Teachers Are People, Too

I don’t participate in a lot of groups on Facebook.

I think I may still be a member of a couple of Facebook parenting groups, but those are holdovers from when the Bug was younger.

So I’ve missed a lot of the crazy s**t that’s apparently been going down on some of these groups.

Attacking Schools

Earlier in the summer, when our county was offering the choice between hybrid and 100% distance learning options, some parents were unhappy.

There were angry outbursts from all quarters. Those who thought all kids should go back to school.

Those who thought sending children back to school was tantamount to reckless endangerment.

Attacking Teachers

But the ugliest comments that surfaced were directed at teachers themselves.

In the midst of a pandemic, a lot of teachers were (understandably) concerned for their personal safety, and the safety of their students, and by extension their families.

Some teachers wanted to get back into the classroom, while others with preexisting conditions or family members with underlying health issues wanted to stay home.

Cue the outrage.

A Sense of Entitlement

Apparently, some of these parents felt entitled to have their children in school because they pay their taxes.

Others attacked teachers, calling them lazy and saying their unions were too strong and that they were just out to protect themselves.

(Well, yeah, because no one else is, apparently.)

The vitriol these people spewed was ugly and hurtful, and a lot of it just plain wrong.

How Do Teachers Feel?

I can’t speak to my son’s teacher, but I know how my neighbor feels.

One of our neighbors is a teaching assistant for special needs children in the public schools. The challenges she and her colleagues face are enormous.

Yesterday, she expressed to me just how hurtful and saddening many of the comments she saw hurled at her and her colleagues were.

She told me that all these teachers who are now teaching remotely are doing so with limited support and resources.

Also, due to budget cuts, they are not getting any pay raise, not even the normal adjustment for inflation and cost of living.

So the people who are responsible for our children’s education are working under circumstances that many of us would deem unacceptable and intolerable.

Give the Teachers In Your Life Some Love

So let’s counteract the hate! Let’s push back against the vitriol!

But instead of engaging in a shouting match over social media with the entitled, angry parents, let’s give things a positive spin.

Write to your kid’s teachers and tell them what you think they’re doing well. Give them a pat on the back, and thank them.

Our son’s teacher is not only teaching kindergarteners online (a huge challenge already), but she also has her own elementary school-aged kids at home!

In my books, this woman is as saintly as they come.

Encourage A Teacher Day!

Since it can’t be “Hug a Teacher” day, let’s have it be “Encourage a Teacher” day.

And not just teachers! School counsellors! Administrators! Your school’s IT person could probably use a virtual pat on the back right now.

Let’s give them some extra love and appreciation! Because as hard as it is for us parents, it’s gotta be just as hard for the teachers (and harder for teachers who also happen to be parents).

God bless them, every one.

First Week Roundup

We survived our first week of distance learning! Now on to our second!

Our Bug is still alive and well. I’m still alive and well and (relatively) sane. Chico is alive and well and still has a job. The Bear is also alive and well, though I have to admit that I nearly forgot to go pick him up from preschool a couple of times. (Don’t judge me, I was in the middle of facilitating online learning for the Bug!)

Here Are a Few Thoughts:

It’s a lot of screen time.

The Bug logs on at 8:00 and has 30 minutes of synchronous morning meeting.

They all get a 15 minute break, and then they’re back on, doing different subjects and activities.

Their teacher gives them plenty of breaks in between activities, so they’re not sitting in front of the screen the whole time. But they’re connected on and off from 8am to 10:30, and then again from 11:30 until 1pm.

This second week, they’ll have to be on even longer. It may get more difficult to keep him interested and focused.

Our Bug has incredible focus.

The kiddo listens, pays attention, and participates. He also is very independent and can get the materials, folders and pages he needs (as long as he knows where they are).

This is a great relief to his parents, so that while we still have to be listening in with one ear, we can be working in the next room and only checking in when needed.

Facilitating is NOT the same as home schooling.

Several families I know have withdrawn their kindergarteners from the public schools to do home schooling instead.

I can totally understand this choice: this much screen time is NOT ideal, and for kids with less capacity for focus and paying attention, it is not sustainable.

Also, children with attention deficit problems or those who simply aren’t used to screens will not enjoy this format.

However, as long as our Bug is managing and we can help to keep him engaged, we’ll stick with it, for two reasons:

  1. His teacher is AMAZING. Have I sung her praises loudly enough? Because she’s awesome.
  2. The fact that someone else is preparing all the materials and I am simply facilitating is A HUGE HELP.

Though I am a teacher, I have only ever taught English to adults. That is NOT the same as teaching kindergarten.

I am no expert in developing age-appropriate content, and it is not what I enjoy or am good at.

I’m good at reading with our Bug, which has already proved helpful in those break times. But preparing or designing activities in math, motor skills, etc., is simply not my forte.

Despite being connected, it’s still a bit isolating.

While the teachers are doing a lot of presenting, and they make an effort to engage the kids, there is no interaction between the students.

Though the Bug can see his classmates, and he’s getting familiar with their faces, the children are not getting to know each other at all.

So Far, So Good

Hopefully this is temporary, but as long as it goes pretty much as well as the first week, we’ll be alright.

I know the novelty will wear off for the Bug and we may struggle to get him engaged, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

For any other parents facilitating distance learning out there, we’re in this together! We’re doing great, and we will get past this.

Have a good second week!

Change of Plans

We’re on Day 3 of distance learning of kindergarten, and I have realized several things:

  1. Our son has incredible focus and does amazingly well participating in class over the computer.
  2. We are EXTREMELY LUCKY that this is the case, because man! This is not easy.
  3. Despite his patience and being engaged, an out-of-home distance learning program is NOT for us.

Now Don’t be Judging

Yes, we had originally planned to put the Bug into a distance learning program.

He and the Bear have actually been back at their preschool since July. We decided that after months of being at home, that they were simply too miserable.

They’ve been going half days, and it’s been like night and day. They are so happy, energized and glad to be surrounded by their peers.

Their groups have been small, and their teachers are all masked. We’ve been very happy with their school’s policies and its cleanliness.

Seeing how happy they were to be with peers, we thought it would be best to enrol the Bug in a distance learning program.

That way, while he was doing school online, at least he would be surrounded by peers and would be able to interact with other kids.

Turns out that’s not really how distance learning support programs work.

Why They’re a Life Saver

First off I should say that these distance learning programs offered by community centers, daycare centers, churches and sports centers are definitely a life saver for working parents.

We know many households of two working parents, and the expectations for distance learning, even for kindergarteners, are quite high.

For kids to be in a place where they are safe, taken care of, and monitors are helping them is very important.

However, we found some issues with the out-of-home distance learning program we tried.

Why It Wasn’t For Us

The Bug was to go to our local sports center, which is part of our homeowner’s association. He knows the place, though the people were new to him.

I had every confidence that the director and monitors would do their very best. Their normal job is to run after school programs, so while facilitating distance learning is new for them, they’re seasoned professionals when it comes to working with kids.

The main issue we encountered was one that I don’t know any distance learning program could solve.

There were eleven children of all elementary school ages in the program. Our Bug was one of only two kindergarteners. The other kindergartener is doing DL from a different school. So while their schedules were similar, they were not the same.

Each kid was plugged into their computer with headphones, joining into their DL classes. I think there were only two kids who were in the same DL class.

The issue is, that even though the monitors and facilitators have the kids’ schedules, within the class periods on their schedule, the teachers have the kids take short breaks.

Especially for kindergarten kids, they’re only doing face-to-face blocks of about 15-20 minutes. Then they get a 15 or 20 minute break before coming back. But if the kids are on their headphones, how are the monitors to know it’s break time? How are they to know what instructions the teachers have given the kids?

Our Bug is a smart cookie, but he couldn’t always remember exactly what his teacher said about what he had to do next.

The result was that he ended up spending most of the day sitting in front of his screen with his headphones on. When he did have an official break in his schedule, he looked around to find that he was the only kid on break right then.

So essentially, while surrounded by other people and kids, he was still alone. It was very isolating for him.

(I should note that had we decided to keep him there, he would have been just fine. But my gut told me that he wouldn’t thrive.)

And So We’re Home

I’m set up in the next room, writing or studying, and I have one ear trained on what’s going on in the Bug’s class.

Whenever it’s break time, he knows how to turn off his camera and either plays happily in his room, or comes to find me and we have a break together.

Because I’ve heard his teacher’s instructions, I know when to get him settled and ready to start class again.

It’s going to be hard. I’m going to feel like I can’t get anything done, and there will be ups and downs.

We may also have to find another outlet for him to interact with other kids. Perhaps soccer, tennis, or something like that.

For now, though, we’ll take one day at a time.

As For the Other One…

The Bear is still going to preschool every week day. He’s completely mad for his teacher and doesn’t want to leave school when I go pick him up.

As I said, we’re taking one day at a time, and if for any reason we don’t feel comfortable, we’ll keep both boys at home and somehow make it work.

For all those who are at home with their kids and are juggling work, my hat is off to you. You are superheroes. Remember:

This, too, shall pass.

Won’t it?

Day One Done

WHEW.

Well that’s done! I cannot describe my feelings of relief. I was so anxious about today, about how it would go…

I should have had a bit more faith in our Bug. He was amazing.

Laser Focused

He was so intent on his teacher, on the class, on the materials… He was 100% into it.

He told me three times today how much he likes school, and although I was in the next room and heard everything that happened in class, he happily told me all that they had done together.

He was so enthusiastic. He loved every minute of it.

And now I’m paralyzed with anxiety, wondering if he will continue to be so happy.

One day at a time, Jane.

In Other News…

Having a kindergartener who knows how to read can be damned inconvenient.

Here’s today’s paper:

Below the fold in the Washington Post

The Bug looked at the paper, sitting on the dining room table. He read the headline and the subtitle, turned to me and said,

“Mama, why wouldn’t he expect to meet his children? What’s a sperm donor? And why aren’t they wearing masks?”

The last question I answered by saying, “They’re all family, so they don’t have to wear masks together.”

The other two I glossed over by saying awkwardly, “Well, he helped 19 people have children but he didn’t think he’d ever meet them. HEY! I have an idea! Let’s finish the last couple chapters of The Last Battle!”

Thankfully, the Bug is sufficiently into The Chronicles of Narnia that my distraction tactic worked.

I silently wiped the sweat from my brow, congratulating myself for narrowly escaping having to explain sperm, sperm donation, how babies are made, genetic testing, geneology and so much more.

Not a conversation I’m ready to have with our five-year-old.

First Day of School Jitters

Tomorrow is the first day of school!

Tomorrow, our big guy, our Bug, our sweet Félix begins kindergarten.

In Germany, preschool is called Kindergarten, so the Bug was a bit confused at first, wondering why he was going to have to start kindergarten again. We’ve gotten used to the new terminology, though, and more than anything we’re excited.

A Strange Start

Since this school year is starting with 100% distance learning, it’s going to be a strange start.

Our neighboring county started distance learning last week, and I read in the paper about the technical glitches and frustrations that many students, teachers and parents encountered.

We presume there will be some fits and starts, but we’ve done everything we can to make sure we’re ready to open up the Chromebook and log right on.

Time Flies

As we prepare for this new phase in our child’s life, it’s struck me forcibly how quickly time flies.

I know we humans take the longest to mature of all the animal kingdom, but I swear it feels like it’s been no time at all. It doesn’t seem possible that our tiny thing has already grown into a school-age kid!

Rip-Roaring Ready

Although it seems like it’s too soon, I know that our boy is desperately ready for school.

He absolutely loved his preK class, and he’s already ablaze with the idea of learning more.

This afternoon, while preparing all the materials his teachers have provided, he opened his poetry folder and promptly read all the poems about animals out loud to me.

The kid is curious and loves to read. I hope he loves school.

Mama’s Ready, Too

Mostly. Connecting for remote learning is going to be pretty involved, and we’ll have a bit of a learning curve.

But assuming the technology works as it should, I’m confident we’ll be able to figure it out.

Mostly I’m confident. I’m also really nervous. And worried. And excited. And sad. And happy… And…

ALL THE FEELINGS!

You’d think it was MY first day of school!

Slip Up

62. Slip Up: Write about making mistakes.

ThinkWritten.com

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately.

Mostly they’re from dear friends of mine–fellow mothers–who have questions about how I might handle a certain parenting situation.

While I’m flattered that they turn to me, I also kind of worry about why they feel they can ask me for advice.

But hey! If people think I have my s*** together, then great! I’ll take it.

(I do not really have my s*** together.)

A Recent Query

A friend recently asked me, “Jane, how would you handle it if your partner were putting your oldest kid to bed, but the kid wanted YOU to put her down, and ended up having a complete meltdown and begging for you to come.”

Essentially, the question was: do my partner and I look weak for caving into our daughter’s tantrum over who puts her to bed?

My short answer was: No. You do not look weak.

A Little Background

The back story to this was that there’s a baby sibling involved (jealousy), they are on vacation with family (meaning lots of activity and sleep deprivation), the kid has recently given up her pacifier, she’s dropping her afternoon nap…

In short, as any parent of a 3-year-old reading this can guess, the entire situation is a hot mess.

Such times are not times to dig your feet in and insist that your child do what you say BECAUSE YOU SAID SO.

It sounded to me like that kid needed to get to bed ASAP and the best thing was to get her to bed in the quickest and calmest way possible.

And so in response to my friend’s question, I said:

No. You are not weak or undisciplined for giving into your daughter’s demand for her mother to put her to bed.

It’s Not Admitting Defeat

Raising our kids is not raging war (no matter how much it might feel like it sometimes).

We, as parents, do not always have to win.

Don’t get me wrong, I am the first person to want my kids to snap to order when I say “go” (see my recent article about my overuse of the word No).

But when they don’t, when they fight back, protest, or throw tantrums, it does not mean that we the parents have lost.

In fact, I’ve learned that sometimes my kids throw fits or have meltdowns because I am being either unreasonable or terribly unsympathetic.

Admitting Weakness Gives Strength

One thing I’ve tried to work on, is being able to take a step back in the heat of the moment and look at a situation from my child’s perspective.

When you’re locked in a power struggle, it can be so difficult to get yourself out of that mindset, and to ask yourself, “Why is this happening?”

Another thing I’ve tried to do is to say, “Mama’s got it wrong. I’m sorry. Let’s try again.”

For our older son, it really works with him to get down to his eye level, and say, “We’re having some trouble here. Let’s figure this out together.”

Strange to say it, but he seems reassured when we admit that we’re wrong. It’s like he’s relieved to know that it’s not just he who thinks that a situation is coo-coo bananas.

Slip-Ups Happen

Sometimes the kids are being pig-headed.

Often times, I’m the pig-headed one.

Either way, we all make mistakes. Hopefully, our children will learn from our example that admitting to our mistakes does not make us weak.

Pick Your Battles

And “caving in” (or, as I like to call it, “picking your battles wisely”) does not make you a weak parent.

It makes you a smart parent.

In the Dark

58. Darkness: Write a poem or journal entry inspired by what you can’t see.

https://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/

I think about what my boys don’t see.

Or, more like, I wonder what they do see, but simply take for granted.

For example, the fact that their mother stays home. Or the fact that they are privileged.

The fact that their laundry gets done and put away. Their lunchboxes get filled, their dinners are made. Someone works his butt off to make money so they can enjoy a paddling pool and Disney+.

I Once Was Blind

I didn’t even think twice about any of that stuff as a kid. Any kid from a privileged background doesn’t need to.

It’s only as an adult that I understand how hard my parents worked to make things nice for us. And that I realize what hard work it actually is.

But Now I See

While acknowledging that I am extremely privileged, I can also recognize that being a parent is difficult. Marriage itself is hard work.

And so, I want my boys to see something else, and learn to also take it for granted:

Their parents take time to do things for themselves, and as a couple.

Whether it’s their father going for a run, their mother sitting down to the piano, or calling a babysitter (remember when we could do that?) to go out on a date night.

When They’re Older

None of this will register now, of course. They’re too little.

But when they’re older, I hope they’ll see the light.

They’ll look back at our family life and see each individual take time for themselves.

I hope they’ll learn that it’s not selfish to do this. By taking the time to do things we love, we’re keeping ourselves healthier and happier, and better able to do the hard work of marriage and parenting.

But man, we’re still tired.

4_great_reasons_to_take_kids_outside

A Quick Reminder

When our Bug was little, I wrote an article about not talking about your kids.

Not because it’s annoying to other people (alright, a little bit because of that). But mostly because our kids are people whose privacy should be respected.

Today, I was reminded why I wrote that article.

Old Habits

I still slip into the bad habit of talking about my kids. The other day, I even went so far as to talk about them in front of them.

It makes me cringe to think about it. Our oldest is smart and observant, and he listened as I compared and contrasted him with his brother.

How was he not going to notice? I’m ashamed of myself.

The Consequences

So today, I shouldn’t have been baffled when the Bug did his best to live up to the picture I had painted of him earlier in the week.

We were having a social-distanced get-together for ice cream with distant relatives, some of whom we’d never met.

Suddenly, our Bug was behaving totally uncharacteristically. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why.

He Explains

When we got home, he was still behaving strangely. He looked up at me with his big beautiful eyes and said, “Mama, I’m shy.”

At first I was miffed. But then I remembered the conversation he had overheard earlier in the week.

That’s when I realized that his weird behavior was on me.

All he wanted to do was try and live up to the description he had overheard me give of him. He’s a sensitive and sweet boy; of course he wants to conform to what he thinks his mama wants from him.

So Zip Up, Mama.

It killed me to see my son try and fit himself into a mould I’d made for him. A mould that, though perhaps true in some ways and at some moments, was too simplistic to be accurate.

It’s the same lesson I keep thinking I’ve learned: Zip it, lady. Stop it. Just don’t talk about your kids.

But I can talk with my kids. And in the morning, I think the first thing I need to say to my son is, “I owe you an apology.”

Power Trippin’ No

50. Just Say No: Write about the power you felt when you told someone no.

https://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/

“No.”

Such a tiny little word, and yet! And yet how powerful!

I’ve come up with lots of different ways to say “no” these days. As a mom, I think it’s important to have a variety of ways to destroy your child’s happiness.

“Now’s not the time, love.”
“Not likely.”
“Never in a million years.”
“Heck no!”
“What, do you think I’m stupid or something?”
“Ix-nay.”
“Let’s all have a big tall glass of nope.”

It feels like I have a whole arsenal of “no” weapons, ready at a moment’s notice!

A Bit Carried Away

At one point, though, I realized that perhaps it was getting a bit excessive.

This dawned on me when my three-year-old threw himself on the floor and screamed when I told him, “No, you can’t play the piano.”

That’s normal, you think. Any three-year-old would throw a fit about something like that.

True, but hear me out.

I have fairly high noise tolerance. This piano has survived lessons from four kids: it’s not like it’s delicate. My kids aren’t that rough. We had just finished one activity and hadn’t yet moved on to another. He had washed his hands and everything.

Could It Be That…

Perhaps I was saying “no” too much??

But how can that be?! I must be FIRM with my children! They can’t have everything they want!

This is true. They cannot have everything they want. But not everything has to be a battle. After all, we got the piano for the kids to enjoy!

So after watching him scream for a minute, I thought to myself, “Do I really care enough about this situation to worry about seeming inconsistent if I change my mind?”

The answer was (you guessed it!), NO. No, I didn’t care that much.

“You know what, love? Why not? Of course you can play the piano. Go ahead.”

Picking Your Battles

His face immediately cleared, and he clambered up onto the piano stool and started plonking away. He didn’t last long, and soon became interested in his trains.

Noise gone. Happy child. Happy mother.

That was a battle that didn’t need to happen. Others definitely need to happen (like reasonable bedtime, brushing your teeth and OMG STOP EATING TOOTHPASTE HOW DID YOU FIND IT GAAAAAAH).

But when we’re all cooped up at home together, and things are tough enough as it is, picking your battles is an important skill to learn.

It’s also good to realize that sometimes…

“Yes” Is Powerful, Too

(Or, if “yes” feels too permissive, try, “What the heck? Knock yourself out, kid.”)

Cake Exhaustion

I’m too tired to write.

Why? Because I decorated a cake today.

And then ate too much of it.

Our Bear turned three today, and BOY is he three. You know. A threenager. He’s adorable, hilarious, fun, funny and EXHAUSTING.

He requested a Thomas-themed birthday with a “Thomas cake.” Luckily, what a “Thomas cake” actually was was up to me.

Inspired

I wanted my cake to look like this beaut’ from Living Well Mom:

What I got was this:

Two things are evident here:

  1. My phone is old and the camera is crap;
  2. My cake decorating skills are not as good as Living Well Mom’s.

Here’s another view for good measure:

The Reception

“It’s Thomas!” he shouted as I approached with the cake. He was delighted.

But then he realized that the Thomas on the cake was actually his toy mini Thomas (thoroughly washed before being placed on the cake). And he was none too pleased about that.

Here he is, removing Thomas from the cake:

The cake was delicious. The buttercream frosting was particularly tasty.

(It helped that the cake was the devil’s food cake box from Betty Crocker. Hey, my time and effort went into the decorating, NOT the baking.)

Happy birthday to our little man. Here’s to another waltz around the sun with you.