Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Fairy Gardens

Recently I attended the Chicago Flower and Garden Show. It is one of my favorite annual Chicago events, because after months of staring at barren trees and gray landscapes, you get to step into a fragrant wonderland filled with flowers. I've been attending the show since 2009, which is when this specimen of adorableness was taken:

This year's show featured all the old standards: lush landscapes, colorful flowers, decks you could never afford, water features, and, my personal favorite, the tulip fields: 

Something new I noticed this year, though, was the incorporation of miniature fairy gardens into the larger landscapes. I was so taken by them that I took this blurry photo of one: 

Now, I was aware of the fairy garden phenomenon before, but it hadn't really interested me because I do not like the following: 

1. fairies
2. gardening

I mean, I'm not against fairies, it's just that I've never been one who was interested in fantasy and whimsy and hanging out at Renaissance Faires and stuff. And as for gardening, for me it's just a big experiment to see how quickly plants can die. 

But I do love miniature versions of things, and that's what attracted me to the fairy gardens. I decided I wanted to create my own. I had been looking for a craft to do, despite the fact that, to add to the list above, one more thing I do not like is: 

3. crafts

I want to like crafts. I go to Michael's and see all the pretty stuff you could buy and create with, and I want to be that buyer and creator. I like the idea that crafts could be an outlet for my mental health issues. BUT, crafts stress me out. They create additional anxiety for me because I'm always obsessing about how ugly my craft is turning out. 

I always say my only successful craft medium is words, and the trouble with words is that words have meaning. So it's not really an escape to craft with words, because they have pesky meanings that evoke, you know, emotions and stuff. Unless you want to write total fantasy, which, again, is probably better suited to fairy-loving Renaissance Faire employees. 

But I decided to take a stab at a non-verbal craft and create my own fairy garden. Work was slow for awhile (#freelancelife), and I needed something constructive to do with my days. (I don't think my previous "worrying that my career is a total failure" activity could be called constructive.)

So, I set out to create a fairy garden. My first step was to check out some library books about fairy gardens. 

The first book was clearly a legitimate resource because it had a forward written by an actual fairy. That fairy was Violet Greenpea Maydreams, Chief Scribe for the Garden Fairies at May Dreams Gardens. Violet explains that one controversy in fairy gardening is the debate over whether or not to include likenesses of fairies in the gardens. Some say little fairies enhance the garden, while others believe the garden should merely be a space that invites fairies in. Violet clearly comes down on the side of no fairies, even though the book itself has a picture with four fairies on the cover. I'm starting to think these fairies might not be the most consistent folk. 

Anyway, it didn't matter because I decided I didn't really want to emphasize fairies at all in my garden, but rather just create a miniature landscape. You know, like designing my dream home, but one I could actually afford. (Though, as it turns out, crafting is only slightly more affordable than home construction.) 

I also decided that using real plants in the garden would be a disaster. Besides my afore-mentioned talent for killing plants, we also don't have any windowsills in our house where the plants could get adequate sunlight. (And March in Chicago is not part of outdoor-growing season.) Any horizontal surface we do have would be frequented by cats, who would either eat the plants or mistake a box filled with sand for something else. 

So basically I was creating a fairy-free miniature scene with artificial plants. In other words, the sort of diorama I complained about having to make in elementary school. 

But this diorama wasn't going to feature Gabrielino Indians making acorn mush, nor would it be a miniature Mission San Juan Capistrano. It was going to be a tiny little scene of all the things I love most in the world. 

I should also note that I was able to get Nathan on board with this project pretty easily. At first I figured we would build one scene together, but when the addition of Minecraft figurines was suggested, I decided we would each create our own scene. 

So we went to Michael's. We bought approximately 95 items for our gardens. I told Bill to go wait out in the car while I checked out so he wouldn't see how much we were spending. (I always end up coming clean about these things, but I use the tactic where I start with a figure much higher so that when I get to the actual total it doesn't seem as bad. Unfortunately I'm a terrible liar and Bill was onto me.) 

Then I went home and ordered some more supplies from Amazon. 

Yesterday Nathan and I actually made the gardens. It was the kind of wonderful, screen-free, hands-on parenting activity you want to document on Facebook to make people think you do these kinds of things all the time. 

Here's Nathan's: 

Here's mine: 

Nathan was very concerned with scale. (So see, it was also a math lesson.) The dog house is in proportion to the real house, and every Minecraft animal could actually traverse that bridge. My garden, on the other hand, features a very large cat figurine (sitting at the front of the walkway) that wouldn't fit through the door of the house, suggesting a giant freak mutant cat.

Here are some other features of my garden:

The beach, where somebody is reading a book. (Not me, because I only read on Kindle now.) 

Kitty (not the freak mutant one) asleep in a flower garden. 


So those are our miniature gardens. I have no idea what we're going to do with them, but they were fun to make and they look cute. Also, due to my tendency to overbuy at Michael's, we have supplies to make at least six more fairy gardens. Of course, I don't have any more little houses or kitties. Better go order some more stuff on Amazon. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

I Am

"Life's not worth a damn 'til you can say,
Hey world, I am what I am."
–"I Am What I Am," from the musical La Cage Aux Folles 
I have been very open on this blog about my struggles with depression. It's important to me that I'm honest about my own battles, so that I can lend a sense of solidarity to other sufferers, and maybe even encourage somebody to get much-needed help for depression.

That said, there is something I have never shared about my depression:

I am incredibly ashamed of it. 

I know. WHAT?!? I'm all about Depression is a chemical problem, not a character problem. It's not your fault. End the stigma! I spew the oft-repeated analogy to diabetes, that both are physical diseases related to your body's inability to produce some chemical. And I truly believe this analogy.

But Depression doesn't believe it. See, I think of Depression as a separate entity that lives inside of me, a big fat lying liar whose main goal is self-preservation.

I'll never go away, Depression says. It's way too much energy to exercise or go out with your friends or do anything else that might weaken me, so you're better off just lying in your bed crying and hanging out with me. Everyone else is tired of hearing about your stupid problems anyway. 

And then there's Depression's greatest hit:

You are weak and pathetic. You should be ashamed of yourself for turning to pills to try to beat me. 

Now, in my stronger, healthier moments, I actually can recognize Depression's lies. I can call bullshit on them, and sometimes I can't hear them at all. I can say I am a person with a common medical condition. I am fighting it with pharmaceuticals and lifestyle changes, and I truly believe I'm fighting as hard as a possibly can. I am not weak, I am strong for getting help and managing this condition. 

But then there are the other moments. The moments when you've just been told you have to double your antidepressant dosage, and you have to blink back tears of shame in the Target pharmacy. The moments when somebody spews out some ignorant drivel about how you could beat it if you just tried harder to be happy or prayed harder or just stopped being so dramatic--and you actually find yourself believing this crap.

Maybe I am weak. Maybe it is all a drama I made up in my head. 

Why am I telling you this? If my goal is truly to encourage people to get help for their own depression, I shouldn't be telling you how shameful I feel about getting help for mine. But I guess I want you to know that if you feel ashamed, you aren't alone. And that, like me, you should get help in spite of the shame. Because the irony is, when you get help, the shame goes away.

Or, at least it lessens. I can now recognize that all that shame stems from Depression's pathetic little lies it tells in the name of self-preservation. I still hear the lies sometimes, still believe them occasionally, but I know they're lies.

So, whatever sense of shame you have to drag with you to the doctor or the therapist or even just your close friend, please still get help. Know that we've all felt ashamed, and you're not alone in your shame--but don't let that shame stop you from getting help. 

The truth is, for all the shame I've felt, I've felt an equal or greater sense of pride in knowing that I'm fighting depression. In fact, I can say without any exaggeration that beating depression is by far my proudest accomplishment in life. So even if I have to carry some shame along with me in that fight--and even if you do--the fight is still so, so worth it.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

No Soup (Labels) For You!

As soon as Nathan started kindergarten, I was bombarded with a slew of school fundraising opportunities. There were the big ones—the 5K fund run, the magazine sale, the catalog of wrapping paper and other assorted gift items.

And then there were the little, day-to-day fundraisers. If you have a child attending school, you're probably familiar with them, but let me recap what we have:

  • Box Tops for Education: General Mills cereals, Ziploc bags, Avery binders, Old El Paso food products, Green Giant pre-bagged vegetables—These and many others are among the brands that contain that coveted little Box Tops for Education rectangle that you're supposed to cut out, save, and then glue to the monthly Box Tops collection sheet that comes home with your kid, which always has a fun seasonal pun like "Box Tops Are Snow Much Fun!" Now, I immediately decided that if I didn't send my kid with this completed sheet of ten box tops, the day after it was sent home, I would be labeled Bad Mother. So I became obsessed with finding these box tops. The last time anybody was this excited about box tops was during WWII, which, if the popular camp song "Up in the Air, Junior Birdman" is to be believed, were among the random household scraps that patriotic children collected for the war effort. (How box tops helped us defeat the Axis Powers is unclear to me, but presumably there were some soldiers in an office somewhere assigned to glue them to these silly sheets and return them in exchange for $1 per sheet.) So, you become a bit of an eagle-eyed birdman yourself as you putter around in your kitchen, spotting box tops from a mile away and cutting them out. You
    get stupidly excited to find one. Until you realize that each Box Top is worth 10¢  and you're a grown adult with a college degree who theoretically has the ability to earn more than 10¢  in the time you spend cutting and gluing down these little rectangles. (Oh, and you have to cut precisely. Every extra inch of cardboard costs the school more in postage, which means your net earnings from Box Tops go down. I kid you not, most schools have somebody assigned to cut off extra layers of cardboard using a razor blade, just to cut down on mailing costs.) Now, the thing is, I think it's nice that these companies make donations to schools. I think the Box Tops are a good way for a family of any means to help raise money for their schools. Collecting box tops in your kitchen is an easy, free way to solicit donations for your school. And the program is coordinated by a school volunteer, so basically the school isn't laying out any capital to earn the money from Box Tops. It's pure profit (postage costs notwithstanding), and from what I understand, the school makes about $1,000 a year off of the program. There's a lot of good to be said about it. It's just, you realize that if you're theoretically filling one sheet per month, the school makes $1 per month off of you, which means $10 per year, and wouldn't it be easier if you could just find the Box Tops coordinator and hand her a $10 bill at the beginning of the school year? 
  • Dunkin' Donuts receipts: It's very nice of the owners of our local Dunkin' franchise to donate 10% of all sales to the school when you turn in receipts. Still, I suspect that the whole Dunkin' fundraiser is just a way for the school to secretly check up on how often you're feeding your kids donuts. Which, in my house, is a shameful amount. 
    "Donuts ... Is there anything they can't do?" —Homer Simpson
  • Campbells Labels for Education: This is the one that befuddles me. Campbell's Soup, and its associated brands like Pepperidge Farm and Dannon, have these Labels for Education on their packaging. I didn't even know we were supposed to be collecting these until Nathan was about midway through kindergarten, but as soon as I found out I developed a new obsession with finding these silly rectangles, too. From what I understand, these labels earn your school points to buy items from a catalog of useful school items. Last year the labels purchased these little stand-up plastic warning creatures, which I refer to as the Safety Turtles: 
Now I'm thinking, Wow, just by cutting out a bunch of annoying labels, I helped my school earn three safety turtles. What if those turtles saved somebody's life? How can I deny the school these life-saving plastic turtles? And were safety turtles what really helped us win WWII? So I feel compelled to cut out every stupid label I see, even though it's hard to remove a soup label while keeping it intact, or to cut through the double-layered foil innards of a Mint Milanos package. (Wow, I am not painting a very positive picture of the nutritional situation in my household.) 

Mmm! Mmm! Guilt! 
Anyway, the relevant anecdote to which I am taking a very circuitous route here goes as follows: The other day I was making a recipe that called for two cans of Campbell's soup. Naturally, once the cans were emptied, I began to attempt label removal. Compounded by other minor annoyances in my cushy suburban life, I was getting all kinds of frustrated with this process of label removal. And then I had one of those What am I doing here? moments and just ... wait for it ... threw two valuable turtle-earning labels in the trash can. No soup labels for you! 

Oh, how I love a good Seinfeld reference. 

Now, Seinfeld was all about the trivial, and certainly the choice to throw out soup labels is possibly the most trivial decision ever. But it represents something larger, and for that I have to reluctantly make a reference to another franchise, one I'm not so fond of. 


Because, the thing is, that minor choice to throw away the labels was the first step in learning to Let It Go. I'd become obsessed with doing everything right as a school parent—helping in the classroom, attending every evening event, helping with every fundraiser, checking every last problem of the homework. And God forbid I ever signed a reading log with slightly inaccurate information; I mean, those things are serious, legally-binding contracts, right? 

And not to imply that this is some sort of huge breakthrough for me, but since the Soup Label Incident, I have also taken the following "Let It Go" actions: 
  1. Throwing away the flier for Family Reading Night, because it just didn't sound like something that would be a good fit for my family. 
  2. Choosing not to participate in the Six Flags Read to Succeed program, for which you fill out a log of every book your kid reads for 180 minutes (or something) and then earn a child's Six Flags ticket in return. Every year I fill this thing out, not for the free ticket, but because I don't want to look bad as a parent. We never even use the damn ticket. 
  3. Skipping my weekly assignment as a computer lab volunteer because my paying job was just too stressful that day and I couldn't handle it all. 
  4. Letting Nathan turn in a homework assignment that was full of spelling errors. 
  5. Allowing Nathan to watch The Flash with Bill instead of completing his nightly required reading. 
The thing is, I'm starting to feel more comfortable letting things go in other areas of my life, too. It's not that I was a perfect specimen of cleanliness, productivity, and willpower in all areas of my life before. It's that I felt guilty that I wasn't. It's the guilt I need to let go of. 

Though I can't let go of the guilt I would feel if I didn't end with the following disclaimer: 

The previous comments were by no means an attempt to insult my school district and the dedicated people who work for it. I love our school district, and I love public schools in general, and I know they are severely underfunded. I know the burden of filling in the gaps in funding tends to fall on teachers, and I will do the best I can to allay these poor teachers' out-of-pocket costs. But the best I can is the relevant phrase here. Nobody can do it all. I was feeling guilty that I couldn't do it all. It's the guilt I'm letting go of, not the desire to support my local schools. 

And the soldiers of WWII and their contemporaries were The Greatest Generation. I understand that their sacrifices were nowhere near something as trivial as cutting out cardboard. Their sacrifices were unfathomable. I know, because I just saw the film Unbroken. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

There Won't Be Blood

I passed out attempting to donate blood yesterday.

Now, let me note that, due to a strong sense of guilt social obligation, I feel like I should donate blood.  Sure, I give my time and money to various charities.  But anybody can give time and/or money.  Not everybody can give blood.

I, however, can give blood at this point in my life, and therefore feel like I should.  I feel like a random patient would love to have my blood.  My blood hasn't been exposed to any serious risk factors, so the recipient of my blood would be assured that his/her new blood has lived a relatively boring and safe life.  I mean, sure, my blood is teeming with Prozac and caffeine, but it's not like getting happy, perky blood is a bad thing, right?

So when the family and I walked into the library yesterday and I saw that they were having a blood drive, I went right in.  They noted that they would be squeezing me in as the last donor, which is a detail that sort of becomes relevant later.

I should also point out that my past attempts to donate blood have had mixed results.  I donated once in college with absolutely no adverse effects.  Then, I attempted to donate again at age 26, and I nearly passed out during the finger-prick they do in advance to test your blood, so they turned me away.

Yesterday's attempt was my third.  And I figured all my aversions to needles and blood and veins would probably have gone out the window, since I had given birth in the interim between my last attempt and yesterday's donation.

The donation actually went fine.  It was the post-donation that kind of went awry.

I was supposed to sit at the snack table for 15 minutes, which already felt kind of unnecessary because, as I said, they were wrapping up the blood drive.  Another group was already at the door waiting to have their meeting in the next time slot for the meeting room.  Bill and Nathan were milling about with nothing to do.  So I kind of had a Let's get this show on the road attitude.

But then I began to panic.  I told the employees I wanted to lie down.  Immediately they sprung into action.  It was like I was on ER in its mid-90s glory days.  They pulled out a mat and I had to lie on the floor right next to my chair, and then they shoved ice packs down my shirt and put a fan next to my head.  And I was supposed to move my legs back and forth.

At that point, Bill and Nathan came in to see what was taking so long.  The blood drive employees had packed up every single bit of equipment around me.  I was all, "I'm fine!  Let's go!"

And then I nearly passed out in the parking lot.  The blood drive guy came after me and dragged me back indoors.  Back to the exercise mat and the ice packs.

As a side note, when they took the blood they had told me to take off my cardigan, so I was only wearing an ill-fitting undershirt that kind of exposed my stomach fat.  In an attempt to leave without too much shame but still meet the blood drive's "keep cool" directive, I had put my free blood donor t-shirt on over the undershirt.  But then they told me to take off the shirt, which I was having trouble doing without making my undershirt ride up, and at a certain point, I said, "Screw it, you're all going to see my bra."  I think Bill was horrified.

So there I was, lying there with my stomach fat exposed and ice packs down my shirt, and trying to be all, No, Nathan, Mommy is fine, even though I'm pretty sure he wasn't the least bit concerned because he was busy devouring the contents of my vampire-themed "Fangs for Your Donation" goody bag.

And they let the next meeting come in.  They were just like, We'll have them work around you.  And they told me to squeeze my buttocks over and over.

My one saving grace was that at least I didn't know anybody in that meeting.  Which is saying a lot in a small town like this where everybody seems to know everybody else.

Meanwhile, I downed two packs of Cheez-Its, some Gatorade, and a small bag of Famous Amos cookies in an attempt to regain full consciousness.  (As a fun aside, the guy who came and chased me down in the parking lot looked a little like Famous Amos.)

At one point I was thinking of asking them if I could just have my blood back.  That seemed like it would solve the problem.

Eventually I got to the point where I could at least remain conscious on the drive home.  (It probably goes without saying that Bill was driving.)  Then I woozily made it through the evening.  And now this morning, I'm still feeling woozy. Which I'm pretty sure is all psychological at this point, but just to be safe I think I'd better take a nap and have Chipotle for lunch.  Chipotle has a lot of iron in it.

So, there will be no more blood donation for me.  You can have my time and my money, but you can't have my bodily fluids.  Maybe I can pay other people to donate blood in my stead.

The thing is, I rationalize away my guilt like this: My blood type is O+.  It's neither rare nor the universal donor.  What do they want with my blood anyway?

I'm posting about this to see if I can find some kindred spirits out there who are also too wussy to donate blood.  Leave your story in the comments, fellow wusses!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Life is Like a Box of Chocolates: Sometimes You Need a Kick in the Pants to Get You Going Again. Or Something.

It turns out that blogging is like exercise: The longer you stay away from it, the harder it is to get back into it.  

Honestly, I considered just giving the whole thing up (blogging, not exercise), like so many before me have done.  But I'm trying to come back, and the reason for that is truly pathetic.  It goes like this: 

The other day I was talking to a dad at soccer about the time I went to the Sweets & Snacks Expo.  He said, "That sounds like an awesome show.  How did you get to go to that?" I explained it was because I had a blog, and that's when I realized it: If I don't have a blog anymore, I can't go to the candy show anymore.  And then I wouldn't be able to take advantage of the new candy show strategies I learned from experience (go more than one day, bring Ziplocs).  

So, I'm back.  And enough blogging about blogging, even though it's so meta.  I just really like to say meta.  

The thing is that my freelance career has picked up a little bit lately.  Now, you know I'm highly superstitious and don't like to jinx myself, so I will just say that things are above average in my work life right now.   I got another freelance gig, and this one is with my old company, which is good for many reasons, namely that (1) I've been trying to get back with them on a freelance basis since I quit working there full-time four years ago, and (2) This new job really kind of encompasses every single one of my professional  experiences and interests.  That's right, every single one.  

So with the presidential candidates debating about creating new jobs, I can definitely say that I'm better off than I was four years ago.  Because a stay-at-home suburban mom who is just trying to keep her mind focused and keep her foot in the door career-wise is definitely the person Mitt and Barack are most concerned about, not, you know, the laid-off factory worker who can't feed his family.  

I'm gonna stop writing now.  I have a million other mundane update-y things I could talk about, but I'm focusing on keeping these posts a little bit shorter.  I think it becomes more daunting for me if I endeavor to do too much.  Also like exercise.  

Friday, September 7, 2012

Reflections on Kindergarten, Ten Days In

I've been hesitant to publish this post ever since it was titled "Reflections on Kindergarten, Six Days In."  That's right, I've let it sit in Draft mode for a whopping four days, due to fear of the great parental phenomenon known as Jinxing Oneself.  But, knocking on every piece of wood I can find, I will publish this preliminary assessment of kindergarten:

It's going way better than I thought it would. 

First off, he likes it.  He comes home spouting glowing platitudes like I love kindergarten! and I wish I could go to kindergarten every day!  Then over the weekend, doing his weekend homework, he asked, Is there more homework?  Because this homework is too fun!

All this coming from a child who could never muster more than mild tolerance for preschool.  Preschool, which I thought was universally-loved, like puppies and pizza.  (Though now that I think about it, Nathan doesn't actually like those either.)

Behaviorally, he has achieved my goal of at least making a good first impression.  The class uses a behavior system where each kid has a clothespin with his/her name, clipped on a color chart.  You start each day on green, and you can go up with good choices: blue, purple, and pink.  You can go down with poor choices: yellow, orange, and red.  That's a whole seven-color spectrum on which I can rank myself as a parent each day, despite that fact that the kid's school behavior is somewhat out of my hands. 

So each day he comes home with a calendar in which he colors the day's square with the color on which he ended the day.  Now, look: I know I don't have a pink kid.  I taught for three years, and I can still name the kids who would have been on pink: the sweet kid, usually a girl, who was always, always doing the exactly right thing, the nice thing, the helpful thing.  Nathan is not going to be that kid.  That's fine.  I don't care if he isn't a pink kid, so long as he isn't a red kid. 

So far (knockonwood, knockonwood, knockonwood) he's been on green, with the occasional blue. 

And so kindergarten life is chugging along.  With each passing day, life overall feels less traumatic.

Here are a few more obvious conclusions I've come to in the last couple of weeks, with regard to school:

  • It's so EARLY: Now look, I have the rare kid who likes to sleep in.  Sure, this was an incredible luxury for about four years.  But when he slept in until an all-time lateness of 11:30 on August 1, I knew I had trouble.  (For purposes of accuracy, I'd like to point out that 11:30 was an outlier even for him.  His average wake-up time was probably more like 10:00 over the summer.)  But I knew that by August 23 he'd have to be up at 6:30, and that is a serious difference.  I did Sleep Training 2.0 during the first three weeks of August, getting him up earlier and earlier.   Now we're up at 6:30 every single day, albeit not happily.  But he did get up voluntarily at 6:30 on September 1, which is a five-hour difference in one month.  I consider it my first-ever sleep-related victory as a parent.  
  • But when I say early, I'm not just talking about the wake-up: Our whole day has shifted now.  Nathan gets on the bus at 7:11 a.m., which means I have to start my day of productivity at 7:30.  (I've allowed 19 minutes for pointless Internet-surfing.) Under the old model, the day seemed to begin at more like 9:30.  Now I'm cramming in all the exercise, work, chores, and errands before lunchtime.  And pretty soon it's ...
  • 2:00: This is the time Nathan's bus gets home.  Which is a problem, because I generally regard 2:00 as the worst time of the whole day.  No, wait!  I didn't mean it's the worst time of the day because that's when Nathan gets home; in actuality I kind of miss him during the day and I'm excited to have him get home.  I just mean that 2:00 is the worst time of the day because I'm experiencing post-lunch exhaustion, but also realizing that holy crap, there's so much more day to get through.  So 2:00 is always a time of that classic, What are we going to do to get us through until dinner?, a relic of the baby days.  Of course, dinner is now at 5:00, and bedtime is now at 7:00 ... hence my assessment of Early. 
  • Also, paper.  Now, having been a student and a teacher, I know there's a lot of paperwork that goes home from school.  I understand why every single office needs a separate form with emergency contact information and a parent signature.  Getting hundreds of children to and from and around school every single day is a nearly-impossible feat.   I get it.  I'm not complaining.  I want my kid to be safe and well-cared-for.  But I also know that if I didn't stay on top of the volume of paperwork that goes home, I would very quickly become a giant problem for the school.  I don't understand how people keep up with this when they have multiple school-aged children, or two jobs, or aren't native speakers of English.  
  • Subset of the papers: Fund-raisers: You know that bumper sticker that says something like, "It would be a great day when our public schools had all the funding they needed and the army had to hold a bake sale to buy grenades"?  Never have I more wanted to paste that sticker on every vertical surface I own.  (Though I kind of think it fails as a bumper sticker on an actual car, since it's too wordy and seems like it would increase the chance of people rear-ending you as they strain to read your sticker.)  So anyway, the schools are under-funded, and have to make up for that lack of funding with fundraisers.  We're ten days into the school year, and already I have: signed up for a 5K fundraiser, ordered Market Day, bought 2 magazine subscriptions, collected 8 Box Tops for Education, and purchased books through the Scholastic Book Order.  How much are the schools getting from the actual government?  Like, a nickel?  
  • Homework: Homework is a touchy subject.  Some parents like the homework, some hate it.  Some think kids should get more homework, some think they should get less, some think they should get none at all.  So far, I'm going to admit it: I like doing the homework.  However, I understand that we're in the honeymoon phase, and also that kindergarten homework is kind of simple and fun.  But here's why I like the homework: It makes me feel like a good parent when I do the homework with Nathan.  He's never been the kind of kid who is receptive to attempts at formal learning experiences at home (you know, workbooks and the like).  Homeschooling him would be a nightmare.  But with the homework, he understands it's mandatory (though, technically, the teacher said it was optional, but he doesn't know that), and so it's the first time I really feel like I've been able to sit down and teach him a formal lesson.  And, in the interests of being diplomatic, I will admit to having full understanding and sympathy for homework-haters.  Not only is homework decidedly less fun in the upper-grades, but there's a huge quantity of it.  Every textbook series used in school today has some sort of built-in homework, so that means that elementary school kids are getting multiple subjects of homework at night, in addition to enrichment projects and the usual 15 minutes of free reading.  
In conclusion, I'd like to say that so far I like our kindergarten life.  I like the balance of time without Nathan and the time with Nathan.  I like the routines.  Sometimes I miss him terribly and can't wait for him to get home, and other times I wish there were kindergarten boarding schools.  Sometimes I feel like life is so easy now that I'm outsourcing my kid to the public school system, and sometimes I feel like life is full of all kinds of added responsibilities now that we're in the public school system.  Usually I feel all those emotions in one day, multiple times a day.   It's a whole new world, but so far it's one that I'm glad to be living in. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

So My Kid's in Kindergarten Now

I've been warned for quite some time about the parental emotional trauma known as The First Day of Kindergarten.  I know there are schools that specifically recruit parents of older children to volunteer to console new kindergarten parents on the first day of school.  Our own school hosts the "Boo-Hoo Breakfast" for parents on the first day of kindergarten.  They pass out Kleenex. 

The message for parents about the first day of kindergarten has always been clear and simple: You are going to cry.  

I think what makes kindergarten so traumatic for parents is that you're battling a transition on two fronts: your challenges as a parent and the challenges you feel on behalf of your child. 

As a parent, my biggest challenge is having to see myself in a whole new category: The School-Aged Parent.  Being a School-Aged Parent seems to carry with it a greater expectation that you have some idea of what you're doing here.  I mean sure, we were all just newbies back in the baby and toddler years, young parents just testing the waters.  But now, now we are honest-to-goodness, full-fledged parents.  I mean, I remember when my own parents were School-Aged Parents, and they seemed like they knew what they were doing.  I guess it's time I buck up and figure out what I'm doing, too. 

And on top of having to accept my new change in status, I had to deal with the fear I felt on behalf of my child.  It's a fairly well-established fact that parents often grossly overestimate the emotional trauma their children are experiencing.  I was so terrified for my kid to get on a bus and find his way in a whole new place with a whole new level of seriousness.  And I think he was a little bit nervous, but for the most part a child's limited worldview protects him or her from truly grasping the magnitude of a situation. 

I, on the other hand, spent the whole month of August feeling like I had a horrifying Date With Destiny looming right on the horizon.  It didn't help that my kid seemed to be the only kid on the planet who wasn't giddily excited for kindergarten.  Nathan tends to be like Larry David: He curbs his enthusiasm.  

So I felt like I had to rally him and give him a daily talk about how long it was until kindergarten, and what would happen at kindergarten, and how you are supposed to behave at kindergarten, and OMG yay rah rah kindergarten!

It was exhausting. 

I spent about a month agonizing over every detail.  He had to have two completely new outfits, down to socks and underwear: one for Meet the Teacher Day and one for the actual first day.  I bought all the school supplies on the list a month in advance.  I carefully organized all my forms on a clipboard.  We did recon to stake out the bus stop location.  We worked for three weeks to establish a new school sleeping schedule and new school morning routines. 

Finally the day I referred to as Kindergarten Day Zero came.  That was the first day of school for the older kids, but for kindergarten it just meant you came with your parents for a special assigned hour of orientation.  I agonized over my own personal appearance that day, as though the teacher would think something like, Wow, that Nathan sure has a promising academic future.  I know because his mom matched her earrings to her sweater so well. 

The orientation was a bit chaotic.  But totally fine.  And also over within an hour, so I had to spend the rest of the day dealing with a kid who couldn't process the feelings brought on by this transition, and thus more or less acted like a moody teenage girl. 

[Here is where you might see some pictures of Nathan in his classroom on Kindergarten Day Zero, if I could find the camera I took them on.]

The next day, Friday, was Kindergarten Day One.  That was the day Nathan would go by himself.  We followed the school's advice to have him start out taking the bus to school from the very beginning, because the beginning is when there are special helpers on the bus to help kids know what to do. 

So our whole family headed out at 7:00 a.m. to wait for the bus.  Nathan was a bit keyed up, so these are the closest I could get to the classic First Day of School photo:

Bill wanted the actual embarkation of the bus to be captured in video form, so if you really want to see what a kid getting on a school bus looks like, you can watch this video.  Of particular note is that the bus sat there forever before leaving, so I had to stand there and endure the brutal long moments of watching my baby stare at me through a bus window. 

So he went to school.  And I set about my day.  I'm sure that I will spend every day for the rest of Nathan's academic career complaining about how quickly the day passes, but that first day really dragged.  I was just terrified that he'd come home with a report of bad behavior, the way he had on his first day of preschool.  I just kept thinking, I don't care if you get in trouble somewhere down the line, just please don't get in trouble on the very first day. 

Eventually the day passed.  The bus came back with Nathan.  Good report! 

Not only that, but he exclaimed, I wish I could be in kindergarten forever!  That sort of gushing means a lot coming from Nathan.  

Of course, I was sort of like, well, shoot, you're all rarin' to go, and now it's the weekend. 

But this weekend I also found myself relaxing for the first time in weeks.  The first day of kindergarten is behind us.  And yes, we have about a million more days of school to get through. 

But I survived the first day of kindergarten.