Kindergarten

There was a day this past year that I had been waiting to pass since almost the day that my son H was born.  For Four solid years, I waited for the day of the big test, the test that would give us some finality.  A decision about whether H would go to Kindergarten.

I think it’s safe to say that Most parents start feeling a bit of angst when their child reaches the age of four.  Four is this big age – toddler-hood is over, preschool has begun and the day that school begins is imminent.  School.  It’s that big word that invokes in most people images of the school bus, little kids in backpacks, and some old fashioned RRR, mixed with creativity, and well – being Big.  It’s that last word – the Big word – that provides the parenthood angst.

Is she really Big enough?  Can he handle school?  Will he get lost in the crowd?  Will she listen to the teacher?  Will he make friends?  Really the question is – is my Kid really that Big?  Am I the parent of a little kid or a Big kid?  And really, How did This happen?

It’s safe to say that I remember most every day of H’s childhood.  I remember the crying, the kicking phase, the cuddling phase, the digger phase.  I remember the waking up in the middle of the night (phase, thankfully).  I remember the needing milk 24 hours a day (long) phase, the new to big-brotherhood phase, the spitting his food out after chewing it phase, the not wanting to wear shoes phase (still in that one).  And now we’ve reached the learning phase of H’s life.  I feel most everyone one of the days of every one of these phases, probably because I’ve had to go through them, every single one of them, with him.  Because first it was the being a mom of a kid who wanted milk 24 hours a day phase, and then the being the a mom of the new big-brotherhood phase, and being the mom of the kid who refuses to pick up his toys phase.  

So for what I had been anxiously waiting for Four solid years?   I knew at the age of four, we would finally have the option to test our little guy to see if he could go to school with all of his peers.  Born just seven days past the school deadline, H had always been a part of the crowd just months older than him, kids who were 5 by September 1.  I know that H was ready, and that I was ready.  I didn’t feel the angst of the parent wondering how we got there.  I KNOW how we got there.  And we were all ready to move on, more forward, move into the world of Big.  

H passed his big Test (that big scary day for which I had waited and waited and waited) with flying colors, and the sweet, friendly teacher who tested him laughed as we sat down on the ittybitty chairs to go over his “results”  – “Wow” she said “Your little guy is quite the sponge.”  Sponge he was, and sponge he is.

Backpack!

Sure, I haven’t 100% successfully moved into this next phase of motherhood.   Yep, while other moms and dads cried on the first day of school, anxious about how it all crept up on them, I rejoiced, smile, laughed with my little guy who jumped onto the bus like he had done it a thousand times (with one last quick security hug, of course).   Still, every once in awhile, I question whether he will be able to negotiate the often painful world of friendships (“mom, no one played with me on the playground today.  Everyone said no”).  I wonder if he’ll ever outgrow his inability to just jump up an and answer the question without raising his hand, or whether he’ll figure out how to properly spell all of the words on his “word wall.”

On the bus.

But every new phase brings new worries, new challenges, new fun.  I feel confident that we’ll figure it out.  Odd to say, but in the big checklist of life, excited to say – Toddler-hood?  Check!

– EC

Adventures in Bedtime

Lil’ Miss Red is funny, caring and lovable. She smiles, tells us silly statements and is a joy to be around. Except for bedtime. Then she’s the Girl Who Cries Wolf.

Her history of sleep has been, like most children, rocky. As an infant she was nocturnal and her wakeful period was from 7 p.m. until midnight or 1 a.m., when she would still get up one or two times during the night to eat and I had a 5:30 a.m. wakeup call to pump.

She started sleeping through the night, 75% of the time, when she was a little more than a year old. We had a nice routine and she’d happily talk to herself, sometimes for upwards of an hour, in her crib, with all of the lights out and the door closed. When she didn’t sleep through the night it was usually related to teething or sickness and within a week she’d be back to her usual pattern.

That was one year ago.

Now, at two, Lil’ Miss Red has a new plan. To get out of going to sleep. Enter her new tactics:

  • Throwing her pjs away. She has placed them in both the trashcan and her diaper genie.
  • Crying “help me.”
  • Crying “I have a poopy diaper.”
  • Crying “hey mama” or “hey dada” repeatedly.
  • New iterations of how far the door can be open. “Open the doorway” and “not dark” are new calls from the crib.

Any of the above combinations can go on for an hour. With an 8 p.m. bedtime, this means that she sometimes doesn’t fall asleep until 9, or even 9:30 p.m. A few weeks ago I went in after 9 and insisted that all of her friends were asleep. “Wake them up,” was her response.

Oh sure, we do the various tactics of getting ready for bed. No TV an hour before bedtime, reading books, giving her ample verbal announcements about changing clothes, offering her an option of who will sing her songs, letting her pick said songs as we rock her, etc.

Her stubbornness is starting to shift to naps, too. We’ve found that one of the ways she’ll at least go into her crib is by convincing her that everyone is “taking a rest.” We’ve even started singing a favorite song, courtesy of Sesame Street. The Caribbean back beat really helps.

Nearly two years ago I ended my maternity leave and I quipped that the key to work/life balance was sleep. Not much and a little of everything has changed since then.

– MD

What’s for dinner

I love to cook.  I find it relaxing, fulfilling, and exciting.  I love to put new flavors together, to start from scratch, to learn new things.  I love listening to onions sizzling in butter, turning our raw vegetables into healthy meals, and above all, I love eating the finished product.

I’m not a natural.  Any skill that I have has come from practice, from trial and error.  I once had a ill-conceived plan to go to culinary school, but thankfully it didn’t work out.  It would have been a disaster.

These days, I’m working harder than ever in the kitchen, and I’m struggling.  I want so badly to get dinner on the table so my little family of three can sit down and eat together.

I’m failing miserably.  

I think part of the problem is that I’m a closet food snob, and I’m simply not happy with just anything for dinner.  I’ve always prepped for dinner by pouring over cookbooks, considering what, exactly, it is that I would like to sit down and savor.  

Another problem is that we are a family that doesn’t eat meat at home.  We start with raw vegetables from our Community Supported Agriculture box, and buy very few processed foods.  These things can make conjuring up a quick and nutritionally complete meal difficult.  

My daughter comes home from daycare hungry.  She’s a picky eater.  She goes to bed early.  

And I only work three days a week!  How, exactly, do other families do it??

Some nights, I bite off more than any of us can chew, and preparing dinner takes forever.  We end up eating way after her bedtime, and by then, she’s too worked up, tired, and crabby to eat anything.  Some nights, she doesn’t want to touch what I’ve made and this, after a night of furious scrambling in the kitchen, makes me feel tired and crabby myself.

Other nights, I hear my daughter and husband laughing in the other room while I struggle to make a dinner that my girl won’t want to touch with a ten foot pole, and I wonder, “What’s the point?”  She’d be perfectly happy to sit down with some crackers and peanut butter – as long as they’re on her Elmo place mat.

Just like mom used to make. Credit: Nola Lopez for The New York Times

But the point is that I want to share good and nutritious food with my daughter.  I hate the idea of her eating convenience foods alone (of course, we’re sitting with her – but we’re not eating) while my husband and I enjoy a delicious and homemade dinner later.  I want to be a “family dinner” kind of family – with all the benefits that come along with that, especially in the years to come.  I want her to eat seasonally with us, to see the vegetables she picks out at our farm transformed into dinner on her plate.  I want to talk about our day and to laugh and make silly faces at each other as the sun sets on the workday.

Last night, I didn’t get dinner on the table before my daughter’s bedtime.  I made dinner for my husband and I after she went to bed.  But for the first time, I managed to think and work ahead.  Today, black bean soup is simmering in the crock pot, hot and ready for us when we arrive home.  

– ALW

Go With the Flow

Like many children of divorced parents, I had to be flexible growing up. Sure, things were mostly static, but there were rotating holidays, spending weekends in a different home, moving, things that were different and the same and the same at being different. I’d like to think that those experiences have made me a relatively go-with-the-flow kinda gal, but really, I’m just organized and can turn difficult situations into ok ones by comparing them to really bad scenarios. I’m not winning any Buddhist medals with that strategy, but hey, Buddhism doesn’t have any medals, right?

The result of my experiences is that Lil’ Miss Red has a pretty normal life. Sure, we change things up from time to time, but we mostly adhere to the “schedules are good” rule. That, combined with her current temperament of being somewhat stranger-shy, has led us to not really leave her in the company of others – family included – while she is awake. We go on dates when she has already fallen asleep, and when we need to go out earlier, call upon my sister or her Grandma to watch her. Still, she literally will turn a cold shoulder to her tia (aunt) and go on silent protest by not eating while we’re gone.

Despite this, my husband and I planned a trip to NYC. We had gone on separate trips before and twice together, but to say that it went well is kind of, well, um, putting it nicely. My parents and said tia gratefully watched Lil’ Miss on two vacations, but she spent them crying, lethargic, not eating, and just not having fun. For this vacation we asked Grandma to watch her and she agreed.

The preparations for a toddler staying at a separate residence are mind-boggling. I made check-lists and documents about her “general” daytime, including information about food, daycare, sleeping preferences and what she calls each milk cup. This was in addition to the updated emergency paperwork. I packed her clothes days before and labeled Ziploc baggies with the day she could wear them, including socks. I sorted, prepped and organized. It took hours. My husband took Lil’ Miss to Grandma’s to “get her room ready” – taking over items and having her see where she’d sleep. Grandma prepared extensive plans and was ready.

Then, the morning we were supposed to leave, our trip was canceled.

It’s a long story, but the flight was canceled and the options were horrendous, so we took the refund and changed the our plans.

I threw away the flight information and toddler documentation. We thought about what to do. We decided to drive to see family since we had the days off and needed to make the trip. We made it work. We went with the flow.

Midwest is best, yo.

Of course, Lil’ Miss had no idea of the change. After weeks of talking about sleeping at Grandma’s house, after countless conversations with Grandma about what to do even after the trip was canceled, after dozens of emails exchanged, she was unaware of the big change. We took the well-packed items, loaded them in the car and set off for Michigan.

As I sat in the back seat with Lil’ Miss, I thought of my countless trips between my parents’ homes – via car, plane, the Milwaukee-Madison “Divorce Bus,” and realized that going with the flow is something I’m still working on. Sure, we made it work, but not without enormous amounts of emotional energy on my end. What I realized was that I might have been a little more like Lil’ Miss in nature but circumstances necessitated that I go with the flow. What sometimes felt forced can now feel like an opening in my adulthood. It’s having options, choices, different roads to travel and a home to call my own.

– MD

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