Saturday, January 22, 2011

disappointed in the system

I’m sitting here tonight working on portfolios for my preschoolers’ parent teacher conferences next week and as I sit here working, I’ve started to get upset about the talk of axing the free pre-K program in the Kansas City, Missouri school district.  First, let me say this: I know that our school district, like everyone else, is reliant on state and federal funding for these programs.  I also know that funding is getting more and more stretched, perhaps it is even gone completely.  Even more, I also know that I’m preaching to the choir in most of what I’m about to say. 
I understand (please correct me if I’m misguided here) that the KCMO school district is thinking about a tuition based pre-K program for those who can afford it.  And I honestly am so torn about this that I hardly know where to begin.  I know plenty of people who are sending their children to public pre-K programs in KC who can afford it.  I also know plenty of people who send their children to K-12 schools in KCMO who might be able to afford tuition, but who have chosen public schooling.  We are one of those families.  What I would like to know is where do you draw the line at who can or can’t afford your program?  And, who decided that $6000 a year per child would be the price tag?
I teach preschool.  The research is there.  Attending a Pre-K program is probably the best gift you can give your child.  Children who attend preschool are more likely to succeed in kindergarten. Blah, blah, blah…you get my point.  Here’s what the research doesn’t tell you.  We don’t really prepare your child for kindergarten. I cringe when I read about a pre-K program that will have your child “kindergarten ready”. What does that even mean?  I don’t sit your child down and teach the alphabet or numbers and I certainly don’t expect your child to know how to read or write.  I tell parents that it isn’t my job to get your child ready for kindergarten. It’s kindergarten’s job to be ready for your child. 
I might not teach those things, but guess what?  When we count our friends, our fingers, the windows in our room?  Math.  When we sing and dance and read every book the library has on the shelf?  Early literacy. When we walk outside and collect leaves or discuss the weather? When we plant seeds and watch them grow? Science.  Your child is a sponge – he is learning, learning, learning ALL the time. And what better gift to give your child but the gift of preschool?  The catch? Not all people will be able to afford it, and those are the kids who will most likely need a structured program.  Most importantly? Those are the children who will also need the MOST important thing one can learn in a preschool classroom, in my opinion: social skills.  What your child learns in preschool are the skills to communicate with his peers, to ask for help, to trust in adults and in other children.  No math or science or literacy lesson can beat that.
Here is what will happen in KCMO…and it’s disgusting.  Parents of students who are deemed wealthy enough to pay for a once public pre-K program will pull their students and opt for a private program, likely with the bonus of a smaller class size.  And, why shouldn’t they?  I should be thrilled, as it might raise the number of children in the private program where I work, but I’m not.  In fact, it upsets me because I worry about those who will be lost in the shuffle.  Students have their entire lives to dislike going to school – why start at age 3?  You don’t think those children will pick up on the stress of their families paying for a once free program? Or, how about just not being able to attend at all? This city is doing a disservice to the tiniest citizens of our communities by not figuring out another option to this mess.

Friday, January 21, 2011

birthday etiquette

It’s no secret that I would do just about anything to protect my girls. As in, I will shank you with my giant car key if it means keeping them from being hurt. And so, when I picked up Lucy from school today, I had to turn and leave as quickly as I got there because I thought I might have to do just that. 

Those of you with children over the age of three know that part of your job as a parent is to start stomaching all of those, “well, now you can’t come to my birthday party” comments. Your own child might utter those despicable words, or you might overhear them, say, at the table in your preschool class. Oh, wait. That’s just me. My point is that somewhere around three and a half, kids start realizing that the birthday party is perhaps the BEST means of leverage and social status beating out even the “playdate”. Please. Please do not get me started on that word. Seriously. Who made that up? Moving on.

Here is the catch. PARENTS: you have a little control over the hurt feelings. While you can’t control what comes out of your child’s mouth (don’t I know it?) you can control HOW the birthday party arrangements are made and what comes out of your own mouth so that I don’t have to hear, “oh! see you at the party tomorrow!” or “you’re going to so-and-so’s birthday party, right?” Right. In. Front. Of. My. Daughter. And this was not out of the child’s mouth – but the mother’s. For real.

The look on Lucy’s face was enough for me to know that number 1, she understood completely and without further explanation that she hadn’t been invited. And number 2, that I needed to get the hell out of that classroom before I said something. What the hell? I’m certainly not suggesting that my child should be invited to everyone’s party. Absolutely not, I get that. What I am saying is that if you know my child isn’t invited to your kid’s party? Shut the hell up about it when you’re right in front of her. She’s smarter than your kid and she’s onto you.

I think we as parents need to dig back and remember the times we were left out of something. Picked last (or not at all) for kickball. Not making the play. Not invited to THE party. It might have been a while, but I’m guessing we can all still remember how that felt. I know I can. We could do ourselves – and our children – a favor if we did just that.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

the kindness of strangers

I like to think about the human spirit. You know, the things that make us tick. I write about it often, as you know, and something happened at our house this past weekend that reassured me of the goodness in people.  Sometimes, in this house, I feel like I’m teetering right on the edge of something.  Like I could maybe snap at any given moment just because there isn’t a clean swimsuit for Zoe in the middle of January.  Or because I decide to spend an hour cooking something specifically for the kids only to have them tell me it smells stinky.  Or just because it’s Thursday.  And lately I’ve noticed that I’m a bit socially awkward.  Probably those who knew me a while back will be as surprised at that little realization as I was – what happened to the girl who didn’t know a stranger and was out and about all the time?  Sometimes I just don’t know if I like people anymore.
And so, when my husband told me that he had invited his friend Warren over for dinner, I’m not going to lie, I was a little…well.  I was mostly neutral about it.  As I get older, I find the thought of meeting new people and the “getting to know you” chit chat just plain overwhelming.  Good Lord, I sound like a hot mess.  Anyway, Warren had been asking if he could bring us dinner – just because.  And I’m all, “why would anyone want to do that for us?” and in true form, I had to second-guess everything.  On Sunday, he did, indeed, bring us dinner.  It was delicious.  And all he asked in return was to sit and talk with us and enjoy our kids.  After they asked Warren about their mutual love of Iron Man and told him what zombies eat (brains, duh) and offered him multiple slices of chocolate bikini cake (or chocolate zucchini cake if you’re not three) the girls scooted off to color and we got to sit and chat – like real adults!  And I have to say that I’m so glad I didn’t say no to having him over.  It isn’t often that it happens, but once in a while you meet a person who is just plain good.  Not good for any reason other than just having a good soul.  A person who wants to come over and bring a meal, and then books for the girls – in both English and French, and then writes a thank you note. TO US.  It was a while after Warren left that night when I realized that the human spirit I like to think about had just slapped me upside my head and said, “HEY! Quit doubting me, lady!”

Friday, January 7, 2011

Getting Sirius.

This morning as I was dropping off Lucy and then driving to work with Zoe, I had the Sirius radio tuned to the ‘80’s on 8’ channel. I’m not going to lie, maybe my favorite part of the new car is the satellite radio – and I’ve not had a lot of time to listen to different stations, but this one is pretty awesome. As we drove, we heard Wham, Genesis, Dire Straits, Cindy Lauper and even Michael Jackson. I made Zoe sit in the parking lot at work so I could hear “Thriller” in its entirety – I mean, what’s the point of listening if you’re not going to hear Vincent Price’s laugh at the end? She was none too pleased. I began to notice that I knew most, if not all the words to each song that came on, and I began thinking about how music really does create the soundtrack to our lives in many ways.
When I was a kid I had an olive green radio – it had this terrible fabric that covered the one giant speaker, and it had all of these huge knobs. It had probably belonged to one of my parents decades earlier, but it didn’t matter, really, because it still worked and was the conduit between KY102 and my little eardrums. Somewhere along the line, I also acquired a large black tape recorder, and often I would hold it up to the green speaker and tape songs straight off the radio. Then I would play them back over and over and over again. Ahhhh, technology. My point is that my love of music started early, and my memories were shaped by music beginning around that time. I never really thought about it, though, until this morning.
Like, how when Keith Parrish broke up with 14-year-old me, the song “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” was the soundtrack. Even though in my mind the song was about me making out with the first boy who ever kissed me and not about creepy ass Bret Michaels and his breakup. When I was 16 I became a Prince junkie. Probably not so much because I loved Prince (Calm down. Later I really, really did), but Tarek Thorns loved Prince. I can’t hear “The Arms of Orion” without thinking about that time in my life. The Cure’s Japanese Whispers provided the soundtrack to one Thanksgiving trip to Woodstock, Illinois to visit my then aging grandparents. I was maybe 16. It was probably one of the last trips we ever took there for a holiday and one in which my sister and I were equally emo and moody – my poor, poor parents. To this day I can’t listen to “Let’s Go To Bed” without remembering rewinding the tape (yes, tape. So?) over and over again.
Later, the Indigo Girls and Tracy Chapman would be the soundtrack to beach week after my senior year of high school, when I traveled to North and then South Carolina with my cousin Erin. I met a kid named Travis Bales, and boy, did that throw a wrench into the supposedly wonderful relationship I was having back in KC. Later, I rapped, I raved, and I techno-ed through the late 90s after going back to the same supposedly wonderful relationship. I did that until I gained some sense and left that ass hat. The lovely Ani DiFranco provided the soundtrack to that hot mess. I have seen the woman in concert more times than I can count and still – live or not – when I hear the first five notes of “Both Hands” I get teary – and then defiant. Man, I wish I could shake that woman’s hand for helping me through that time. And then helping me again when the next relationship soured, as I pretty much always knew it would from the start.
About a month after I met the boy I would later marry, he made a mix tape (on CD – it was the turn of the millennium don’t you know!) for me. He had covered the CD itself with a black and white photo of a heart. But not just any heart – an actual human heart. And while he never said anything about it, I took it as a sign that he really liked me. Turns out I was right. I’m not sure what all was on that CD, because I only remember two of the songs. One was A Perfect Circle’s “Three Libras”. One day, a few years later, I almost ran over Maynard with my car while he was walking on the Plaza – talk about a perfect circle of events. I digress. The other song was the Barenaked Ladies singing “If I Had a Million Dollars”.
I can name you a bunch of other songs that have had some impact on my life, but I realized today as I was driving that after I had my kids, the effect of music on my life has been much different – and I hope that can change. I have music I like and I have artists that I gravitate to, but it seems like the soundtrack sort of stopped all those years ago and that songs are more of the background music (the Musac?) of my life anymore instead of the soundtrack. But, never in a million years would I have imagined that Phil Collins singing “Throwing It All Away” would have sparked this.

Monday, January 3, 2011

a new year...

 "Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man."  Benjamin Franklin
I don’t do New Year’s resolutions.  Resolutions are for dummies.  I’m certain that there are stories of successful resolutions…I can assure you that I don’t care.  I do, however, think that the start of a new year calls for planning ahead.  In 2011, I am going to try to spend more time doing nice things for my husband, for my children and for myself.  By ‘nice things’, I simply mean, the laundry can wait on a day when the weather is too good NOT to go to the zoo. The computer or the book can be set aside after the kids go to bed: even if it means we just sit on the couch and watch more TV.  And, doing nice things for our family means we really should spend more time with family and friends – we have fallen into the habit of hibernating on evenings and weekends – which feels safe and cozy, but we really should be inviting friends over…if we still have any. 
I am going to try to read more this year, and not just US Weekly or Facebook statuses.  I could count for you the number of books I read in 2010 on one hand.  And probably a few of those were for a class or the Writing Project…I MUST do better this year.  I am making lists and, of course, welcome any suggestions. I’m cautiously patting myself on the back because in the past two weeks, I’ve finished two whole books and just started the third tonight.  See? Progress.
I want to push myself more this year to get my writing out there – beyond the walls of blogspot, and not just in the torn up journal I keep near my bedside mostly used for grocery lists and jotting down “to dos”.  I would like to push myself to write for a purpose other than clearing my head, whether it is for the educational magazine where I serve on the advisory board, or just to take a chance and submit my writing somewhere new.  I will never get anywhere if I don’t try. 
I spend a ridiculous amount of time beating myself up for the things I do or don’t do – eating too much, not working out enough (or at all…) having that extra glass of wine when I probably shouldn’t.  In 2011, I would like to ease up on myself.  I would like to look in the mirror and not see the woman with the body that has been changed so drastically by children and time. This year I vow to look beyond those things and see more meaningful stuff. I would like to say that I would try to eat and drink less, but like I said, resolutions are for dummies.