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Entries in preschool (2)

Tuesday
Aug212012

Parenthood: 7 Myths I've Let Go of on My Seventh Anniversary

Carriage Ride through Downtown Memphis: Happy Seventh Birthday to My PrincessYesterday was my seventh anniversary as a parent.

I was thirty when I became a mother. Thirty years old is that age where you know a lot of stuff. You're your own person. You know how the world works. You know the rules.

When I first met Tariq at nineteen, I told him I wanted to send my children to boarding school. I know. I KNOW.

My reason was that boarding school was prestigious. Also, it would make my children stronger and "networked". Shut up. I think I was coming out of of a period of time where I read a lot of early twentieth century English literature.

When I became a parent, I became the poster parent for attachment parenting, though. We co-slept, I nursed, no television before two, no stroller, baby sling only, no fast food before three, constant attention... preschool didn't start until four and that, too, because there was a new baby and I was really, really tired.

Prior to preschool, I couldn't leave my daughter with anyone besides my mother for more than a day, so, needless to say, boarding school was out.

Look, becoming a first time mother was absolutely incredible.

I was proud of myself. Within a few weeks of parenthood, I had been flexible enough to understand that there is a distinctness between the idea of how I envisioned parenthood and how I actually practiced parenthood. Some things, you have to do to know what you really think they're all about. This is absolutely applicable to someone not having children and being 36. I have no idea what that's like. I have very clear ideas of what I think that should be like. It involves Paris, Italy and Spain, waiting tables for food money but spending it on incredibly beautiful shoes instead.

Being a parent constantly pushes at my notions of the ideal parent-child relationship. I've come to realize that the most tension between children and their parents (even into adulthood) occurs as a result of someone clinging too tightly to the ideal and not making peace with the real. 

When my daughter was born, I thought it was my job to teach her about reality. The same was true for my son. I have come to realize, of course, that we teach each other. We have been placed in one another's lives for a reason and that, as it is in all things, there is a balance of what we can offer to one another. Some days, I nurture my children and teach them value of love and respect. More often than not, though, they teach me those things and so much more. Like, nothing... and I mean, nothing, gets purple permanent markers out of a cream colored sofa. 

1. When I became a mother, I thought it was my job to make sure my children were good, decent, people who were kind and compassionate. I now know that children are born kind, compassionate, good, wise and decent. They stay that way when I treat them that way. The trick is to be what you expect from others. Want nice? Be nice.

2. As a new mother, I thought that I had to do everything in my power to protect my children from any and all harm. I have learned that it is inevitable that my children will come to harm. Something bad will happen to them one day. I can be wary, I can be wise, but I cannot protect them forever. I can only remind them that they are powerful enough to survive harm and that when they feel they aren't -- I will hold them up. I will be there. I can spend my time constantly watching our backs or I can spend my time feeling the joy of being together. I can't do both.

3. I once thought that children are a reflection of their parent's behavior, values and actions. I think parents can exert great influence over their children's actions and choices to an extent. I beleive that my children's actions are a reflection of how they perceive my integrity, though. If I want them to emulate my behavior, I must make sure that my behavior is grounded in good intention, well thought out values and integrity. I also must ensure that I never expect from my children more than I expect of myself.

4. Children are the charges of their parents. I have learned that you are in charge of you. I am in charge of me. Our connection is not based on power or hierarchy, but upon mutual respect and trust. Children aren't different. In an ideal scenario, I trust that that my child will do the right thing when presented with the facts, and my child will trust that I am telling them the truth when I present them with what I believe is the truth. I may not be correct, but I am doing my best to be so. That matters more. The greatest punishment either one of us can undergo is to feel that we have lost the trust of the person we love.. even if for a moment. 

5. I used to believe that children crave discipline and consequences the way I crave a McFlurry on a 100F Memphis afternoon. Actually, children crave respect. It's not consequences that they need to thrive and grow, it's accountability. It's the knowledge that they matter, that what they do matters and when they don't do what they're supposed to do -- like any valuable member of a community -- everyone feels the consequences of that. Showing someone that what they do matters is respect. People who feel respected require little discipline from others.

6. The Chimpmunks are horrible and will completely destroy any hope that my child has good taste in music. I still think this might be true. Children will like what children like. We can fight it or we can try to see the value in what they like. Maybe if we do that, they'll make an effort to like what we like. I plan on trying to pitch Bob Dylan as an antidote to the Chipette's version of Bad Romance. Pray for me.

7. Parenthood is full of crazy opportunities to be sarcastic and funny about our kids. But I will not do this to their faces or in their hearing ranges one day longer. This is difficult. So.difficult. Because I'm horribly sarcastic. The thing is, I don't ever want my children to be someone's punchline. I don't want the responsibility of teaching them that it's okay for someone to make them a punchline. They're not punchlines to anyone's jokes. They are my most incredible treasures. Addendum: if you and me are on the phone and they can't hear us? I'm totally making fun of them.

 

What about you? Are there any myths you've had to let go of when it comes to children?

 

 

Sunday
Aug302009

Back To School: A Prayer

Friday.

I kept my head high, as I always do when I’m trying to stave off the itching feeling that I’m headed towards personal failure.  This is me.  The more ominous the feeling of failure, the higher my head.  As if looking more confident will prepare me, no, protect me from the heart crushing realization that I’ve messed up royally.

I glanced to the left of me and passed what seemed like countless classrooms.  Each one filled with happy children.  Happy to be there, well adjusted, not crying, not missing their mommies so bad that they couldn’t calm down long enough to even eat their snacks or lunch.

They had said that the crying usually stopped after the second week.  But, still, that morning when I dropped her off, she had cried.  A lot.  She had pleaded for me not to leave.  But I did.  Because that’s what you’re supposed to do.

You’re supposed to let them go, and let them cry until they figure out how to stop on their own.  They’re supposed to stop.  Even if they are the only one crying.  Even if you hear an aching loneliness in their wailing that is unlike any wail of loneliness you might have ever imagined.

On that first day of week three, I arrived home and logged into the school’s webcam with a hopeful spirit to see if she had stopped crying after I left.  Perhaps, I would see her happily coloring a picture of Strawberry Shortcake.  Perhaps she had come to accept that I would, in fact, be back, and that the place where I had left her wasn’t so bad after all.

The camera loaded and I gazed at the fuzzy pictures trying to make out where my daughter was.  I saw her, she looked happy.  She was listening intently to the guest teacher instructing the children how to count in Japanese.  My little girl seemed surprisingly content, and I let out a big sigh of relief as a smile involuntarily erupted on my face.

Triumph.

And then I noticed her feet, the shoes were red

My daughter wasn’t wearing red shoes when I dropped her off.

That happy, content little girl was not mine.  I looked harder and saw the teacher pass in front of the camera being closely tailed by a petite dark haired three year old who was clearly screaming her head off.

My heart sank.  That one is mine.

Her teacher had told me that almost every day for the past two weeks my baby had been following her around the classroom repeatedly saying “I want my mama” over and over again until I came to pick her up.

The teacher had also assured me that she’d had kids do this before, and I wasn’t to worry.  I noticed, though, that the teacher wasn’t looking at her right now.  She was ignoring my daughter.  Probably some well tested approach that was obviously not working on my child.  She was just walking around doing other stuff while my daughter painfully, tearfully begged for me.

My baby girl was alone.  Completely alone.  And in that moment, every moment of loneliness I had ever felt in my own life surged from my body and formed a big lump in my throat.  I put my head down on my desk and I wept.  Loudly.

After the ocean of tears became a light drizzle, I called my husband.  “I can’t take this anymore.  I’m going to get her.”

“Faiqa,” he said in a calm, reassuring tone, “turn off the webcam.  Go do something else until it’s time to pick her up.”

I wanted to scream at him, “This is all your fault, I told you she wasn’t ready, you made me put her in school, I know her best, you were all wrong...

But, I knew that was the pain speaking and that it just wasn’t true.  The truth was that I had been hypnotized by the promise of bi-weekly Mandarin and Japanese lessons, the possibility of elementary mathematics and the potential of her reading in full sentences by the time she was four.

I hadn’t even considered that maybe all she needed was a place where she could color, be messy, and laugh.

I choked out a barely comprehensible, “OK.”  And, then, in a voice so small and so vulnerable it could have been my own daughter’s, I said, “How long are we going to do this?”

“We’re giving it until the end of the week.  If she’s still crying the whole time by Friday, we’ll pull her out. OK?”  I could hear the sympathy mixed with awe in his voice.

He’s not used to me being like that.  I don’t ask people what I should do or ask for permission to do it.

I sighed and barely croaked out an inaudible, “OK” once more.

Friday came and I happily withdrew her from school.

I hadn’t looked at that stupid webcam all that week. Still, every time I went to pick her up, her teacher smiled and said, “She did alright.”  Then, she would pretend like she was looking at some papers, picking something up or tending to another child and say, “She still cried a lot, though.”

She still cried a lot, though.

Every time I think of those words, my eyes sting with tears caused by a pain that remains fresh and very real.  My heart drops.  Even now, one year later, after seeing my daughter blossom into a more adventurous, yet still markedly reserved four year old, I weep over what in my mind lives as a colossal parenting fail.

Because God knows, that experience wasn’t her failure.  It was mine.  I should have known that she wasn’t ready.  I should have known that this wasn’t the right school for her.  I realize now that her first school was a place where what was being learned was a little more important that who was learning.  I know that now.  I also know that most kids fit into that particular school just fine, but mine didn’t.  I can’t believe to this day that I didn’t realize that right away.

I was never disappointed in my daughter.  I think I will always be disappointed in and ashamed of myself over this.

My little girl starts a new preschool today.  The orientation was this past Thursday, and afterward I slowly approached her new teacher.  I wanted to tell her about last year, and how hard of a time N. had those three weeks.

“I wanted to let you know,” I said, “that we put her in preschool last year, and it was a bad experience, the school... she didn’t fit in...”  Tears started to form in my eyes.  I began to stutter.

If you know me well, you know that I never stutter.  I am never at a loss for words.  I seldom lose it in front of people I know very well, let alone those that I barely know.  I fought those tears back as hard as I could because I could see the discomfort in the other woman’s eyes.

She looked at me and said sympathetically, “Don’t worry, we are very loving and caring here.  We’ll make sure that she’s OK.”

I whispered, “I know, I can see that... I’m just am so worried...”  I tried to regain composure, “Uh, I have these forms...”

“Oh, yes, let me see...”  I could see the new task brought relief to her face and she scurried off as quickly as is humanly possible with those forms.

Tariq walked in and his face flew into a concerned look, “What happened?  Are you crying?” he whispered in surprise.

I looked at him, pleadingly.  Don’t make me talk about this right now. Don’t make me talk about this ever again.

He understood at once and put his arm around my shoulder.  “It’s going to be fine, I think she’ll do well this time.  Insh’Allah.”


Insh’Allah.
As God wills.

God, please let it be your will to make this time easier for my daughter.  And for me.

God, please let it be your will that this new teacher understands my daughter in a way that the last one did not.

God, please let it be your will that this school helps her blossom into the person I know she can be.

God, please let it be your will that everyone else sees how magnificent, funny, voracious, smart and passionate she really is when she’s just being herself and not worrying about what people think.

God, please let it be your will that the pain of my disappointment in myself over this situation fades into a hazy memory instead of remaining fresh in my mind.

And God, please let it be your will that if things go the way they did last year that I will be more forgiving of myself than the last time.

Because, God, I don't think my heart can bear this pain in any more quantity than it's feeling at this moment.*




*I realize, yes, that she's only four, and that there will be many, many heartbreaks and many mistakes on my part (or hers) that will be more painful and more difficult than this time.  I also know that compared to the losses and pain that many of you may be dealing with or have dealt with, this post may seem trivial.  But, I'm living here in this moment... and this is the moment I feel and the reality that I'm living with.