe it?"

Yeah, so, these days I think to myself, maybe this woman wasn't quite so crazy, after all . . .

*I really ought to try this sometime.

**Yeah, for those of you who have never worked in customer service: when you ask for a manager on a customer service line, and they transfer you to someone who sounds vaguely important but can't seem to actually do anything to help you with your problem? That's not the manager. The manager is actually sitting in her office bidding on Coach purses on eBay or playing solitaire, making some poor underling answer the phone for her instead.

Of course, said underling may actually have a better knowledge of the computer system and the phone transfer system than the manager, anyway, so you might really be better off.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Why We Do It

Last year, when the leaves fell, you
worried; you
tried to put them back on the trees,
so concerned that the pretty wooden creatures
might be ill,
that something in the world might have turned
This year when I raked leaves into a big, big pile
you waded through them, buried to your waist;
you jumped ,and landed with a crunch, and jumped again
and tossed crisp red and brown confetti in the air
for hours straight,
and laughed, and laughed,
as though a pile of leaves were the best thing
ever in the world,
and I laughed too, and didn’t feel the blisters on my hands
from so much raking.