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?

 

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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.

 

Santa Claus and Other Make Believe

We all looked to the sky and spotted the faint streams of red light as the chilled air blushed our cheeks.  “It’s Santa flying away in his sleigh,” one of the girls declared and the others chimed in with their own declaration they saw it too.  The excitement was contagious even with the suspicions the jolly fellow may have been an uncle dressed in the traditional fluffy suit.

My childhood best friend’s birthday fell in December, naturally there seemed to always be a Christmas theme.  After the holiday ornament making and cake tasting, Santa Claus arrived to deliver candy canes and listen to each girl’s present requests.  Once Santa left the house there became an urgency to determine his authenticity and spy on him, five and six-year-old girls in party dresses and ribbons, raced down the steps and out the front door to the driveway.  Half expecting to see a middle-aged man ripping off a beard getting into a beat-up old Chevy, I was utterly confused by the lights in the sky and reaction from the spectators.

In my home there was no truth to Santa Claus, he was as fictional as The Cat In The Hat.  Don’t get me wrong, we still had Christmas.  The “magic” of Christmas came in the form of everything else; cookies, cocoa, lights, snowman making, present wrapping, singing carols, holiday crafts, tree decorating, holiday greetings in the mail and being together with family.  We all loved the Christmas season without the belief of a mystical man breaking in through the chimney to fill our stockings and snack on our cookies.  It wasn’t because Mom and Dad felt a burning desire to secure our safety and avoid stranger danger, for fear we would habitually approach old men in white beards.  And it wasn’t with the mentality to make sure we knew they worked hard to provide instead of giving credit to this imaginary creature.  My parents, especially my dad, made the decision not to fuel the story of Saint Nicholas in the spirit of honesty.  They simply didn’t want to lie to us.

Their intentions were in a good place, except every other pupil in my early elementary school class did have parents who made them believe in Santa Claus.  Kids behaved because parents had warned not to get on the naughty list.  The man, the myth was reality for my classmates and I my naïve mind could not comprehend how it was true for them and not for me.  I began thinking Santa must be visiting everyone else’s house but mine.  It didn’t make any sense when my reality didn’t match those around me.  When my curiosity about this discrepancy reached a bursting point I took my concerns to my parents.  My dad, the always logical man, attempted to reason the explanation beyond what I could comprehend at the time.  He asked me to question how it could even be possible for a single person to travel to every home around the world in one day.  Still trying to conform my thoughts to the popular opinion of my classmates, I tried to justify it and sometimes tried to believe in Santa Claus even if just to fit in.

At varying points of age, all children learn the truth of Santa Claus and only then do they notice the signs were everywhere all along.  My disorientation from reality was relieved when fellow students and friends gained their own insight.  Truth isn’t always an easy adjustment to make, I know for many kids it was nights of crying themselves to sleep to know their beliefs were a lie.  I suspect too, each of those kids assimilated to finding a new happiness in the Christmas season.

When looking back on my early childhood conflict between what I knew to be true and what my peers saw as real, I now know the word for it.  Cognitive dissonance is the term to label the feeling of stress when two contradictory beliefs are co-occuring.  It is a theory which has long been studied in psychology to recognize the emotional discomfort humans experience when facts counter beliefs.  The parallel to my Santa experience and today’s American culture is tragically obvious.  While Santa Claus is no longer part of the belief, many Americans do hold true to a context of society which is not reality based and does not align with the facts.  Except it’s not parents telling us how to think, and it’s not Santa Claus we are told to believe in.  Citizens respect and accept the framework created by mass media, many place full trust in getting an accurate story about the most relevant news stories.  Dedicated viewers, intending to be well-informed, are guided how to think based on what is shown and more importantly what is omitted.  Most American’s don’t question their disillusion since it correlates with the popular opinion (much like I did with my classmates), even when confronted with details not supported in the “official” story.  The believers see America as being free and equal, they believe the American Dream is real and everyone has the same fair opportunity to achieve it.  I’d like to share this as a reality, except unlike my confusion about Santa, I can see through the present fiction.

In the last few weeks I have been absorbed with the turmoil in our country; viewing news programs, livestreams, monitoring social media and reading articles.  It’s been thrilling to watch the response of countless people demonstrating their frustration with the justice system, with racial disparity and with police militarization.  The variety of people aware and being active ranges to include all ages, religions, ethnicities and socio-economic status.  People who know and recognize the devastating effects felt from inequality and invasion of rights.  Across the country people have taken to social media to express their frustration, walked out of work and school in unison across the nation, held their hands up to political figures, boycotted Black Friday and taken to the streets.  Highways, bridges, train stations, malls and major intersections have been shut down by marches, attempting to bring attention to those distracted by the illusion of justice being served.

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The activists across the country have overall been peaceful, despite the attention being placed on rioting and fires, coincidently a great focal point for the news to reinforce fear.  Watching these demonstrations happenings in every major city, some erupting spontaneously, typically with few arrests and no violence inspires my hope for progress.  My optimism rapidly deflates when I hear the media influenced comments like “He deserved it,” or “They’re just burning up their own neighborhoods with those riots,” the ignorant statements like “There’s not really racial disparity,” or “I haven’t heard about what’s happening,” and the actively avoiding “I have better things to worry about,” or “I’m sick of hearing about…”

Now the number of believers inconvenienced by protests are growing rapidly, their cognitive dissonance escalating too.  It is impossible to ignore the passion and effort people have for a cause when they take to the streets facing ridicule and risking arrest to voice the societal emergency being ignored.  Believers have to confront the idea of some truth to this if so many people are screaming to pay attention.  Believers begin feeling more and more uncomfortable when faced with facts opposed to their American truth.

Slave LaborThey defend their belief’s against statistics spelling out the value of profit over people in the prison system, the undeniable fact America has 5% of the world’s population and incarcerated 25% of the world’s prison population.  They find ways to justify how black men are arrested at least 2 to 5 times more frequently than white men for drug charges despite similar rates of use.  Believers ignore the fact 1 in 15 black men are behind bars, equating to more locked up and on parole in our country today than were slaves in 1850.  Believers have never had to experience trying to get a job after jail or had their rights to vote removed.  And they fail to connect poor education, fatherless children, and minimum wage positions which don’t support the cost of living with being ways to prevent criminal activity.  Instead believers blame the oppressed class and label them as lazy leaches of the system, denying the truth the system was created to do exactly this.  Americans are left squabbling about who is to blame while corporate America runs off with the profits and stay protected by the government.  For believer’s maintaining their comfortable life, they are aware of bailouts and corporate tax exceptions, yet they hang onto the idea if you work hard you are rewarded.

Believers find ways to excuse criminal acts by police officers often blasting the inherent worth of the victim as a person, forgetting we all make mistakes and ignoring accountability for the murder completely.  Even in the case of Eric Garner where the technique used was banned, it was determined a homicide and the whole incident was caught on video.  “Every time you see me, you want to mess with me.  I’m tired of it.  It stops today,” Garner said before being choked to death.  He was unarmed and committed no crime when he was accosted by the police.  He resisted, like Rosa Parks, tired of being black in America.

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Comply with the police – IT’S THE LAW!!

Believers say comply with police, it’s the law, except they don’t live the reality of being harassed.  They don’t know the experience of being targeted simply based on appearance.  #crimingwhilewhite and #alivewhileblack were two trends on Twitter this month.  Hilariously tragic when confronted by thousands of tweets illustrating how white Americans have literally gotten away with crimes or had minimal consequences, while black Americans are targeted by police on a regular basis doing nothing wrong.  One might say “You can’t believe everything on the internet, people can just make up things on Twitter.”  True yes, and still of the thousands of messages to consider this trend just imagined is complete denial of the problem.  Judgements on each side of the argument are defeating, not all police officers are bad, not all black people are criminals and not all white people are racist.

The marches happening in cities across the country are both inspiring and worrisome to me.  Thousands of brave individuals have banded together to draw more attention to the average American believer, and they are met with armies of officers intending to absorb any positive effect created.  The police force is frightening with tanks, riot gear, rubber bullets, tear gas and other military crowd control weapons like LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device/sound canon.)  Believers see the militarized police force as crucial for safety, since they have been conditioned to fear people and want to maintain their comfortable routines.  They cannot imagine the dedication to a cause it takes to gather peacefully and have to face this

Boston Police State April 19, 2013

Boston Police State April 19, 2013

violent army.  Isn’t it astonishing how there are budget cuts in every government service to help people, yet there always seems to be money for war or to spend on police equipment when anticipating a protest?  Believers would prefer tanks down their streets and swat teams surrounding their homes to provide the illusion of safety.  I wonder how residents of Boston felt, in April 2013, when they were removed from their homes at gunpoint in the hunt for a teenager?

Trying to communicate rationally and educate about facts is often met with justifying the need to fear people, the need to place blame and the need to continue the militarized police strength.  Americans blindly give faith in their government officials to fix it.  They are convinced their values have to fit in either red or blue, conservative or liberal and stand by their identity.  Separation tolerated more blame and ignites arguments.  Being a non-believer, I cannot comprehend how 2 opinions fairly encompasses the views and needs of over 300,000,000 people.  Especially when those in power on both sides, are serving corporations and promoting the rich to get richer.  Americans feel the cognitive dissonance, wanting to pretend everything is fine, we are free and our democracy works; also recognizing the status quo cannot sustain us.  Constitutional rights and human rights are being violated in an effort to support a broken system.  The problem with admitting the belief is over and it’s time for a change evokes fear.  How do we give up how things are without knowing what is to come?

I know there is happiness in Christmas after Santa Claus.  I also know the believer’s reality where the police are given the power to use against people is a scary future for everyone.  The people don’t have to agree on how America will look in the years to come, there just has to be a united agreement this has to change.

police seattle group-of-policemen-wih-shields-and-weapons-in-street ferguson-missouri-9SWAT Robot

 

 

The Vacuum of Vacuums

I wish I were talking about the greatest vacuum in the world, the most reliable engineered home-cleaning system.  Sadly, I’m talking about my home literally sucking the life out of vacuum cleaners.

The day we brought my daughter home from the hospital my husband went to purchase a new vacuum cleaner.  Funny to think I remember it so clearly, maybe it was because he felt the urgency for a momentary escape from the emotional magnitude of bringing home a baby.  Maybe it was feeling like we needed an exceptionally clean start for the new precious being.  Or maybe it was an errand he could contribute because this new tiny creature was infinitely latched to my boobs.

I can’t even think of what we had been using prior to the new vacuum, probably a hand-me-down appliance like most others throughout our home.  I do know, the purchase began our spiral of irreparable cleaning apparatuses.  Thankfully, since the purchase was made at Costco we have been able to lug in our dusty useless equipment, no box and no receipt and walk out with a fresh start.  Over the years we have seen the same model in a variety of colors and minimal improvements, at no cost except the gas and time it takes to make the transaction.  In the last four years we have had a revolving door of vacuums making this exchange at least once and sometimes twice per year.

One might think a consumer is being too hard on the vacuum, how could it really break that often?  Our square footage of carpet isn’t even too great in our little home, a few rugs, two carpeted bedrooms and one living space.  Regular usage to rid our home of shed dog hair, kid messes and typical traffic, I don’t think it’s more than an average home.  And I certainly haven’t dropped it down the stairs, thrown objects at it or beaten it in any way – at least thoughts of raging on the machines don’t cause physical harm. vacuum5 People say things aren’t made like they used to be and claim the investment is worth it for a machine from the door to door variety.  Then again, I’d hate to think of my home sucking the life out of antique or ultra expensive vacuum, a risk I’m not willing to take as long as they keep taking broken ones at Costco.

Still, it doesn’t take long in our home to go from “just out of the box” condition to slowly loosing it’s suction.  A vacuuming job quickly ends up sucking time out of my day to take bits of it apart, cleaning it and cutting out threads and hairs trying to get back to working condition.  When a recent exchange failed in less than three months, I borrowed a spare vacuum my mom had in her home.  All I could do was laugh when the whole upper half of the machine came off with the mere pull of the handle, of course in my home the Vacuum of Vacuums.

And last week I had the time to do one of my favorite floor cleaning rituals… Steam cleaning rugs.  I poured the appropriate measurements of solution and water into the machine, plenty of which made it evenly dispersed onto the rugs.  Very little of it ended up suctioned back into the steam cleaner, and it was only its second use.  Out of the time it took me to steam clean the rugs, most it was sucked into squatting on the floor trying to find out why it wasn’t sucking.

Yesterday I made the official return to Costco (again) and this time opted to upgrade to the more expensive model vacuum.  I’ll try to stay optimistic and believe it will become my faithful tool, my companion for cleaning for decades.  Let’s hope the shark will not fall victim to the Vacuum of Vacuums or our only choice will be to move to a home with no carpet.

clean-house

 

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.

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The Ants Go Marching

suttaMy Basics of Buddhism class finished last week at the Rime Buddhist Center in Kansas City.  I’d highly recommend taking the course if you are interested in becoming Buddhist, are spiritually/religiously curious, or just need an excuse to commit to get out of the house once a week for twelve weeks – which all three was the case for me.

Since learning the basics, I recognize my thinking about life and relationships matches well with Buddhism.  I know my Buddha-nature is begging to come with the combination of cultivating wisdom and generating loving compassion.  Ultimately meditation is critical and needs to be part of my life as much as food.

Yet, while I agree with so many of the Buddhist philosophies I cannot call myself Buddhist and cannot accept all of the vows.  As part of the vows taken by a wanna-be Buddhist, Eight Mahayana Precepts are agreed upon.  The first precept is not killing and this is a no brainer when it comes to humans, and even most animals for this vegetarian.  Except in the Buddhist tradition not killing includes all sentient beings, from the largest whale to the smallest maggot.  According to the teachings, one-act of killing can carry 500 lifetimes of karmic retribution.

I learned about these vows several weeks back and they were steady on my mind while I was out raking one day.  The spring weather was finally getting warm consistently so I knew the conditions were finally right for the garter snakes to be emerging.  The snake population in my neighborhood is so high it could fill a hundred reptile centers and still have snakes left roaming.  I have wanted them gone since the first sighting.  After four years of living in my home the surprise in seeing them slinking around the grass, sunning on the bushes, and climbing up my fire pit chimney has worn off.  I no longer get the chills or feel the need to run screaming, okay maybe I do get the chills and stay at least five feet away.  On this day out in the yard I pondered how a Buddhist would view the snake problem, accept them as part of nature and not be ill willed towards them?  Sure enough, when my raking was nearly done I turned back towards what I had already cleared to see a garter snake freshly risen from his winter estate.

Feeling as if this was a test I had predicted for myself, I gave the snake a half-smile and decided it would be Buddha-like enough to help him move out of my raking path to the other side of the fence.  I gently used my rake to encourage him to the fence line where he briskly slithered through the chain-link.  Pleased with my acceptance of nature and assistance

The actual snake from my yard, picture taken from a safe distance away by camera phone.

The actual snake from my yard, picture taken from a safe distance away by camera phone.

towards my not so favorite creature I went on with my chore until I heard some rustling in the area I had sent the snake. What a miracle it would be if another animal had found the snake to make a meal out of.  It would still mean good karma for me since I helped him with good intention, I figured as I made my way to the fence to check.

Peaking over, it was clear my original prediction was far from true.  I had helped the snake move directly into the path of another snake waiting and ready to mate.  My practice at being more Buddha-like was resulting in snake babies.  Challenged and not defeated by the incident with the snake, I continued to try to make efforts in my daily life to consider what would a Buddhist do?  And the challenges grew from an abundance of hated snakes to hundreds of seemingly insignificant ants.  I first spotted one ant on my kitchen floor.  Then a few ants on the floor.  Then an ant on my kitchen counter and two in my bathroom.

In the Buddhist tradition, each living creature has a connection to you and through the cycle of death and rebirth each living creature has shared a past life.  Meaning the ants, the snakes and my least favorite people in the world have all been my mother and have all been your mother in a past life.  This newly learned belief was present on my mind while I wiped them clean off the counter and rinsed them down the sink, feeling slightly more guilty about a few deaths in the insect world.

I tried to keep my killing to a minimum, except this past weekend I couldn’t take it any longer.  The ants must have sensed my trepidation and had infiltrated my kitchen, marching in one long line up my dining room wall and along a floorboard.  All apprehension of killing living beings and any thought to the ants being my loved ones was lost in the excitement of wanting them all dead.  I excessively laid out poison and gleefully spoke to my tiny relatives – “Drink up guys and bring your friends.”

Buddhist, I am not.  And if I am reincarnated into an ant for my karmic retribution, I promise to stay out of your kitchen.

Other Posts Reflecting My Experience in the Class:

Don’t Change Your Smile

smileSometimes the world can be overwhelming with tears, fears and frustrations.  War, controversy, politics, violence, injustice and natural disasters all happening simultaneously.

Consuming so much negativity is detrimental to our minds, bodies and relationships with each other.  The terror of all that is bad can be paralyzing, and yet in the time spent worrying we miss so many opportunities to smile, appreciate the positive and truly live.

It is a difficult balance to not be apathetic about problems, while not allowing the problems to consume us.  How can we work to improve the world without the circumstances of the world delivering us to a rotten place?

It starts with keeping a smile.

 

Options with Social Media

Social media has become an inspiring platform for communication.  Sharing ideas, news, opinions, supportive words and all the random humor you never knew you needed.  People who engage in social media whether it’s Facebook, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Twitter or blogging are instantly empowered to persuade others.  The power in this is phenomenal, no more do we have to rely on mass media to report a story through their carefully prepared lens, when it’s being tweeted live or video footage streaming on YouTube.  Of course discretion is necessary too, the cliché yet true statement of “you can’t believe everything you read on the internet,” is valid.  People can use lies and deceit to influence others, we know this happens on and off the internet.

There are no limits to the tools social media can provide in advancing our society, improving awareness and protecting each other around the world.  There are no limits, except the ones we put on ourselves and each other.

In the last few weeks I have noticed an increasing number of friends and family who have voiced complaints about what others have shared on mass media.  “Oh my God, she posts so many baby pics it makes me sick.”  “I can’t stand all of the religious crap people share, if I wanted to hear it I would go to church.”  “I don’t get on Facebook for political arguments, I just want to catch up with family and friends.”  And the statements could go on and on…

You have choices when it comes to social media, what are you going to do?

Suffer

We are confronted with things we are irritated by on a daily basis, you can let yourself suffer by what you read from your crazy conservative college buddy, or what your boyfriend’s cousin thinks of animal welfare?  Suffering is always an option.  You can stew about it, let it put you in a foul mood and begin to question humanity wondering for hours about how someone could be so ignorant.  You might even try to influence their point of view by initiating an argument, which almost always reinforces the person’s initial perspective and puts them in a position to like you less.

Change It

If what someone says is bothersome to you, what you see is repulsive or the information conflicts with every ounce of your ethics maybe it’s time to take measures to spare your sanity. 

  • Cut ties.  Maybe it’s time to disassociate from some connections you have on social media.  It’s not necessary to continue to maintain online relationships with every individual you have ever met.  It’s acceptable to detach from your friend’s ex-girlfriend, the guy from high school you didn’t really like then either, or the co-worker who was laid off three years ago.
  • Block it.  If there are some people you want to maintain connection to online and can’t get over what they have to share, consider blocking their posts.  This can be especially helpful for the friend you are close to who is always negative about everything, over sharing their personal life or constantly reporting daily physical ailments you know is more related to them being a negative person than to real illness.
  • Influence opinions.  Instigating an argument is easy to do online, people can be openly vicious and cruel without fear of bodily harm.  However, no one is likely to respond positively and be persuaded to accept another view with “You’re wrong moron.”  If you really desire to change someone’s perspective and help them to grow to another point of view, the best means to influencing change is through validation.  Finding whatever may be true in their statement and letting them know you heard/saw/understand their perspective.  “It would be scary to have a three-headed monster living next door thinking they are cannibals.(validation)  Did you know 99% of three-headed monsters are vegetarian and the other 1% only eat glow worms.(influencing change)”

Acceptance

The final option you have when it comes to coping with social media posts is to accept you cannot control how other people think, what is important to them and how they want to share their opinions.  If you don’t like what someone has to say, keep scrolling. 

And if there are posts you are seeing which are upsetting to you, it could mean you need to do some self exploration.  Find out what is upsetting about it, why are you bothered and is there knowledge you need to gain to settle the discomfort.  In some instances, suffering leads to knowledge, activism and social change necessary to improve our world.  Would Martin Luther King Jr. or Mother Teresa be posting pictures of kittens if they were alive today?

SocMed Activisim

Our Country in Crisis

dalailamaAt a time our country is in crisis, another city stricken with terror and fear, I thought this quote stood out as a reminder not to take action from a place of fear and anger.  What happened in Boston is tragic and it’s effect will continue to ripple through our society shaping our view of safety, causing us to feel insecure and allowing us a false justification to judge others.

We cannot make determinations about individuals by looking at them.  We cannot view ourselves as better than, above or more noble than anyone else we encounter.  We cannot understand anyone else’s actions, connections, opinions or beliefs.  We cannot allow our fear and anger of situations we see publicized dictate how we engage with each other and with the world.

The very best message I saw on television following the bombing at the Boston Marathon was a short clip from a late night TV news broadcaster I had never seen before.  When I heard his comments it was the reminder I was meant to hear and something I wish all Americans could have seen.  Following 9/11, many American’s condoned torture as revenge for the killing, injuring and terrorizing we all felt on that day.  Except 12 years later we can reflect on the torture which was carried out, the lack of insight gained from it and the knowledge that many tortured were simply as innocent as the Americans caught in the towers.  Out of fear and anger unthinkable actions were allowed to carry on in the sake of maintaining our safety and capturing “evil-doers”.  This time we must learn from our mistakes.  We have to rise above the devastating emotions and act with compassion or we will be turning our terror into terrorism.

Please watch this clip from Chris Hayes and spread the word. (here)

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Sentimentally Adorable

prairieback“Dressing her in ‘Little House on the Prairie’ again?” my husband remarked at the sight of our daughter dressed on Easter morning.  Without clear intention to find this dress I stumbled upon it the night before in a box my mom had given to me.  The box contains my three decade old baby book, a kindergarten t-shirt, a hideous beaded shirt friends signed at my 9th birthday party, and countless school and girl scout projects.  The real treasures of the time capsule are the clothes my mom made for me when I was little including a lavender dress with white smocked pinafore.  It may be slightly home on the prairie, still it is too sentimentally adorable not to have my daughter wear it too.

We had a family celebration on Saturday at my parent’s house where Parker wore a new, very cute, brightly colored, springy dress.  Then Sunday our plan was to go back again for dinner with more family.  Despite there being plenty of dresses to choose from in her closet; I opted to take it back to 1986 or 1886 depending on how you look at it.  I knew no one else cared what she looked like on Easter and my mom would appreciate and love it.

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Finally with spring weather arriving we were able to play out in the yard on Sunday morning.  Her Easter basket from Nana contained some fun outdoor activities like bubbles and chalk.  Parker also got her first glimpse of flying a kite, though with trees and power lines constricting the yard it wasn’t as entertaining as I remember from my childhood.    She was delighted watching me run back and forth across the yard to get it up a few feet, and when it was her turn she was thoroughly disappointed when she didn’t get the same result.  Perhaps another try in a park or open prairie would be worthwhile.

prairiekite

prairie1

           Out of curiosity…

                 Would you dress up your child in

                            something you wore at their age?