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.

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