Thursday, March 08, 2012

A plan for the days, a plan for the years

Last time I posted a list (see below) of topics I want to write about. Tonight, I will address as much of that list as I can before I get too sleepy to write any more. 

  • I decided we would wait one more year and start Ella in preschool when she is three years old. (whew!)
  • 60 Minutes did an article about red-shirting kids for Kindergarten. (that's not crazy at all)
  • A former student of mine gave me a writing assignment. (how's that for success?)
  • I dropped Medicine A and two or three dress sizes, but I still haven't exercised once in 2012. (must do something about that)
  •  Being Ella's Mommy is the only job I've ever been good at AND liked so much. I've finally found my calling.
  • Body image (see bullets 3, 4, 5--more on that later)
  • 99 of 100 (what I didn't do for winter break)
  • oh, and don't forget, I made a table (see bullet 1)
Before I get started on this list, I just want to note that the nights that I write are more often than not nights in which Justin is working a swing shift.

A swing shift means he leaves for work around 4 p.m. and returns from work around 3 or 4 a.m. Swing shifts make my days look like this (if you count a day as beginning when your husband leaves for work):

4 p.m. Say goodbye to Justin with Ella. She gives him a hug and a kiss and says, "Bye," while she waves at the door when it shuts. Play with Ella. (Sometimes, we (Ella and I) have plans in the afternoon, so we say goodbye before we leave and our plans fill the time before dinner.)

6 p.m. Feed Ella. Usually I eat with her; otherwise, I forget to eat after I put her to sleep. Also, I like her to consider dinner a social experience and I like the company, too. Admittedly, we often eat dinner with my laptop at the table, so that from her highchair she can watch videos with me. We watch late night comedy (thanks, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert!), sometimes she laughs and claps along with the audience, always at the end she says, "more?" or we watch clips of my friends' kids or look at their pictures, which she loves. We practice saying their names, but not, of course, while our mouths are full. I tell myself this use of media during the dinner hour is acceptable because it serves as a springboard for our conversation, which can be a little one-sided with a 21-month-old child.

7 p.m. Clean up dishes and toys. Get Ella ready for bed. (Brush her teeth (sometimes a struggle for independence, sometimes smooth sing-a-long sailing). She goes to her room, opens the bottom-left drawer of her dresser, picks her jammies (I narrow it down to two choices, but she frequently points to the Paul Frank two-piece flannel set from Auntie Hilary that despite its 2T label looks like it was made for a 5-year-old.) We change her, comb her hair, she finds her pacifier in her crib and puts it into her mouth, I talk her into leaving it in the crib so we can go read Goodnight Moon--"It will be there when we get back!" These days, she likes to lie on the couch with a big pillow behind her and two throw-blankets on top of her, while I kneel next to her and rest my head on the pillow near her cheek so I can read to her. Sometimes, I get to turn the pages and it all goes smoothly. Sometimes, she has to turn the pages herself, which takes longer and involves some frustration because the book falls away from her while she lies there.

7:30 p.m. Goodnight, Miss Ella!

Victory is mine! Or at least, that's what I think when I walk away from her room. It's a short walk down the hallway before I remember that I still have dishes/laundry/general upkeep to do. Oftentimes, though, I just hurry through that (or ignore it completely, telling myself I'll do it in the morning (which I always regret in the morning)) and pour a glass of wine and read/write/watch TV on the couch. There's always the worry that she might wake up or not fall asleep, but...

10-midnight  I talk myself into going to sleep, instead of reading one more article/blog/story or watching one more episode of Grey's Anatomy/SMASH!/Parenthood/Modern Family or whatever else I have on DVR.

3-4 a.m. Wake up. Justin is home. I hear the key in the door, the porch light switch off, the work shoes get put on the shoe rack, the backpack zipper open and shut. It's that zipper that convinces me that it's him, and not some crazed murderer entering our home (through the front door, with a key, natch). The home in which my daughter sleeps on the opposite end of the house from me, the living room (and the front door!) between us. Say, "Hi!" to Justin, ask him how his shift was. Sometimes this simple little question turns into an entire conversation, sometimes I go back to sleep quickly. I like both scenarios. Within 30-90 minutes and a conversation/unwind-time video game or web surf for him everyone in our house is asleep (again).

7-8 a.m. Wake up with Ella. We are SO lucky that she is a 12-hours-a-night sleeper. If she woke up at 5:30 a.m. like some of our friends' kids do, we'd be a wreck. Justin usually says hello to her and then goes back to sleep, while Ella and I go about our day. We go to play groups, play dates, the park, the library for story time, Mommy and Me Montessori preschool, music/dance class, or we just stay home and play.

11:30 a.m. Feed Ella lunch. We do breakfast together, but I try to hurry lunch along, so it's usually easier to just feed her.

noon Put Ella down for a nap. When I'm really lucky, she sleeps for 3 hours. Sometimes, it's 45 minutes. This is my chance to eat and take care of the house and all of those things I put off the night before. If all goes well, I end up reading. If not, at least I have lunch.

afternoon Usually, Justin wakes up so he can spend some time with Ella. They miss each other so much. When I tell her, "Do you want to wake up Daddy?" at whatever time he and I have decided he can wake up and have had enough sleep to be safe taking care of patients in the ER during his next shift, she stops whatever she's doing, smiles, and hurries to the bedroom door, where she stands smiling, and knocks until he says come in and I open the door.

3 p.m. Justin eats and gets ready for work, and we start all over again.

All of this is more information than any of you actually want. But there was a point (before I decided it would be fun to have a chronicle of a day in the life of my 21-month-old when she gets older).

Oh, yeah.

The point is, having Justin working swing shifts is like having a room of my own--at least, after Ella goes to sleep. It is quiet, I can basically choose what I want to do with my time (setting aside self-imposed pressure regarding household chores, and of course excluding anything that involves leaving the house). So, I can write.

The other point is, and it might not seem like it, if, from the aforementioned schedule, I seem tired, but: Being Ella's Mommy is the only job I've ever been good at AND liked so much. I've finally found my calling.

(See! I AM getting to the list!)

When I carry Ella down the hall to her crib at night, I find myself telling her, "Goodnight, Ella. Thank you for having such a good day with me." And I mean it. Sure, there are times when there is stress, or exhaustion, or even strife, but for the most part we have a really good time together. I smile and laugh a lot more than I used to, and my heart bursts over and over with love for her. I can't believe this is my life. She's my little pal, and without her I would be bored out of my mind. I'd probably have some kind of fulfilling job, but I was 35 years old when I had Ella. I'd had a lot of jobs by then; I had a career. Being Ella's Mommy is what I was born to do.

Which brings me to preschool.

When Ella was less than 10 months old, the MOMS Club we were a part of in South Redondo Beach held a preschool round up. Most of the local preschools had a table at which they displayed their information and representatives answered questions. I volunteered to help, but of course I had no interest in gathering information for Ella, partly because she was so small that I couldn't imagine her ever going to preschool, and partly because I knew we would be moving the following year and she would not be attending preschool in the South Bay.

Now, Ella has two-year-old friends who are in preschool, and I volunteered to edit a newsletter with a back-to-school theme, which meant I did a lot of research on local preschools in our new town. In August of 2011, I started adding Ella to preschool wait lists.

What's that you say? She was only 15 months old? True. And it's quite possible that for some of the schools we were already too late.

By the time we make this decision for Ella, we will have toured two Montessori schools, one small private preschool, one Child Development Center which is attached to the public elementary school that Ella will attend when she starts Kindergarten in 2015, our church's preschool, and a co-op preschool. I didn't apply to these many colleges!

Ella will be 2 years and 4 months old in September. There are some schools where she has to be 3 and potty-trained, there are some schools where she doesn't.

If we wait a year, she'll still have two years of preschool before she enters Kindergarten.

I'm fine with keeping her at home with me until the 2013-14 school year starts.

People argue that she needs the socialization, especially since she is an only child. That's why we have MOMS Club, where we play with friends once or twice a week as a group and occasionally independently as well. We have Mommy and Me Montessori Preschool, so she's getting her school-environment experience. Plus, there's Mommy and Me dance class. She needs swim lessons. There's Disneyland and the Aquarium. There's Grandma and Grandpa to visit. Who needs preschool?

I think maybe Ella does. We're looking at part-time, half-day. That means twice a week, for about 2-3 hours.

I think I can handle being apart from her for that long.

I watched an episode of 60 Minutes with a segment on red-shirting kids for Kindergarten. The idea is that you keep them back a year so that they are not the youngest in their class. It's a big deal for kids whose birthdays are in the fall or in the summer. By the time Ella starts Kindergarten, the cutoff for Kindergarten will be 5 years old by Sept. 1. (In California, it has been Dec. 1, but they are rolling that back month by month over the next three years.) She clears it by four months. It's pretty clear that she'll start Kindergarten when she is 5, as expected. It's also possible that she will have a kid in her class who turn 5 on Sept. 1, so she'll be four months older than him. And, there might be a kid who turned 5 in August the year before, but his parents didn't want him to be the youngest in the class, so they kept him back a year. He'll be 6, or almost a year older than Ella.

A year is a long time in a 5-year-old's life. One year ago, Ella couldn't even walk. Now, she's running. This year, she's just learning to pronounce words. Next year, she'll be speaking in sentences. God knows what the difference is between a five and a six-year-old!

According to the news story, parents red-shirt their Kindergarteners because they don't want their child to be smaller than all the other kids, or less mature, or behind in any way. Especially boys, for sports.

So they're putting them ahead by keeping them behind.

Imagine a classroom full of Kindergarten boys most of whom are a year older than the girls.

The reporters and researchers point out that it's only affluent people who have the luxury of making this decision because they aren't desperately looking forward to the childcare that school implies. Which means that the working class and middle class kids will face an even bigger achievement gap than they already do because of all the other effects socioeconomic factors have on a life.

So, I sit here in my beautiful house, with my sleeping daughter and my working husband, and I contemplate the effect preschool will have on her life. Like someone in the report pointed out--it used to be that to be successful you pushed kids ahead in school--skipped a grade. Now you keep them back?

With the cutoff date in Canada being Dec. 31, and my birthday being Dec. 9, I was already in first grade when I was five and we moved to California. They couldn't very well send me back to Kindergarten, so I was always the youngest in my class. My brother, with a Dec. 30 birthday, had been in Canadian Kindergarten, but with a whole year between him and his peers, the administration refused to allow him to continue, so he took the rest of the year off. He was always one of the oldest in his class.

I can't speak for him, but from what I observed of my younger brother, this was a good choice. He was well-liked, well-adjusted, and athletic. He did well as a student, got tested for Gifted and Talented Education and ended up in honors classes, going to college and getting a Masters in Engineering from MIT.

I did comparatively well academically and socially. But I do wonder. If I had had an extra year before continuing first grade in California in January, would I have been more well-adjusted? If I had actually gone back to Kindergarten, would it really have damaged my self-esteem (would I have even noticed? I was, after all, in a whole new country! It wasn't like there weren't other differences abounding! What is it with all these kids putting their hands over their hearts and saying something together every morning?) or my academic success? Would I have been more confident, because I wasn't so much shorter, and shyer, and newer than all the other kids? Would being put into Kindergarten actually have given me a greater chance of breaking into the already well-formed cliques of elementary school? Or would it have just been boring? Which of these experiences would have served me best as I moved through the rest of my life?

Who knows.

And now, I face these questions with my girl.

If she starts preschool in the 2012-13 school year, she will have three years of school before Kindergarten. If we wait, two. Either way, she will be a perhaps slightly younger 5 year old when she starts Kindergarten in 2015.

The rigors of Kindergarten are so much tougher now, too. They're academic. I remember doing a lot of puzzles when I was in Kindergarten. That's what I liked. Now there are California State Content Standards to meet, and assess, and...


So, I wonder. One extra year of circle time, and little friends to play with without me around, and learning her letters and numbers from someone in addition to me... will that enhance her experience in Kindergarten? And high school? Or will it be better for us to just hang out together for another year, knowing that our "hanging out" time is pretty busy as it is?

Leave alone her future, what will her life in preschool be like? At 21 months, she isn't really talking. She makes a good effort when it's just the two of us, or if she's with one other adult with whom she is comfortable. She takes a little while to warm up to a room. She rarely works up the courage to say "hi" or "bye" to a stranger (but isn't that normal?) or even a little friend (though she'll give friends a hug). She's always been so quiet (even the nurses in the hospital noticed when she was a brand new not-screaming-very-much baby!). She likes to observe for quite some time before she jumps into the fray. She's strong-willed. She's generally happy. She's getting more and more comfortable further and further away from me at the park, and at the library, and at friends' houses.

Will she be well-liked in preschool? Will she interact well with the other kids and the teacher?

And what effect will this formative experience have on her future classroom and social experience?

Who knows.

I suppose either choice will take a leap of faith. I am no more ready for Ella to start preschool than I was for Ella to be born. These things happen, regardless of preparedness.

I think what we'll do is wait to see where she is on the wait lists for this year. If she gets into a school with a small class size, she'll go. Two hours twice a week isn't too much of a disruption in our lives. I'll still get to spend a lot of time with her. If they don't have room for her this year, we'll wait til next year rather than put her in a bigger classroom with less personal attention.

I guess I haven't decided that we'll wait a year for Ella to start preschool. But at least I have a plan.

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