Monday, September 8, 2014

New shoes

We bought the girls, as is custom, shiny new sneakers to start the school year. After a summer of sandals or bare feet and lots of growth, they need new sneakers, but I play it as a new-school-year extravagance. It's important to celebrate new beginnings, especially for the kids who are hesitant to see the good in new beginnings. New sneakers are more than school-mandated footwear, they're a reinforcement that what's to come is significant and special.

So we measured feet and we got new shoes purple as purple and pink as pink, and then L did that thing she's done before. New shoes that fit generously on the first day of school were, no joke, uncomfortably small by the second week of school. She grows in actual spurts, literal, not time-lapsed over weeks. She's the kudzu of childhood. So we got new-new shoes, and now the big girl has glowing purple feet and the slightly-less-big girl has turquoise ones.

I had barely used new pink shoes in my hand and I mumbled what great shape they were in, and how we should donate them, and a certain someone who watches his sisters mark their relationship, among other ways, through the shared memories formed on the fibers of hand-me-downs, this certain someone jumped up and yelled with determination.


They are, truth be told, sneakers ordered from the girls' side of Zappos. He is, truth be told, 26 months younger than L and exactly one-half shoe size smaller. And real men wear pink.

He is one cool little brother. And his toes get compliments everywhere he goes.

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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Ready or not...

The school year began. 

We needed a full two weeks to adjust, I think. Tonight was the first school-week-eve that didn't bring angst and worry.

(The night before school started, we gave everything a try. New clothes, new sneakers, new bags. The girls chose their favorite colors for their new sneakers: as purple as purple can be, and as pink as pink can be. We'll have more to say about those new shoes another day. Aren't they vivid? And with a gazbillion backpack options in the world, the girls picked identical bags. Oy. I spent a little extra for the monogramming, but let's see how long it takes for them to drag the wrong bags into school.)

Third grade is more complicated than second grade was. E has three different classrooms, with a different mix of kids in each subject, so there's less emphasis than before on worrying if she has a class with her favorite friends. The kids all get juggled around with this schedule. She's in enriched math, and they spend an hour in the math classroom every day, and she loves it. We call it "fancy math" at home and she always does her math homework first.

First grade is fine, I guess, for L, the child who doesn't ever have much to say about her day. She only has one friend from her kindergarten class in her first grade class and she's feeling her way through new friendships again. It can be tiring, and she has little patience for it. She has the same teachers that E had in first grade and I adore them and know how nurturing they are, so I feel very comfortable with how her year will unfold. Now I just have to wait for her to realize along with me that it will be great.

When E was in this first grade, her teacher said something that I'll always remember, that she thinks first grade is the very most fun grade to teach: it's the year that kids go from understanding letters and sounds to becoming fluent readers, most of them, and I can already see the confidence she's pouring into L's reading. L has been saying for a year that she can't read, because if she couldn't immediately recognize a whole word she'd give up after its first part, and now she's asking questions about things she sees out the car window or on a magazine lying on the table and I answer, and realize she could only ask that question if she read the words and I say, "hey, are you reading?" and she denies it every time. But before she'd deny her ability angrily, like it was defying her in not being fully cooperative, and now she denies it playfully, for the pleasure in being caught. It seems like a good reason to become a first grade teacher, doesn't it?

In third grade we're facing three new teachers, and although my initial impressions of each of them is superb, every day is a new unknown. What I love about this school, though, is that on the first day, when E was feeling a little overwhelmed, her guidance counselor made time in her first-day craziness to give E a pep talk; and E's kindergarten teacher, upon finding my sweet girl a little sniffly in the restroom, took her for a walk around the building, telling stories of what it was like for her to come to college in America, and neglecting her own full classroom of students for who knows how long. That E, she has a support network that is extraordinary. She attracts the kindest-hearted adults who want to be her champions, and when she needs them, they always materialize.

It might not sound like much of a pep talk to your ears, but my little mathematician finds solace in patterns and empirical evidence. So I said to her, "you've cried every year on the first say of school. But you haven't since kindergarten cried on the second day of school and you won't tomorrow" and she looked up at me, willing to believe, if you've ever met her in person all eyes in that moment, blue and teary and willing words to become truth. So I promised with my eyes and hoped fate would cooperate and so it was said, and so it was, and every day got a little easier after that.

And the boy, we should mention him, he's had some confusion about kindergarten. When we were at the beach in August we rushed back on Friday for him to participate in the 3pm preschool graduation. A few of his very best buds are gone now, boys he's thought of as his absolute peers, but a few months' age makes all the difference when you're facing down the starting date for kindergarten. He'll go next year, and he's starting to understand what that means, and every time we're walking through the girls' school we make sure to stop in the kindergarten wing. He hugs the teacher who finds her years'-gone former kindergartner to ease her in to third grade, who by family legacy will be his own guardian angel next year when he makes his official debut.

And then we'll have all the kids in one place and on one schedule. Can you imagine it?

Our thanks to Mini Boden, who sent the girls some smart new clothes to start the year off well (as seen above). The new school year is daunting but less so in cute outfits. #momsloveboden (I have for years).

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

After the end and before the beginning

When last we spoke, dear readers, we'd left our eldest at rookie camp. And then we held our breath off-stage, because we wanted said eldest to have a wonderful experience, we desperately craved that she'd have such, but we just weren't sure.

And then she came home, and we hugged her, and we still weren't sure what to report.

And then we had one week: we left. We vacayed. Four states, two hotels, a new ferry, a familiar beach. 

And tomorrow begins third grade (and also first grade, and also the last year of preschool, but sometimes this blog is the parenting to anxiety blog, not the easy-go-lucky here comes first grade blog, nor the this year of preschool looks just like last year, pretty much because it is the same blog). 

All week, we discussed: the intention of rookie camp is to see if the camper is ready for sleepover camp. Her two friends came off the bus chanting NEXT YEAR TWO WEEKS! and this girl came off the bus all smiles, entirely happy, huge hugs, and pulled me down and whispered I'm not going next year

So while we rode a lazy river and a ferris wheel and jumped waves and explored museums we discussed. And it was mostly a superwonderfulamazingspectacular experience, rookie camp. But the food was such a challenge. And this sweet girl, the one who has grown so much, (SO MUCH,) she struggles with food. The foods she eats are really pretty healthy, but they're a short list. And food and eating made her really unhappy, especially with counselors who (well-intentioned, I'm hoping) told her she couldn't just live off of the chickpeas and red peppers at the salad bar (you could TOTALLY live off of chickpeas and red peppers, though), and "made" her take a serving of whatever the main food was every day, and then told her not to waste food, she had to finish what was on her plate. That's the camp complaint. But for a girl with sensitive and sensory concerns and who fears disappointing authority figures like counselors, it all added up to a huge guilt and shame burden of anxiety overload. 

But eeeeeverything else about camp was superwonderfulamazingspectacular.  She swam in a lake and held a chicken and flew down a zip line and didn't eat smores, because she doesn't like marshmallows or graham crackers or chocolate, and see how food intrudes on every part of life? 

We were a little pressured, because the two-week sessions of camp sell out within a matter of days, and 2015 registration opened as soon as rookie camp ended. Even more importantly, though, we were pressured to figure out the right resolution for this girl because she was beating herself up terribly. Her two friends want to go next year, and she made a gazbillion new friends, and not everybody is ready for sleepaway camp and that's fine

She has grown so much, though, in the past year, and I've been trying to grow myself to accomodate. For so long (VERY LONG) it was my job to protect her from the hard options, as they simply overwhelmed her. I think, though, we're marking a new phase and we should lean in to the reachable challenges. And I don't know anything for sure, and I certainly don't know anything about sleepaway camp - I never went to one - but I sense that she wants this enough that we can grow into readiness between now and next June. And the self-abusive dithering had to end. So I listened to a yes and a no and we agreed to sign up over the weekend and one friend's mom emailed to say she'd just signed up just after E woke up crying saying I'm not going! Don't register! 

I finally asked: if A and K go next year and you don't, are you going to feel relieved? Or angry at yourself that you're not joining them? 

She answered firmly: really angry at myself. So we signed up. She's going to two weeks of sleepaway camp next June, with her two best friends, and I have nine months to get her to like sunflower-butter-and-jelly sandwiches as a standard alternative main dish option. Or to figure out what exactly to write in her camper application to explain that she has my explicit permission to live on chickpeas and red peppers for twelve days.

So we went on vacation. It was really quite nice. I offer you this picture of G, long (long long LONG) past his bedtime, still digging in the sand, which is basically his favorite thing to do in the whole wide world:

And you know what all that angst was really good for? We completely avoided the new-school-year anxiety. Until today. Oof.

Local public schools go back to class tomorrow, but we only play at going to school. Tomorrow's the two-hour meet-and-greet; I'll take the girls and meet their teachers and find their lockers and drop off their school supplies. Then we leave before lunch and have a whole unimpeded afternoon and evening to panic about third grade, which starts properly on Tuesday. More soon....

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

At the half

The boy turned four-and-a-half yesterday. We're good for half-birthdays around here, and he smiled all day. It was water play day at preschool, and he told his teachers that what they were setting up was his water play birthday. He asked for ice cream at the end of the day, and there in the ice cream parlor he had us light a pretend candle and sing a real "happy birthday" song. He beamed and blew out his pretend candle and made a real wish.

It was only three of us singing, and he kept lighting pretend candles and making real wishes, so I can't point you to the wish. But one of his wishes was for E to come home. I really miss her, he kept saying. I want her to come back now.

We're down a kid, just briefly, off having a hard-earned adventure and proving to herself just how brave she is. But it's a thing that happens, maybe especially with the last kid, that every milestone ties in my memories to another one, no memory forms in isolation, and the week of his half-birthday is the week where we first send away a kid to sleepaway camp. He's grown into an articulate human, finally, I sometimes think. Finally we have the family I always saw in my mind, all the players here at the table, and just as we've formed, they're already walking away.

Time isn't equitable. I don't buy that it moves too fast but some moments move faster than others; it stretches and contracts, and the parts I want to hold jump out of reach and change, snapped elastic skittering away.

The half-birthday continued its celebration today, gliding on its own momentum. The girl will be home tomorrow. The summer's almost over. And time keeps contorting.

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Monday, August 4, 2014

The last week of camp

On Mondays someone always asks, amiably, "how was your weekend" and how to answer the question always puzzles me a bit. The very nature of the question puzzles me.

The weekends, you know, they're a blur of sameness. They're good but exhausting, driving to playdates and driving to birthday parties, art projects, pizza. Movie nights and bathing suits and laundry. The weekend was good, viewed inside the bubble of family. But outside, what's there to tell? It doesn't translate into story.

Some months I measure time by toothpaste. The lovely husband buys a 3-ounce air-travel-approved tube before the start of any trip of any duration. He leaves the mostly-empty tube on the sink once it holds too little paste to sustain his next trip. I'm forever holding a contest with myself to clear the sink of teeny toothpastes. I've never yet won.

I've wanted to tell you about E's bracelets (above). They're summer-chic, merit badges awarded by her camp that she passed the deep-water test and the go-down-the-spinny-slide-into-the-10ft-part-of-the-pool test. Some days melt into each other such that it's hard to find the plot points and some plastic links demand the justice of an homage to former roadblocks, the anxiety of swim, the boulder Anxiety itself.

That girl is growing, and the other one, and the boy who is no longer the smallest in the family by weight, speaking of monoliths. Today began the last week of camp. There will be a new toothpaste bought this week, and new cheers learned, and some face paint and hoarse throats, babies that smell like sunscreen and chlorine, clamoring for their daddy and for new friends about to become camp-has-ended separated friends, who don't like to be called babies, not at all.

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