Thursday, July 12, 2012

To be honest

Ella and her friend were diving onto me so that we all ended up collapsed in a heap on the grass in the park. Her friend pushed her way up to kneeling, then rested, using my bent legs to support her little body while she faced me.

"Are you going to have babies soon?" she asked.

"Am I going to have babies soon?" I could not possibly have heard the question correctly. It is a question I commonly field from other parents, but not their kids.


"No. I'm not going to have babies soon," I answered.

Ella was kneeling by my side now, looking at me and looking at her friend, as delighted as ever. "No babies!" she laughed and starting repeating it.

"Nope. No babies!" I laughed with Ella. "Why?" I thought for a second about all of our mutual friends, including her mother, who had had babies in the last year. Two babies were born in our circle of friends last month alone. And the other friend we were with was due to have her second child in three months.

"Are you asking because my belly is big?!?!"

Ella's friend looked shy and smiled. "Yeah."

"Hmmm. That's nice. But no, I'm not having any more babies. My tummy's just like that." And we resumed the game of tackle/fall down/tickle.

So, now I know. That shirt does make me look fat. I do look pregnant. People notice.

I do it, too. I check women out as I pass them on the street, trying to determine whether they are pregnant, or new moms, or women who haven't lost the baby weight yet, or just women with bodies that are shaped that way.

The cool thing is, I didn't feel awful. My belly was perfect for the game we were playing, the one where the girls landed on it and then pushed off to start over again. We were all laughing and having fun, and she wasn't judging me, just observing that amongst our friends we have flat-bellied women and pregnant women and me.

I hoped, as I responded to her without saying, "Hey! That isn't very nice! You hurt my feelings! You shouldn't tell people they're fat!" that she just learned that bodies come in lots of different sizes and shapes. I didn't want her, or Ella, who was listening, to learn that bodies were something to be ashamed of if they were a certain shape. I didn't want them to think that I was embarrassed by my body, or that a three-year-old had the power to upset me with that kind of question.

Today, as I walked to my exercise class while Ella was at preschool, I had renewed resolve to keep working out. As I've said before, I want to have a healthy, strong body for my girl. I want to be able to play with her as she grows and becomes stronger. I want to be flexible and pain-free and outgoing.

Also, I wouldn't mind being one of the flat-bellied moms. To be honest.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

The First Day of School: Age 2--Preschool Summer Camp

A quick play by play on the First Day of Preschool:
I was suddenly moved to write her name on her jacket, in case she took it off after recess and another little girl had the same jacket, and they got switched, and someone noticed, and no one noticed, and just in case... I didn't want to have to dig through the lost and found box at the principal's office looking for it... Did I mention there are only six kids in her class? Clearly, I was freaking out.
In my freak-out cleaning/writing/reading frenzy, I didn't end up going to sleep until about 3 a.m. Which was good, because Justin wasn't scheduled to get off work til 3 a.m., so I could still pretend I'd done what you're supposed to do on the night before the first day of school: go to sleep early.

I had everything ready though (including the labelled jacket and photograph of said jacket), so my chances at a mellow morning to set the tone for the day were good. Ella woke up 30 minutes before the alarm, so that bought us even more time to drink a leisurely cup of milk/coffee and eat breakfast and even read a book and sing You Are My Sunshine. It's so frustrating that you can't tell a kid to "hurry up and eat" and expect any positive results; I'm going to have to protect this getting-ready time and be a diligent about preparing things the night before. When I first saw her in the morning I asked, "Guess what you get to do today?" 
She squealed, "Preschool!" and then pointed at the dress we had laid out the night before and said, "Dress!"

We said bye-bye to Daddy while he was still bleary eyed. He got home from work less than four hours before we left. That didn't stop me from asking him to take our picture (with my cell phone, so he didn't have to focus.) I love this one because she is kissing my hand. It felt like she might be sensing a Momentous Occasion in the works, but I was trying really hard to be calm yet enthusiastic and not a bit nervous.

With the wall behind us like that, it feels like we were getting our passport photos taken.
I got her into the car as usual, reminding her that "preschool is far away" and that we had to drive there. I usually listen to NPR and sing children's songs or strike up pleasant two-year-old conversation as I chauffeur her around town, but this time I had to turn it off right away so I could concentrate on being calm, being enthusiastic, driving safely, singing "You are my Sunshine," and reviewing The Process. "When we get there, I'm going to take you out of the car, and we're going to go inside and meet your new teacher and your new friends, and I'm going to say, "I love you, Ella! Bye-bye!" and then I'm going to go away and you get to stay and keep playing with your new teacher and your new friends. And then after a while, I'm going to come back and get you and we're going to go home and have lunch and take a nap. It's going to be so fun!"

She asked me to carry her, and I wasn't going to argue with the opportunity to hold her one last time, but I put her down at the top of the stairs and told her I was going to take her picture for the First Day of School. "'merican flag!" she squealed, pointing. Sure enough, the American flag was right there on the flagpole.

What a fittingly patriotic first day of preschool for this mini-Marine Corps girl.

This photo is for keeping me honest. As we drove closer to the school, my stomach was sinking and my heart was racing. We reviewed what to do if we missed each other (from The Kiss Box: we have 100 kisses on our fingertips and we can hold them to our heart and feel a kiss flying from me to you).
As we walked up the driveway I knew I was very close to holding back tears. I'm pretty sure she felt the excitement mixture in the air. She wanted to be picked up again after the photo, but I gently discussed whether it would be a good idea to walk through the door herself at preschool. She was willing to walk over the threshold and three or so steps before she wanted to be picked up again. I was happy to oblige. 

There was playdoh and coloring (with markers!) when we arrived. She asked me to sit on the chair next to her and to help her flatten out the Playdoh, but was happy to use the knife on her own.
I could feel my chest filling with air as I took quiet deep breaths, remembering all those days I felt homesick as an elementary school girl. I was the girl crying at lunch when we first moved to the United States and I started first grade in the middle of the school year. Eventually, they called my parents to come meet me at lunch time to eat with me. I was the girl crying outside the classroom of my second grade class because I didn't realize I was in a combined class with the third graders and I was too scared to go in. I'm the one who told the kids and the teacher at the sixth-grade camp breakfast table that allergies were the cause of my eye redness. (Thank you, Mrs. Held, for saying that your eyes were bothered by allergies in the mountains as well.) 
I told her "I love you! Bye-bye!" and gave her a kiss just like we'd been practicing, and then she started helping Miss Veronica clean up so they could start their day. I knew that since I had said goodbye I had to actually leave immediately, so I got up and started walking toward the door. No one even acknowledged that I was leaving (at this point, it was four kids, a teacher, and an assistant teacher--the sum total of the class for that day). 
I walked quickly to the door and let myself out. On the driveway I let the breaths come more loudly and deeply. I made it to the car without crying, but as I sunk into the driver's seat, I caught a glimpse of Ella's empty car seat in my rear view mirror. 
I started the car anyway and drove around the block in the residential neighborhood before parking a few houses from the school and accepting the tears. 

To calm myself, I did what I do. I posted photos from the morning and a status update:
She's totally fine. I might be sitting in the car, trying not to cry and failing. It didn't help that the first thing I saw was her empty car seat in the rear view mirror. Two hours and 42 minutes to go. 
It worked. Ella's Godmother called twice, knowing I was crying alone in my car, but I didn't answer. I just needed to be in the moment with my thoughts and my feelings and my girl a few doors down. By the time I posted the photos, I was wondering what they were doing in the classroom. I posted: 
I wonder what will happen when she realizes I'm gone. I'm already starting to think I can run to the grocery store and clean up a little in the house before I come back to get her. I just have to avoid looking at the empty car seat.

I got a text while I was driving on PCH. I glanced down (quickly!) and saw the word, "Fun!" under a photograph from a number I didn't recognize. 
I re-posted it with this note once I got out of the car: I love her preschool! They just texted me this picture. Yeah, it choked me up, but I'm going to get a coffee now. Breathe.
I enjoyed a mocha and a croissant while reading the newspaper and sitting on a couch without having to share or keep my drink out of her reach. I went to the grocery store and whizzed through it, easily picking up the few things we needed from the far reaches of the store without having to tell her not to touch anything, to watch where she was going, that I wasn't going to carry her through the store but that she had two choices: ride in the cart or walk beside Mommy. I took everything home and put it away. I got some paperwork done. 

I set my alarm to remind me to leave for the school 45 minutes before class gets out. That way, I can wrap up whatever I  am doing, get ready to go, drive there (possibly in road construction traffic), and be on time. 
Back in front of the school. 18 minutes early. Woohoo! We did it! I got coffee and a croissant and actually sat on a couch in the shop to eat it. Went to the grocery store for just a couple of things. Gathered some paperwork at home. Can't wait to see how she is!!!

The parents of one of the girls were already waiting in their car. I told myself I I could go in 10 minutes before the end of class, because I heard one of the other mom's tell her son that she'd be there for the story at the end. When I got out of the car, I ended up chatting with the mom who was in the car until the mom who meant to be there for story time arrived. We checked on each other--talking about how emotional it all was and that we couldn't wait to see how they did. We were standing near the closed door, wondering if it was OK to go in yet, when the teacher came to the door and let us in. We were sheepish about lurking around, but Veronica said usually she has parents lined up with their faces pressed up to the window, so we were really doing quite well. 

I am so thankful to have seen Ella's face light up when she recognized me. She showed me her Fourth of July art: 

We used it as part of our Independence Day party decorations. I will keep it forever.
Her teacher said she did great, that she asked for help, that she got in line to do the art project again (she liked it so much), and that she didn't cry. "Not even a sad moment."

I am astounded/elated/relieved/grateful/proud. 

As soon as we got out the building, she asked for a snack. She ate as much as she could in the car and then had lunch at home. 
As we drove, Ella kept saying, "'ronica! 'ronica!" and then, "'ronica fun!'"
After lunch, Justin helped get her ready for bed. Whereas I sing two lullabies, rock her in the rocking chair, give her water, sing again, give her more water, cover her with her blankey, cover The Guys (Dolly, Baby, Penguin and George) with the blankey, and finally leave her room, Justin took her in, tucked her in, and left the room. 

I had to wake her later, so that we could go to the park to meet some friends for a Fourth of July park party. 

Nothing wakes a girl up like being pushed in a swing by a friend.

Dropping Ella off at preschool the second day was practically no big deal, except that I learned already that I absolutely must stick to my Plan for Morning Efficiency and Setting the Tone, or things get a little dicey.
The teachers rotate Summer Camp responsibilities, so it was a different teacher and three new kids and one boy from the first day. Miss Veronica came in anyway, just to help Ella feel more comfortable being left with a new teacher. The three other kids included a five-year-old girl and a younger boy and younger girl--the teacher's three kids.

Ella was being quite shy, so I stayed for a few minutes again to help her with dry erase markers and with play-doh. I told Ella she was going to stay at school and play with her new friends, and the boy from the day before said, "I'm not a new friend!" Miss Veronica was working with Ella on using play-doh scissors when we exchanged "bye-bye! I love you!"s, and I slipped out the door. 

When I returned three hours later, I walked into the school with the mom of the boy we met yesterday. Her son squealed, "Mommy!" and jumped up and ran to her. 
I took one look at Ella and said, "It looks like you've got a new friend!" The teacher laughed, "Does she ever!"
Ella was sitting in the five-year-old girl's lap. Lounging, really. The girl was sitting criss-cross (Indian-style, to all you old schoolers), and Ella was leaning back into her. She looked exhausted. I walked right up to them and asked if she wanted to go home, and she just stared at me vacantly. I'm pretty sure she even said, "No." I laughed and told her OK, I'd just sit down next to them, then. I kinda thought she'd get up and sit with me, but she didn't. The teacher, the girl, and I were all telling her it was time to go home and that she could come back next week, when finally the girl lifted Ella out of her lap. Then, Ella took my hand and pulled me to the sliding glass door that goes to the playground. "Outside!" she kept saying. 

"Did you guys go outside today?" I asked. The teacher said yes. Ella tried to open the door and said, "Outside." 

I knelt and told her we couldn't go outside there again today, but that we could go home and have lunch and maybe go to the park after nap time. She bought it, said goodbye to the group and we left.

I think this preschool thing is going to work out just fine. 

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

The First Day of School

Tonight is the last night I go to sleep without someone in my family being in school for the next couple of decades.

Which is to say, we had one year when Justin was not a student, I was not a student or a teacher, and Ella was just a toddler.

And now it is over.

Tomorrow is Ella's first day of preschool.

We have been talking it up big around here--just like going to the doctor or to swim lessons, starting preschool is going to be "so fun!"

"Ella, tomorrow, when you wake up, you're going to drink your milk, and have breakfast, and brush teeth, and get dressed, and then, we're going to get in the car, and I'm going to drive you to preschool! And I'm going to walk you inside, and we'll meet your new teacher and new friends! And I'm going to say, 'I love you, Ella! Bye bye!' And then I'm going to go away, and you're going to stay there and play with your new friends and your new teacher! And after a little while, I'm going to come back, and I'm going to pick you up, and we're going to go home and have lunch, and take a nap. And it's going to be so fun. So, so fun!"

We've also been reading The Kiss Box by Bonnie Verburg, illustrated by Henry Cole.

We usually take breaks while I read it, to talk about examples of when Mommy or Daddy goes away, and how we miss each other, but we always come back. Actually, that's what I talk about. Ella tends to point out the sandwich, or the "Daddy" (the framed portrait of what looks like it could be the daddy bear), or the swings, or the "present."

Tonight, when I victoriously had her bathed and brushed and ready for bed even earlier than on time, I told her that we had time to read one book before we read Goodnight Moon and said prayers. I ever so subtly suggested The Kiss Box and then got it off the shelf. (She was going to the board books, and besides wanting to sneak in a teachable moment, I am so over books without sentences or plots.)

I tried to push for her to sit on my lap, but she said, "sit," and snuggled in next to me, so I took it.

Earlier, during bath time we talked about preschool and the book. I reminded her about kisses on her fingertips and gave her bunches of them. Then, I asked her what she could do if she missed me and needed a kiss, and I demonstrated Mama Bear's suggestion of putting her fingers near her heart and feeling the kisses go "from me to you." She answered simultaneously by pretending to give her fingers bunches of kisses herself.

My timing victory was short lived, though. Somehow one book became three books (I really can't remember why that happened, but it seemed fair at the time), and then we finally read Goodnight Moon. Just as we settled in for prayers she said, "Bar!"

I pretended I didn't hear her. Then I pretended I didn't understand her. Then I pretended it was a ridiculous request.

She wanted a Nutrigrain Bar.

Did I mention that her teeth were already brushed?

"Are you hungry?!?!" I asked incredulously, even as I felt hunger creeping in on me, and just wanted to get her to bed so I could have a snack.

"Yeah," she said.

So I offered her a pouch. (That's what we call those, well, pouches of baby food/smoothie-like fruit and vegetable mixtures. I thought it would be relatively satisfying and at least a little less sugary than a fruit-cereal bar, which she'd already had one of today.)

She had two and some Cheerios.

We brushed her teeth again, and picked up at the prayers.

Instead of going to bed before 8, it ended up being 8:30. Better late than hungry--I can never fall asleep when I'm thinking, "I should just go to sleep. I'm not that hungry, besides, I've already brushed my teeth."

It's no wonder she was hungry, though. (And by "she" I mean "we.") We finished dinner with Justin at 4:45 at a restaurant on Main Street. He went home to get ready for work, and we went to the park with the ocean view. It was a fitting end to a day spent driving an hour to LA, sitting at a restaurant for breakfast with a friend visiting from the East Coast, driving back, going grocery and party decorating shopping for July 4, and sitting in another restaurant, even if Daddy was there for the dinner date. The point is, Ella was a champ. But we've been eating dinner closer to 6:30 lately, which has been pushing our bedtime late, which has been pushing our wake up late, and who can complain about that?

I'm a little worried about the strategy for having a kid in preschool. I know that having a routine will help, thus the frequent reviews of what's going to happen tomorrow in such relative detail. I read "Morning Battles," an article about how to do mornings without the battle. It all makes perfectly good sense. But when I asked Ella to pick her outfit for tomorrow out tonight, I had to explain that she "could wear the dress tomorrow, for preschool, not now. Now you're wearing your jammies, for night-nights." She cried. (Suddenly, I remember why we read more than one book before Goodnight Moon.)

There's a part of me that really wants to give her another year without obligations. Justin and I were talking about visiting my brother and sister-in-law in Washington D.C. in the fall, and I said, "But then she'll have to miss school."


(In fairness, it was the first week of school that we didn't want her to miss; we'll try to go later in the fall so that she can get comfortable with the people and the routine, first. This month of classes is just "Summer Session"--basically a "camp" with more playing than "academics," so that the kids can get comfortable in the new environment before school officially starts in September.)

The poor girl has a lifetime of commitments ahead of her, ans we're starting her in school at two years old?

But we got her into a school with six kids per class that isn't crazy expensive and that comes highly recommended by friends whose kids we really like, which is way more important than getting good ratings online or something. If we waited a year, there probably wouldn't be a spot for her in the three-year-olds class because all the kids would move up together.

So, today at the park, I tried to take as many pictures of her as I could, to remember how small she is and how big she is on the night before the first day of school.

Last year, I was so careful when I was pushing her in the swing. I had to remind her to hold on, and keep her from sliding too far down in the seat, and I never pushed her too high because she was so light she would actually lift off the seat a little bit.
This year, she thinks she can fly. I ask her whether she'd rather face the playground or the ocean. She always picks "ocean" (I chose this time, for photo op purposes). I ask her if she's all done swinging, she says, "More!" Today, I was trying to take a video of her giggling on the swings, but it wasn't working because I couldn't push her high enough and keep the camera-phone steady at the same time. She looked right at me and said, "No phone!" Everything I've read recently about connecting with your kid and disconnecting from the electronics came flooding back to me.

She gets to play at a park by the pier. Can you still be in awe of the ocean and thrilled by walking on a pier if you grow up like this?
This smile is entirely because the ladies on the bench who were watching their visiting little-girl-friend/niece play were talking about how cute Ella's pigtails were. I actually got a "no pictures, Mommy!" But I am her paparazzi and I will not be deterred!

I have to find my picture of her at this wall last year, with her elbows so much closer to the bottom of the circle. I remember once looking over at her from a few feet away, and she was folded in half, her feet off the ground and her hands dangling over the other side. She was stuck in an upside down V--I think she had been trying to imitate the kids a year older than her who were climbing through the hole and running off like it was no big deal.

At the other park, there is a window like this, but it is labeled "General Store" and has a bit of a counter, so the kids pretend they're selling stuff. Mostly they make cake or pie. Here, I asked Ella what she was making and she said, "Sand."


It used to be a big deal for her to stand on the playground equipment. Last year at this time, she could barely walk. For months, I would always climb up there with her, or she would crawl, and even the little kids would say "watch out for the baby!"

Now, she acts like she owns the place. Here, she's lowered herself to the platform with the steering wheel--she spends a lot of time "driving"--I had to offer her the choice of sliding down the slide ("no!") or being picked up and carried to the stroller when it was time to go. She decided to slide.

These two "big boys" didn't want to get off the slide to give her a turn, but they were willing to get out of her way. Last year, this wouldn't have worked because she always spun out on the swirly slide, so I had to hold her up while she slid or her head bumped around on the way down.

Tomorrow is the first day of preschool. I will take pictures of her as we leave the house. I will take pictures of her in front of the red door of the school house, just like everyone else does.

I will do everything I told her I would do when we talked about preschool. I will tell her I love her and say bye-bye and then leave her there, just like everyone else does.

And then I will sit in my car and cry.

Or, you know.... I'll exercise, or get a coffee, or go to the grocery store, or read articles and blogs and books, or.... It's three hours without her! I can do anything!

But I've never left her in a building with anyone other than Justin or my mom, not even for three minutes, that I can remember. So we'll leave the crying option open.