Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Daycare Diaries

Jack has been at The Sunshine School since he was 6 months old. He's played with the same friends for three years. He's been in a serious, although sometimes rocky, relationship with his girlfriend Ruby for that entire time.  He's moved from the infant room, to the wobbler room, to the big boy room for "potty-trained" toddlers.

This school has been our saving grace. For all the hectic mornings, crazy work schedules, and days we forgot diapers / shoes / milk, etc -- they always have a smile, a reassuring word, and an extra set of whatever we dropped in a puddle, peed on en-route to daycare, or happened to leave at home that day. Most days he lunges toward his favorite toy, favorite friend, favorite teacher. Laughing and engaged the minute we arrive. And for the one or two days a month when Jackson clings to me, holds onto my leg, cries and begs: "Mommy, don't go" the teachers bend down, pat his back, give him hugs and always say "Here, let me help with this transition" as I nod, fight back tears, hold him for 30 more seconds, and then stumble out of the classroom toward my car, toward my work day, toward ten more hours before I see him again.

A common joke between Brent and I (among many inside jokes since we became parents) is "Oh, did Daycare teach you that?" Which, I guess, is more of a question than a joke but we always laugh in amazement and wonder at the new words, skills, and tricks he brings home. After his first few weeks there, our 6 month old started using sign language at the dinner table for the words "milk", "more", and "all done".  Fast forward a year and a half later, Jackson starting counting to ten in the car everyday, it went something like this: "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. JUST A MINUTE WE'RE NOT DONE!" (This last sentence was a line he stole from one of his favorite books. It adds a certain flare to the  counting segment that I attribute to a budding appreciation for the dramatic).

He's also learned the alphabet, certain colors, how to pee standing up, and a rapid response outcome to the phrase "I'm going to count to 3" that I can only thank the teachers for instilling in him since we have absolutely not even one back bone between the two of us and neither one of us knows what the heck is supposed to happen after three. We just know it gets him to stop throwing pickle jars out of the cart during our weekly grocery shopping. (He must be putting the pieces together: Pickles + Mommy = total cliche and baby on the way! Like the flare for the dramatic, he also picks up on those psychic tendencies from me -- but we'll be going more into the whole 'I KNEW I WAS PSYCHIC!' epiphany later in this posting).

Apart from all the obvious benefits of early learning, social development, etc I just find everything about daycare very comforting. From the macaroni seasonal-themed artwork to the potty training sticker charts to the hand written notes at the end of the day:  

"Jackson really enjoyed playing with the dinosaurs today! He ate all of his broccoli at lunch time! He got to sleep in the Director's office because he wouldn't stop giggling at nap time and then all the kids were giggling instead of resting! Actually that happens quite often we thought you should know!"--Ms Tina

I'm probably so grateful for the dependable yet diverse routine they offer Jack because I know that if I were to be home with him each day, there would be no schedule, no music class, no arts & crafts, no daily walk to the playground. Cause on the weekends, I'm pretty much like "Let's cuddle all day!" or "Winnie the Pooh!!!!!"

They also give great advice. And they manage to do it in a really non aggressive but firm way (with lots of teacher head nodding that I find quite affirming, actually).

"Some of the other parents are starting to potty train at home. Would you like to try that? (Head nod).

and 4 months later...

"We noticed Jack still wears diapers every day. Would you like to see what a pull up looks like? Here's an article on p-o-t-t-y t-r-a-i-n-i-n-g." (Extra long head nod).

"It's starting to rain a lot now. Because of how we live in Oregon and all. Would you like to bring a rain coat for Jack? That will help him stay d-r-y if we go outside to play."

And stuff like that. I kind of like it. They are always helping us figure out how to parent better which is super awesome because Brent and I are both the youngest of our siblings and WE HAVE NO FREAKIN IDEA what we are doing most of the time.

But now. Oh boy. We are moving. And Jack will have to say goodbye to all his little friends. (Who he probably thinks are his brothers and sisters since he's spent so much time with them his entire life). I know I'm gonna be a total hot mess on his last day, but for now I am putting those thoughts out of my head and just concentrating on finding him an equally fantastic pre-school in Eugene. He won't need to go full time, which is great, but we want him to go two days a week so that he can continue learning all that stuff that we fail to think of. And so he can still have access to crayons.

So I prepared an extensive list of daycare options to call through and first on my list, by random chance, was a Montessori school. Thanks to the huge chip on my shoulder and my constant cynicism of God-knows-what I immediately scrawled "going to be bitchy" on the form that contained their contact information. I sighed, then called anyway. The lady who answered said:

"It's a little late in the day for us to be answering questions. You need to call in the morning if you want information on our school."

"Oh, umm, okay, sorry. I was just wondering if you do part time care? Like, for a couple of days a week?"

"Oh no. Definitely not. It's very important the children have a regular school day 5 days a week."

So funny they have no time to answer pesky questions like "Do you have any openings?" but plenty of time for a phone lecture. Snap. They told me, yes they did! Oooh, I'm so scared of you Mister Montessori! Anyway, I got the chance to confirm my psychic abilities, which was cool. Proof below.

The only daycare, oddly enough, that was more than willing to answer every question I had over the phone and BE NICE TO ME was the Baptist one! The Sunshine School is also Baptist. For all my crazy politics and Catholic upbringing, who would have figured? But you know what? Those Baptists make some good daycare!

We are going on a few tours after Christmas, so perhaps I will have an update then on what we decide. I may stop by the Montessori school just for some more material.

*To dear friend Sarah -- this post is for you (and all amazing teachers out there) in tribute to the many years you spent at Head Start. Where would all us clueless moms & dads be without smart, dedicated, loving teachers who care for our kids and save our butts every day? You probably don't want one of my crazy blog postings dedicated to you. But I did it anyway.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Almost Home

We drove down to Eugene for a friend's birthday party a few weeks back. Also on the agenda was looking for our new home. As we pulled into town, I began taking pictures of the freeway in front of us. Leaning out the car window to snap photos of my home town is not something I would have done in the twenty five years I lived there. But after seven years in Portland, I felt like a tourist giddy with excitement.

Sometimes you don't know how much you've missed something until you almost have it back.

People think I'm nuts for being so sentimental about moving home. But the nice thing about getting older (I can use that expression now -- I found GREY HAIRS the other day, which is a whole other situation I need to post about later. Correction, my co-worker and dear friend actually found the grey hairs on my head and I insisted she pluck them out so I could stare in disbelief) is that I have come to accept a few things about myself. For instance, I like everything that is safe, familiar, and known.When I was little, spending the night at a friend's house seemed so exciting, but by 7pm, like clockwork, the homesickness would kick in and I'd ask the parents to drive me back. When I traveled to places like New Orleans, Los Angeles, or Mexico I usually spent the whole time sitting inside, calling home. During my pregnancy with Jack, I spent a month in Mexico at a language school. Everyday after class I went straight to my room and read until bedtime (there was no TV).  I only brought four books so I read Barack Obama's autobiography three times in a row. (Thanks Mom! I feel quite connected to Obama now -- and you know, as a side note, he used to watch a lot of TV himself and where did he end up? Harvard and the White House!).  Anyway, only twice did I go sightseeing -- forcing myself to sign up for day trips to the local sights and museums. My other outings consisted of walking to the Internet cafe down the street to email friends and family.

Throughout the years, after each trip I took, I would always return home and scold myself: Why can't I be more adventurous? Why don't I explore the city, make new friends? Why not embrace the change of scenery? Back then, it seemed so small minded and almost offensive to good judgement that I did not enjoy those experiences more. Over and over, I would ask myself: What am I so afraid of? 

But now I'm all: Who cares? In theory, expanding your horizons is an essential component of one's life journey, blah-de-blah-de-blah and all that plus a bag of chips. But at the end of the day, I'd just as soon learn about the world through books, movies, and television. I'm a dreamer, not a doer. That's who I am. I would prefer to explore Iceland by watching a documentary rather than risk the flight. Cause that's some ocean flying right? And actually, I'm not even that curious about Iceland. And while everyone else on Facebook is doing it, I really don't want to backpack through South America, die of frost bite while climbing Mt Hood during a blizzard, or ride my bike to the Coast while enjoying Oregon's scenic highways. I just don't enjoy adventure.

What I do enjoy is the familiar. The comfort of laughing for hours in my parent's kitchen, driving past streets that carry a thousand memories, calling family friends up on the same phone number they've had for years, running into people I know at the grocery store, and most of all -- being in my own skin. Eugene is like a glove that fits perfectly. And in that town, I can merge the unfamiliar with the familiar. I've been navigating parenthood for three years now. This whole time; I've been asking myself all those same questions that twirled around in my head* after each trip. Because all those questions boiled down to just one: What am I so afraid of? (*I'm sorry, but Cain's quote is too much to resist and, to be honest, I can relate).

In Portland, I feel like a failure as a parent. Always paralyzed with anxiety over where to go and what to do. I don't know which park is the best or how to find a kid friendly restaurant for family date night. Is there a place we can go to paint pottery? I wouldn't know, so intimidated am I to even Google it on the Internet. "There's too many options, too many freeways", I whine to Brent. Should I find a kids indoor gym by my work, or near our house? I scribble out pros and cons lists in my head for the perfect library. WHICH ONE WILL BE MY SON'S CHILDHOOD LIBRARY??? The Clackamas one has more books, but the Oregon City one has a pretty brick exterior. The Portland metro area is suffocating me with eye-rolling worthy dilemmas.

At this point, I'm ready to break up with my mundane and ridiculous crazy parent inner-monologue. The hopes I hold for my children are nothing unique. Just a magical childhood. That's all. And up here, I'm beyond lost as to how we'll provide that. But in Eugene, I don't even need a map. I know every amazing, special, and awesome spot to go. For each season, there are numerous traditions from my own childhood that I can't wait to share with my kids. In Portland, being a homebody means BEING AT HOME. But in Eugene, being a homebody means BEING ANYWHERE IN THE CITY. It's my territory, and Internet searches to find a pizza place are not required.

So I continue to count down the weeks until we move. Ten! Every night I comb through Craigslist looking for the perfect 3 bedroom, 1 bath, ranch house with wood floors and an attached double-car garage (Are you writing this down, my Eugene peeps?).  In my head, every Saturday is mapped out with the places we'll take Jackson. Dinner menus are planned for Sunday night gatherings with our family. (That someone else will be cooking). Maybe life won't be perfect in Eugene, but I know that it will be OUR life. So I can't wait to be almost home. No apologies for that sappy ending.

In my parent's kitchen.

Once again, I deleted a quarter of my post before putting it online. I had to make a cup-o-noodle and watch two episodes of "Brides of Beverly Hills" just to motivate myself to rewrite it. (And no, cup-o-noodle does NOT have enough sodium in it and YES it does need extra salt).