Grief at Five

“We feel mad and sad,” these were the words my five year old daughter articulated to my mom’s neighbor when Mom couldn’t respond to his question the day after my dad passed.  Parker’s wisdom in the moment demonstrated some maturity and emotional understanding of what we were all experiencing.

And just as everyone in the family has shown moments of strength, we have all succumb to the weight of his loss in different moments too.  For my daughter, she began grieving the changes to her Papa long before he had been diagnosed with cancer.

Parker and Papa shared rituals.  She would get the stick and flashlight for Papa and they would get down on their hands and knees to get kitty toys out from under the stove.  She would bring him the DVD case and together they would put in a movie and she would snuggle on his lap to watch.  Parker would sit with him after dinner to have dessert and he would allow her spoonfuls from his bowl of ice cream even when she had her own.

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Papa would let Parker interrupt his work in his home office to let her sit in his chair and play on the computer or make copies of her hand on his printer.  She would get excited when Papa would fill up the teapot and assist by getting out the honey and a spoon then patiently waited for her helping of honey.  Parker started calling him “Poppy,” a term of endearment he adored.  And a favorite ritual before we left their home was for Papa to pick her up for a giant sandwich hug with Poppy and Nana.

When my dad injured his back we made modifications to the sandwich hug.  Instead of getting down to play on the floor, she found joy in getting to play in his remote lift chair.  She naturally became more gentle with him and found on some days when he was more comfortable, she could still snuggle in to watch a movie with him.  Parker asked a lot of questions and mourned why Papa couldn’t pick her up anymore.  I tried to reaffirm it would only be a matter of time, he would heal and things would be back to normal.

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30 July 2015 – One month before diagnosis.

This time last year, her worry became even more evident, she questioned daily when Poppy’s back would be better.  He was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma about a month shy of Parker’s fifth birthday and it seemed too complex to try to explain what was happening to her Papa.  “The doctors are helping Papa because he is sick,” seemed the only rational thing to say to a five year old.  Then we would talk about praying for him to heal and for his back to be all better again soon.

Repeating this conversation seemed to temporarily satisfy her and my dad improved through the autumn of 2015.  He was showing signs of healing and getting around easier.  Parker understood his limitations and adjusted to how their adoration for each other was changing.  A huge setback came just before the new year when a lesion on his femur broke with only the weight of his body standing.  With the exception of medical appointments, Papa lived in his own personal medical suite upstairs.  As the months passed in late winter and early spring, Parker went upstairs less and less.  I could see how nervous she felt in his presence and witnessing him suffer.  I made attempts to encourage their interactions with playing games or showing him a dance she was practicing in class.  Right or wrong, I tried to explain what was happening to his bones in five year old terms.  For months straight she would pick out the same bedtime story “Magic School Bus: The Human Body,” and often stopped on specific pages displaying a graphic of a skeleton to talk about Papa’s bones.  It was her own way of coping and trying to understand.

Dad never rebounded from the surgery, medications and treatment.  He passed at home in his sleep days after Easter.  Since it was early in the morning when I got the call, I left before Parker woke.  My husband and I agreed not to tell her, instead sending her to school so we could have a day to sort out arrangements.  The following morning, I dreaded telling Parker what happened to her beloved Poppy.  I worried she wouldn’t understand what death meant as she had no memory of losing someone.  We sat down with her in the kitchen and I did my best to conceal my tears and calm my voice.  Her tears were immediate as though she completely understood the gravity of him being gone.  We embraced and tried to turn our sadness to appreciation for him to no longer be in pain.  When we told her we would be going to Nana and Papa’s house for the day Parker begged to go to school, a place where she could be happy and forget.  She didn’t want to go to the house where Papa is supposed to be and him not be there.

As always, the opportunity to see her cousins and trumped the fear of the empty house.  She played with her cousins while the adults seemed to float around the house without intention, numb from the turbulence of the last year.  After her cousins had been gone a while in the late afternoon, Parker came running from upstairs sobbing.  Mom and my dad’s sister and I all felt the ripple of emotion and broke down with her.  I believe she had been upstairs to play in his lift chair, a game that was no longer fun with him gone.

In the days and weeks following we cried together frequently.  We expressed gratitude he was free from pain and we talked about how he would always be with us.  I encouraged Parker to know he could be with her whenever she felt she needed him.  On the way to school she would say she was going to bring him with her and talked to him on our way there.  She joked “He’s going the wrong way, no Poppy that’s not the right turn…”  And when we talked about him being with his mom, she would sometimes bring Grame along to school too.

It seemed the tearful sadness of losing Papa was lessened during the early summer.  She could talk about him without the heavy emotion and I was relieved she was coping so well.  Then there were times I wondered if I was doing everything right to help a five year old with grief.  On a few occasions she got stuck looking at pictures and would break down unable to catch her breath.  I validated her feelings by recalling stories of him and the funny things we would remember him by to help in the moment.

I had been concerned maybe my daughter was reflecting my emotions, maybe she was feeling the grief I was immersed in and so I have been careful to not initiate her thoughts or feelthelightfeelings.  I know her moments of grief are her own because many times I am blindsided by her eruption of sadness.  Like a peaceful ride in the car interrupted by a quivering voice in the backseat “I miss Papa.”  Parker recently began associating one song to Papa, a song she has loved for a long time but now can’t manage to hear without thinking of how much she misses him.There are even joyful celebrations where she turns to despair because Papa is not there to share in it.

The variety of ways Parker has expressed her heartache demonstrate how much she deeply loved her Poppy and also resemble the complicated way our whole family is coping with his loss.  In the last six months there have been times when talking about him was easy and then there are days when even the sight of a bird soaring can cause hysteria.  We know we each have individual triggers which can cause deep sorrow; a song, a date, a place or any synchronistic event.  And then there are other waves of grief which don’t seem to have a pairing, the misery builds to a peak and subsides.

The helplessness I felt with my dad in the last year of his life has transitioned to feeling helpless to support my mom and my daughter.  I want to always have the perfect words to make them hurt less.  And just as there were days I couldn’t do anything but stare at my dad, there are moments I am paralyzed in the faces of my mother and my child.  I am managing as best I can and accepting the unpredictable nature of grief and how it is impacting us in unique ways.  I understand it will get easier over time, though the waves may be less intense or less frequent we will ride these waves of grief indefinitely.

My hope is the waves Parker experiences will calm much sooner and easier than my own.  I want her to be able to remember the love he had for her without the deep sorrow of missing him.  I worry her memory of their rituals will fade, though I know she will never forget how much she loved Poppy.  And I know the pride he had in her will live on forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kemper Outdoor Adventure

One hot afternoon at the end of June, we found ourselves set off for another adventure to fulfill out Kansas City Passport to Adventure book.  This time we stepped into the scenic landscape near Lake Jocomo in Blue Springs, Missouri at the Kemper Outdoor Education Center.  It was clear they had amazing day camps where kids were canoeing on a pond andkemper-outdoor friendly camp counselors aimed us on path to hike.  The path took us over a marshy area with a long wooden boardwalk and lead to prairie and forest areas.  With the heat and hungry irritability, we decided we had seen enough and retreated to the cabin to collect our passport stamp.  Inside the kids not only got a stamp, they got to select a small nature figurine.  Parker got a turtle while Jones picked up a plastic ant to take home and fool Mom when she walked in the door.

We were also instructed to not miss the hoofed animal enclosure just a short ride around the lake.  There Jones fed an antelope through the fence with some other patrons who brought carrots.  Since Parker’s mood reflected the heat of the day, I required her to ride with her eyes closed home from Kemper (in hopes she would nod off and get some much-needed rest.)  Jones softly sang a lullaby about stop lights to the tune of “Twinkle Twinkle” to her the whole way home.

Kemper Outdoor and the hoofed enclosure were two unique finds for outdoor fun in Kansas City.  I would take advantage of participating in the activities they offer, enjoying another hike or returning to check on the antelope up close – this time I will know to bring some carrots.kemper-outdoor3

Kindergarten Tears

My daughter started kindergarten and the immediate response from people I have encountered since has been “Were there tears?”  The short answer is no not that morning anyway, we all went to school smiling and prepared for this new experience.  We did have a tearful exchange long after bedtime the night before the first day, Parker stated she could not sleep and was full of anxiety.

“My friends won’t be there, what if I won’t have any friends?” she muttered out in between sobbing.  After her body and mind finally relaxed she woke up excited and ready to put on her new outfit declaring “I look fresh.”

The tears I may or may not have been shedding were related to the stress of delaying and then choosing a kindergarten.  I felt my daughter was kindergarten ready last year, therefore 1st grade ready now…  Unfortunately birth date restrictions prohibit or mandate kids start according to a standardized system of laws out of my control.  So I waited, continuing her education through Montessori school and at home.  There were so many things I loved about her school, it

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The Montessori school also offered ballet lessons, which Parker’s teacher Ms. Deja taught.  This is after the recital in June 2016.

made the search for kindergarten all the more emotional.  Parker had the same adoring teachers for three years, ones who I faithfully trusted and appreciated.  She had home cooked, healthy lunches and I knew she was eating better than what I would have been scrambling together at home for her noon meal.  Her classroom was autonomous, she got to engage in activities she was interested in and learned at her own level.  Over the course of three years I watched Parker thrive, put creative effort and pride in her work and challenge herself to learn more.  Her school does offer kindergarten and it was a consideration to stay.  However, I knew our attachment was already so strong after three years, if we stayed a fourth I would be desperate to keep her in the pre-school setting until college.

 

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An example of the type of work Parker was doing in Montessori school.  She individually punched out states, labeled, puzzled, glued and painted her own maps of the United States, Australia, North America and South America.

With so much to love about Parker’s Montessori school, I may have been hyper critical of other schools when checking out kindergartens.  I researched online last fall, had information packets sent and began touring.  I walked the halls of not one, not two but eight different elementary schools.  Some tours were more out of curiosity or comparison purposes, I wanted to really see the variety.  I toured public schools, a charter Montessori school, private schools, religious schools and a language immersion school.  I asked a lot of questions and I kept a lot of my observations and judgements to myself.  There were things I liked about each school individually and equally unfavorable items everywhere too.  I’ll admit to being personally critical of common core curriculum and an advocate for increasing teacher’s salaries due to their inadequate financial appreciation.  I examined the diversity of the students and staff, the quality of work hanging on the walls, the cleanliness and organization of the buildings, and the menu of food served in the cafeteria in each elementary school.

 

Ultimately I came down to two favorites.  The first happens to be the closest private school to our home and one which I was surprised to enjoy so much.  It was a small school with one classroom per grade level and went up to grade twelve.  Their quality of work, academic achievement, atmosphere and friendliness of the students (all grade levels) far exceeded any other school I toured.  Their art teacher and classroom were impressive and since Parker toured with me, she continued to talk about it for months.  I was also ecstatic about their lunch menu as it was another school with daily cooked, healthy farm-fresh ingredients.  As if this weren’t enough – no common core.  The curriculum is structured as Classical Christian and would require memorization of bible versus.  While there is a lot to admire about Classical Christian, including the cursive handwriting she would be practicing this year and the focus on grammar, logic and rhetoric, I am not Christian and know little about the bible.

The other favorite school I considered is one modeled from Waldorf education. A short YouTube explanation of Waldorf can be viewed by clicking here.  The belief is music, theater, literature and writing need to not just be learned but experienced.  They aim to cultivate a desire to learn within each individual child and eliminate the need for competitive testing.  My artistically inclined five year old would be encouraged to dance, perform and learn about her world by exploring on their seven acre rural property.  Students in the school had cubbies containing slickers, hats and rain boots because they spent a lot of time out in the gardens no matter the weather.  When we viewed the school it was for a May Pole Celebration, I observed teachers redirecting students by singing them back into attention.  Parker participated in a treasure hunt in the sandbox to find shells, rocks and feathers which she got to add to a fairy house she made out of clay.  While students hung upside down from trees, swung on tire swings and picnicked with their patchouli smelling dreadlocked parents, I knew this would be the school to encourage her creativity.  About half-way through the Native American story puppet show, when the scent of the burning sage had worn off, I realized it may be unrealistic to plan to attend a school so far from home.

Based on so many variables, cost and distance to my preferred schools, it seemed like I would be having issues no matter where she attended.  Ultimately we chose the free public school option with the hope she would be assigned to the kindergarten teacher with the most experience as we indicated to the principal.  Unfortunately our request was not respected and she was added to the classroom with a first year teacher with the principals statement “Don’t worry, it will be great.”  And every day since the teacher comments “Parker did great.”  I understand the teacher is commenting on her behavior, which compared to peers in her class, I’m sure the teacher feels she hit the jackpot with my daughter.  Except the quality of work Parker brings home has declined from

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Quality public education.

what I know she is capable of, not great.  The countless worksheets she brings home on a daily basis is equivalent to introductory work she is too advanced for, not great.  And the post-it notes I found in her backpack this morning with words Parker said her teacher wrote for her to copy: “speggitti” and “basktball,” really not great.  The excitement she had for school and learning is transitioning to becoming a chore and while this happens for many students, it definitely shouldn’t happen in kindergarten.

 

More tears may be shed over kindergarten, it may be me or it may be her teacher and principal – and we haven’t even gotten to the common core math shenanigans yet.  I think the worst part is knowing my daughter has parents who will advocate for her and ensure she gets what she needs, while there are a lot of other kids who have to settle for what they get and will not meet their full potential.  I will be speaking with her teacher and without improvement, the principal.  Choosing a kindergarten took more effort and thoughtfulness than I took in choosing a college, however, just like in college – there is always an option to transfer.

How would you recommend speaking to the teacher in a way that will promote change without making her offended?  Or would you abandon the school?

 

Summer Passport

I am grateful for the time I get this summer to spend with my five-year-old daughter and my friend’s four-year-old son.  The two have grown up together and lovingly refer to each other as “Brother” and “Sister.”  They do behave a lot like siblings when spending any volume of time together; they truly adore each other though the laughter can easily turn to bickering and arguments – especially when not properly fed, hydrated and entertained.  At the start of the summer, the plan was some weeks I would have the two together three days during the week.  I knew this would require some thrifty creativity.

In the first week we had already gone to some of our favorite and free spots; Matt Ross Community Center (for their indoor play gym), Kaleidoscope (the art activity center at Hallmark), and Crown Center (The Adventures of Mr. Potato Head Exhibit).  I knew the air conditioned play would not last and we would have to be finding some unique outdoor activities too.  After the first few days of making it up as I went along, I stumbled upon an idea which would help guide our summer experiences.  I found Kansas City’s Passport to Adventure created by The Interpretive Site Coalition; “a not-for-profit organization comprised of historical sites, museums, nature centers and like agencies in the Kansas City region.”

I picked up two passports and have each child bring their own on each adventure we attend now.  The passport contains nineteen different locations to visit around the city, information about each location including address, hours of operation and admission fees (though most are free).  At each location there is a question for the kids to answer about what they see or learn on the visit and they provide their answer to an employee to earn a stamp.

While the kids are excited about earning stamps and playing, I am interested in checking out places in Kansas City I have never visited and avoiding fussing between the two by keeping our adventures fresh and new each day.

Our first adventure was to Burr Oak Woods, or as Jones called it, “Broke.”  This park contains 1,071 acres of forest and prairie, with hiking trails, picnic areas and a discovery nature center.  Upon entering the park I encouraged the kids to look for wildlife and to my surprise, the four year old voice in the back seat quickly responded with “There’s a deer.”  I put the car in reverse and we sat to watch a deer in the prairie for a few minutes before continuing on our path.  We started with a short hike on the trail so I packed chemical free bug07jonesIL spray and bottles of water to stay comfortable in the heat.  Because of the tree coverage and small breeze the June temperature didn’t feel as bad as I dreaded.  We listened to the sounds of nature, climbed on logs and held hands until their little legs were tired and then we went to explore the nature center.08jonesIL

Inside the nature center there was a 3,000 gallon aquarium with Missouri fish, smaller tanks for snakes, frogs and turtles and a long wall of windows for wildlife viewing out back.  Along with hummingbirds, squirrels and finches there also happened to be a gang of wild turkeys wondering through.  The kids turned every knob, flipped every switch and pulled every lever to explore all of what the exhibit offered.  They had the children’s play area all to themselves where they put on a puppet show from a hole in a log they could crawl into.  The kids had a blast sliding down the slide and using their imaginations to learn and grow.

Burr Oak Woods is definitely worth the trip to Blue Springs to enjoy the hiking and the nature center.  You can also pick up a passport there to begin your own summer adventures.

My Little Storyteller

In the moments Parker will go play by herself it’s not unusual to peer into her room and find her occupied with books.  Sometimes she curls up in her brown corduroy rocking chair and looks through the illustrations.  My favorite is when she lines up her dolls or stuffed animals and presents the books as though she is reading to her own make-believe classroom.  She carefully tells the story of each page before lifting and turning the book to her viewers to see the pictures.  01booksEach night we read each other one story before bed too.  She has several stories or lines out of books memorized and even mimics the inflections and character voices I use when I read to her.  A lot of her reading is completely made up as she goes along incorporating characters from the story I had read or from events that happened in her day.  It won’t be long before she is truly reading the words on the pages but for now she is using her imagination and her own words for storytelling.

Parker has an advanced vocabulary and communication skills for her young five years.  She is full of opinions, questions and comments and is fearless about opening her mouth to speak.  I want to empower her to continue this since it demonstrates curiosity and leadership, while also trying to rein her in and ensure she remains respectful with her words.  It’s also been a priority for me to educate her on the proper use of her vocabulary and practice pronunciation.  It’s not uncommon for her to completely make up words and throw them into sentences.  She has a few words she frequently stumbles over, like before she could say computer and asked to play on the “paduter.”  There are two words which come to mind I hear currently mispronounced, as long as she is not still saying them this way five years from now they will be a fun memory of her growth.

“Mom, we are out of skabetty?  That’s just rediclius.”

(*Spaghetti, ridiculous)

Kid Art

Each child is exceptionally unique in so many ways.  One thing which makes my daughter unique from other typical four year olds is her artwork.  I began noticing this difference when she plays with other kids, paper and a box of crayons.  While most kids near this age are focused on stick figures, my girl is coloring abstract shapes.  Even with piles of coloring books, this kid would prefer a blank sheet of paper to color her own abstract designs.

PJart2Sometimes I ask her what she is drawing and she always has an explanation.  “It’s a map to Aunt Bev’s house, and here is the park, and a dog, and a tree.”  All of which are blobs of color in a neatly connected Crayola collage.  She always has an explanation for everything so I never know if she is actually imagining these things as she is drawing or if when pressured to come up with an answer – makes it up on the fly.

Curious about her unique work lead me to inquiring with an art therapist friend and several Google searching sessions.  All of which lead me to no definitive answers.

PJart1Some sites claimed too much use of red and black has indications of anger or depression, then other sites added blue, brown and orange into this as well.  Other sources stated black equals dominance while red demonstrates excitement.  Contradictions in interpretation are confusing, especially if the explanation really has more to do with a child’s favorite color being red or black.  There may be parents out there freaking out with a child only drawing in red and missing the fact that it is the only available crayon not broken.

There was also some indications about the meaning of where the drawings are typically located, my daughter’s coloring is almost always oriented towards the top left part of a page.  Unfortunately, there was not a lot of consistency in this either.  Some references stated the left is often associated with mom or nurturing, whereas right is for dad’s.  Additionally left might be related to considering the past while right side is future thinking, then again another source reported drawings oriented to the top of the page indicate future thinking and confidence.

No matter what search terms I came up with I couldn’t find anything explaining what it means for my child to draw abstract patterns instead of the pre-schematic drawings typical for most four year olds.  Then, just like she does when I think I have any pattern of behavior established, she switches it up…  This morning while cleaning up the kitchen I glanced around the corner where she was quietly occupied on her dry erase board.  For the first time in nearly 6 months, she had drawn a pre-schematic drawing.

PJartAs my art therapist friend stated she does during her sessions, I simply asked her about her drawing.  “It’s me and you, Mommy.”

Now, I am not sure what a professional kids’ art interpreter would say this sketch means, to me it’s pretty clear.  Obviously that’s me on the left and a pretty accurate depiction if I say so myself.  Eyes so large they make half of my face, a skinny (stick-like) body and big ol jugs.  Then with her hand on like me, (as she usually is hanging, holding or laying on me somehow)  you can see her little body has wings since she is my little angel.  Her other hand in the drawing appears to be holding something and I am pretty sure I see a dollar sign, meaning this girl brings a wealth of happiness wherever she goes.

The use of only orange is a good indication she didn’t bother to remove the caps off any other markers.  And the random letters show how she loves to practice letters and is excited about words, though is stubborn about asking for help with spelling.  She chooses to write letters and hopes her random guessing will turn out something readable.

Who knows what her next art project with look like?  I think instead of figuring it out, I will just stand back and appreciate her uniqueness.

 

When Good Ideas Go Bad

Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen Big Hero 6 and don’t want to know tiny details of the story, do not read.  Be warned it may not be appropriate for younger audiences or maybe just not in place of a nap!?

We live just a few blocks from an AMC movie theater and pass by it on almost a daily basis, so, on almost a daily basis Parker suggests in the sweetest possible tone, with her held slightly tilted to the side and cheesy grin, “Mom, we could go to see a movie.”  She’s only been a few times; based on how she suddenly becomes a boss lady explaining where to wait in line, where to go and what to do, you’d think my four-year old is employed there.

Yesterday I beat her to the punch and surprised Parker with a mother/daughter day date to the movies.  Daddy may have felt a little left out, though, saving on his ticket, snacks and paying matinée prices equates to huge savings in theater dollars.  As we waited in line to buy tickets she reported we needed to go look at the posters on the wall to pick a movie, not understanding the movie had already been chosen.

Happy for the movie theater adventure.

Happy for the movie theater adventure.

“Big Hero, remember with the kid and the robot?” I reminded her. She and I had been watching previews for Big Hero 6 for weeks, always pointing out the scene where the kid packs the robot’s fluff into the armour and it all bursts back off.  Parker accepted, only slightly annoyed to not get to choose off the wall yet still happy to be at the movies.  Against my desire to be frugal, I bought her an overly priced snack pack.  A few puffs of popcorn, a small cup of lemonade and bag of fruit snacks (my fruit snack loving kid claimed “I don’t like these,” refusing to open the bag).  Parker played with the motorized leg rests, ate popcorn, giggled at previews and mumbled undistinguishable babble between them in order to hear me hush and reiterate we have to be quiet in the movie theater.

On my lap, still smiling before the movie.

On my lap, still smiling before the movie.

A soon as the lights went out she crawled over to my lap where she snuggled in for the remainder of the movie.  In hind-sight maybe I should have looked into what the movie plot was and made an informed decision about whether my spontaneous activity was an appropriate one.  Instead, there we were and there she witnessed the death of Hero’s brother.  And by witness, I mean in the Disney sense, where the character walks off and you know what happens without explicitly seeing it.  Even though I’m positive Parker has seen other shows where death has occurred it made me wonder if she understands it differently now?  If maybe the method of walking into a fire was more emotionally stimulating? I was slightly resentful considering she doesn’t even have a sibling to relate it to but when the death of parents occurred in Frozen she didn’t even blink…  Granted it was just built into a catchy little tune inviting the construction of happy winter creatures.

Parker tried to initiate a conversation in the silence of the movie theater to explain the scene, I did my best to validate the need to talk about it and told her we would have to wait until after the movie (also buying me time to come up with an explanation of premature death by fire in four-year old speak.)  She appeared to enjoy a lot of it chuckling at the silliness of the robot and then covering her eyes at scary parts.  Again, I know she has seen scary parts of movies.  Villains, witches and monsters are not foreign to this child, yet something about the bad guy in a nightmarish mask was more fear provoking than any she had seen before.

Near the end of the movie, whether from the lemonade sweetener wearing off, the fact we had overlapped would-be nap time with the movie, or the build-up of action and emotion, Parker was sobbing.  She reminded me of the women trying to hide their bawling in a full movie theater during opening night of the Notebook, trying to be quiet while fighting the urge to wail in agony.  The movie had broken her down and she could not take anymore, by the time I had filled my hands with our belongings to walk out the action was over, the rescue had occurred and the movie was wrapping up.  PJ had calmed down and thankfully re-tuned in to see the happy ending.

We walked out of the theater holding hands, tears still streaming as Parker remarked “I did not like that movie,” and I feeling less of myself as a mom for subjecting my child to the terror she suffered.  She couldn’t verbalize if it was because she was scared or sad and what it was that bothered her.  Later in the evening she spoke with Daddy about our outing to the movies.  It was funny to hear her recap of the plot and comment she didn’t like it but would see it again with Daddy.  “It was just out of control,” she told him.

Lesson learned… Impromptu trips to the movies have greater implications for young children, what is seen can’t be unseen, plan wisely.  I bet she stops asking me to take her to the movies, though.

Camping Cheers and Six Years

Camp Site“This is one of Mommy and Daddy’s favorite things to do.  We want to share it with you and have fun together.”  I explained to Parker as she completed round 2 of timeouts in the car.  She nodded and smiled, apologized for whining and fussing, and we returned to blissfulness at the picnic table.

Camping is one of our favorite past times and this was our practice run for Parker.  My husband figured it would be better to start with a day trip to a camp site and see how she managed.  Although, right away she began asking where is the tent and how are we going to sleep?  Her curious mind was satisfied with our explanations to only stay out a while and not all night, then she jumped right into collecting twigs for helping Daddy to start a fire.

For a four year old, who seems constantly stimulated by toys, puzzles, books, electronics, music etc.  It was quite an adjustment for her to create her own fun, to explore in nature and to sit still to watch the fire (for about 20 second intervals at a time).  In hindsight, I could have brought more toys to help her stay content.  After all, there are only so many times you can fill a hallowed acorn shell with water for the Frozen Anna doll before that gets old.  Or maybe it was just a perfect way to demonstrate to her, you don’t need “things” to have a good time with people you love.  During our camping adventure, Parker and I hiked in the woods.  Or On Our Adventure Hike Lake Clintonshould I say she waddled down to the lake and then clung to my back like a koala bear while I clawed my way back up the steep ravine.  She assisted Daddy with gathering supplies and cleaning up.  She observed other camp goers and commented on the super swanky RV’s, “Can we get one of those?” And of course, she devoured the always necessary camping dessert.  Except as soon as her s’more started falling apart and getting her fingers sticky, I had to be the holder while she took bites and then carefully wiped her fingers and lips back to unsticky perfection.

Smores Attack

It was a wonderful idea my husband initiated on a beautiful fall day.  The outing was a reminder of what we do together when we are having fun, being adventurous and working well together as a team.  On our sixth wedding anniversary, I am so thankful to continue to do the things we love to do together and to get to share this experience with our daughter.  Cheers to six years, to camping out, to cheese and crackers, to being more of the best and less of the rest, cheers to daily celebrations of happiness and to many more anniversaries (and campouts) in the future.

Camp Kiss

Daycare Nightmare to New School Padebure

“Mommy whatcha talken bout?” Parker inquired about the phone call I had just ended.  The closer we approach the age of three, the questions have tripled.  No matter how complete and thorough an answer might be it will always be followed with another ‘why’.  My latest tactic has been to return the questions to her and insist she tell me what she thinks.  Sometimes this is effective and sometimes it prompts her to change the subject.

“That was Mommy’s new boss, I’m going to start a new job.”  I began to explain expecting to have to expand a lot more on what this means.  It’s been almost three years since I have been employed at a full-time job, and I have appreciated getting to be home with Parker as much as possible.  It was a deeply personal choice for me to be there in the early years, to feel responsible for her development and to know she was protected before she could talk.  The idea of returning to work carries a lot of excitement for independence, professional building, and real regular adult conversation.  Of course with it comes the anxiety of change, of missing important moments, and of not getting to be present to have fun with her all day.

After a short pause, out came her reply without any question.  “Don’t leave me mom,”  She said with the raw honest emotion we both share.  I wanted to cave, say I agree, and retract my acceptance immediately.  My convincing her it would be fun to go to school, to meet new friends and it’d be okay to be away from Mommy helped to mask my nerves.

We found Parker a nationally accredited child care center in a location close to my parent’s house for the days my mom might need to pick her up.  During our tour of the facility Parker got to join in on watching a puppet show and demonstrated no concern about being with strangers or the classroom.  Still apprehensive about the life adjustments Parker and I were about the embrace, my husband and I felt confident in the choice to start her there the following week.

Prepared with a new Hello Kitty backpack, curly Qs in pony tails and excited about her first day of school we cracked the door to the Bumble Bee classroom.  An overwhelming aroma of left over processed food breakfast hit my nose just after the screaming from the child hanging off the assistant teacher’s leg stung my ears.  Kids were all over the room digging in papers, pulling things from cubbies, and dumping out toy bins.  If anything would have been hung from the ceiling I am sure there would have been kids climbing it.  Disturbed by the vision so starkly contrasted from our tour just days ago and not wanting to feed into my fears, we slipped in and followed the teacher to where Parker’s cubby would be to hang her things.  I knew Parker’s shock must have subsided quickly since she was off to the other side of the room to play before she even said goodbye.

I did, as most parents do when they drop their child off at a center for the first time, left the room and cried.

My husband and I both called to check in on her the first day.  He called the following three days as well.  Each time we were told everything is fine, she was getting along well, and each day seemed better than the previous.  My first day getting to pick up Parker I fully expected a running happy hug, instead the whole first week every time I walked in she stopped what she was doing and began to melt down.  It was as if the stress of the day had built up and she was crying from relief I was back for her.  Parker continued the sour emotional state through the evening too, she was not napping in her new environment so by the end of the day the screaming fits and mood swings were taking a toll on me.  This is temporary, she will adjust, I will adjust and it will be fine, other people do this all the time I kept being told.

After the first week there seemed to be improvements.  Parker did successfully sleep for 45 minutes one day.  She verbalized happiness to Daddy about returning to the center when he was dropping her off one morning.  And the meltdown greetings stopped, I was finally seeing a smiling, excited child at the end of the day.  For me, there never came a feeling of being adjusted or knowing it would be okay.  Because while some things were getting better, her first month in this new arrangement she grew increasingly defiant, wild and aggressive at home.  In addition, my newly potty trained child started having accidents twice a day.  At first I reasoned maybe some of this extra defiance was related to her age and we would just have to increase our structure and consistency at home.  Then when she turned to biting and pulling hair for not getting her way, I knew there had to be more going on.

One afternoon when I went to pick up Parker she happened to be on the playground with half of her class and one part-time teenage staff member who was minimally supervising the three-year olds.  Once she

On a weekend trip to Minnesota, PJ demonstrated the worst behavior in public she has ever had.  Trips are always hard with a lack of sleep, on this trip even a butterfly would make her cry.  A family brunch with 5 timeouts required made me want to cry too.

On a weekend trip to Minnesota, PJ demonstrated the worst behavior in public she has ever had. Trips are always hard with a lack of sleep, on this trip even a butterfly would make her cry. A family brunch with 5 timeouts required made me want to cry too.

finally noticed me standing there, she stood up from her hidden spot and greeted me.  I told her about Parker’s recent aggression at home and asked the employee about aggression taking place in her classroom.  It’s what I dreaded most about putting my daughter in a setting where I am not present, angered at the thought of anyone putting a hand on my daughter even if it is a peer.  The inexperienced employee gave me an honest and dissatisfactory answer, explaining if a child aggresses and leaves a mark on another child both parents will be notified.  The key phrase which said it all was when it leaves a mark, knowing staff at the facility will avoid an incident report if there is no physical evidence.  Just behind our conversation I had to point out the child crying who had just been hit on the head by another child, before taking my daughter’s hand to walk out.

It was incredibly difficult to return the next day with no back up option.  I didn’t know for sure if my daughter had been aggressed on by a peer at the child care center, I knew at minimum she was witnessing it and bringing it home.  My husband and others tried to reassure me by saying it happens everywhere and she will have to get used to it.  This was no reassurance to me, in my mind it is unacceptable to happen anywhere and if aggression does happen it needs to be addressed in a way which will deter the behavior from continuing.  For a child who has never witnessed violence, hadn’t been pushed or hit, the bullying Parker saw was impacting her a lot.  The obvious lack of structure and discipline in the room was also providing for negative learning opportunities.

Through word of mouth I began hearing the new agency I started with also operates a Montessori school offering half price tuition for employees.  With some concern about whether making a transition would be harmful for Parker and not wanting to base the decision entirely on cost, we decided to tour the Montessori School.  In Montessori Schools the learning is at your own pace so children engage in activities at their level and ages in classrooms are all integrated to provide for peer role models.  This school offers extracurricular activities like ballet, soccer and spanish.  The environment of the rooms are quiet and calm, the kids wear slippers and practice family style dining of passing the food and trying everything.  There is life skills learning, books being read and flowers in vases as centerpieces on their tiny tables.  My husband and I left the tour separately as he had to rush off to an appointment.  When he called later to say he wanted Parker to go there I had a secret celebratory dance.

We gave a thirty-day notice at the child care center, she only attended another week.  On her last day she didn’t come home with the Hello Kitty backpack or pillow, and calls to locate them were unsuccessful.  Parker got a one week break from school and childcare getting to play with Nana and even coming to work a few days with Mommy.  Her behavior began improving immediately and my cooperative, sweet child was returning.

Parker and I went to pick out a new backpack and hyped up her new school experience.  The morning of her first day she wavered between not wanting to go and being excited.  She told me she didn’t want to go because she can’t sleep, which is reasonable considering the chaos happening in her previous classroom.  We talked about the fun she will have making new friends and all of the things to learn and grow smarter.  By school time Parker marched in and joined her class without fear, and when I got to peak in the window later that morning she was smiling peacefully in a circle with her peers.

On her first day she even got to participate in the ballet class.  After school, I asked her what she learned in dance class.  Parker quickly reported “Had a good day Mommy.”  I tried to reiterate I was asking for what she did and she again responded “Had a good day.”  Stopping to give her my full attention and look at her directly I asked again.  “Had a good day.”  It sounded like she said…  Then I realized her frustration at my not understanding.  My little ballerina was telling me she learned a padebure.

Parker greets me with a smile everyday, she is taking naps, she is engaged with learning and she has not had an accident or tried to bite or pull hair since starting.  It will continue to be an adjustment for both of us after spending the last three years together, now we are finally on the right track.

merrygoround