#39bucketlist

I had to give something up this year.  So I chose the gym.  Even though I’m probably three slices of bacon away from a heart attack, I accepted the fact that it is better for me to just allow myself to work out on weekends or when the opportunity strikes than having to feel guilty for not making the time to go to the gym on a regular basis.

Last year was the year to Just Say No (please refer to last post entitled “Just Say No”).  I was overwhelmed by having my two girls in public schools for the first time, taking on a teaching job, juggling work and home life and trying to prevent my husband from nominating me for Hoarders:  Buried Alive.  I said no to joining Parent Council, I said no to putting Emma in Orchestra and generally put the brakes on extending myself any further.  I even stopped writing my blog, which must’ve been sad for the three of you who read it. (Hi, Patrick!).

What a difference a year makes.

I am turning 40 this year, and this year is about saying yes to things that are important, that feel right, and that make me happy.  Yes, this is something that I shouldn’t need a milestone birthday to prompt me to do, but my 20s were kind of a mess and my 30s were about finding myself, so I hope that my 40s will be about me feeling comfortable in my own skin and enjoying my amazing family.  #39bucketlist is a frame of mind that I use to make choices that will help get me and my family on a better path.

Where has this journey taken me so far?

I changed jobs.  Like three times in one year.  I’m no stranger to moving around professionally, but even this surprised/embarrassed me.  It was so sad and painful to have to leave the other jobs, particularly because I really liked and respected my bosses, but in the end I arrived in the right place.  The funny thing was that I didn’t even apply for my current job – I decided to say yes to a call from a recruiter for a position I felt I was overqualified for and didn’t think I wanted.   It’s only been a couple of months, but it’s amazing what a difference the right job makes.  I’m doing work that I love (even when it makes me want to pull my hair out – my fellow HRBPs will understand what I mean) as part of an incredibly talented, smart and hardworking team of Type A personalities.   I don’t know where my career will go from here, but I absolutely know that I am in the right place right now.

I said yes to Parent Council at Emma’s school.  I figured that if all three of my children end up going there, it was worth my time and energy to get involved.  Now as a Parent Council Secretary, I help creating flyers, stuffing mailboxes and taking meeting minutes.  But I also get an insider’s look at the school, access to the administration and an opportunity to voice my opinion.

I said yes to applying to the Disney Parks Moms Panel.  Yes, that would be a third unpaid “job,” but it would allow me to write AND would legitimize my obsessive love of planning Disney trips!  I only made it to the second round but met some awesome people who are equally obsessive about planning Disney trips and learned a LOT in the process.  For example, nomenclature is very important to Disney.  I like to think that I did not make it to the third round because I forgot to put the “Disney’s” in “Disney’s Hollywood Studios,” and not because I wasn’t “magical” enough!  It was fun to see who made it through to the Panel, and I look forward to trying again in the future.  It also inspired me to restart my blog and to become more active on social media.

And coming full circle back to quitting the gym, I said yes to running again.  Specifically, I picked up the hobby popular with so many of my similarly aged and situated friends:  running races.  Please be clear – by “running races,” I mean to say “finishing races,” and short ones at that.  I’ve done two 5ks so far, and would love to work my way up to a half marathon by 2016.  By the way, if any of you have training plans that can get you shape to run 13.1 miles when you can only run once or twice a week, please call me!

I may not be a fast runner or on the Disney Parks Moms Panel, and I may have set myself back years in my career trajectory, but I know that all of these steps I’m taking are at least keeping the heart attacks at bay.  Which is good, because I’m not ready to say no to bacon.

 

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Parent Disorientation

I’d like to ask you to participate in a little reading comprehension test.  Imagine that you are a parent of a child entering Kindergarten this Fall. You receive the following notice of an upcoming event at the school:

“Open House for Parents: You will learn important information about classroom curriculum and school policies —please make every effort to attend.  Tuesday September 3rd for K0—K1 from 12:30-1:30p.m.”

Select the answer that BEST describes the meeting:
(a)  This is an important meeting for new Kindergarten parents to attend and learn about school policies and procedures;
(b)  This is an optional meeting to attend if you happen to live a life of leisure and have nothing better to do in the middle of the day; OR
(c)  This is an important orientation for your child to attend.

Ready with your answer? Ok, now imagine you receive this follow-up email a week later:

“This is a reminder for families of KO and K1 children that the  Open House will be this Tuesday 12:30 to 1:30 and Open House for K2 and Grade One parents is Wednesday 1:30 to 2:30. Although we have limited ability to provide child care during these times, we really would like you to attend. So if you are not able to obtain alternative childcare, you are welcome to bring your child to Open House.”

Select the answer that BEST describes the meeting:
(a) This is an important meeting for parents to attend and they are hoping you’ll leave the kids at home so that you can concentrate on listening to the presentation;
(b) You should bring all of your children as they’ve offered to provide limited childcare; OR
(c) This is an important orientation for your child to attend and you are of sub par intelligence because you failed to see the obvious differentiation between the phrases for K0/K1 children and the K2/Grade One parents.

You’re all smart, so  I’m sure you can guess what happened.

I practically strutted into Bree’s school for the Parent Open House, so proud of myself for making the commitment to a mid-day meeting and for actually being a few minutes early (thank god for flexible employers!) and excited to get more information on what Bree’s life would be like.  A very friendly woman (vice principal?) greeted me at the door and directed me towards Bree’s future classroom.  I saw a sign in sheet on a shelf next to the door, and two women setting up the class room.  “Hello,” I called.  “Should I sign myself in?”  The women looked up and one answered, rather coldly, “It’s only 12:20.  It’s not time yet.”  Not sure whether she was the teacher or someone else, I uncomfortably backed out of the door and mumbled, trailing off “oh sorry, I guess I’ll just go sit here in the hallway…” “Yes, please do that,” came the reply.

I could feel the tears stinging in my eyes and immediately started to panic.  What was I DOING here?   Why am I pulling Bree out of her school with all those lovely teachers?  The worst I ever get from them is the passing reminder that I forgot to bring a certain form YET AGAIN or a comment that I MUST be older than Patrick after telling them that he turned 40 this year.   How can I send my sensitive Bree to this cold, unfriendly teacher?

Another woman eventually joined me, along with her small daughter and older son.  She too was turned away from the inn classroom and was wandering the hall, looking annoyed.  Seeing an opportunity to make a new friend, I immediately went over to her and asked, “oh, did they send you away too?”.  To which she replied, “No habla ingles.”  My disoriented brain somehow couldn’t recall how to say, “I don’t speak Spanish” so I looked helplessly at her children.  Her son was there to translate.  “Are you the teacher?” he asked, noticing that I was alone and clearly confused why I would be there without a child.

It wasn’t until the other parents and their children started to arrive that I slowly realized that something was  wrong. I didn’t bring Bree, and this was obviously an orientation for her.  When we were finally granted access into the classroom, I pulled one of the teachers aside (the nicer one who didn’t snap at me earlier) and asked her if Bree were supposed to come.  She said yes.  I told her that because of the communication, I had assumed I shouldn’t bring my child and now it was too late to go pick up Bree to bring her.  She looked at me as though I was wearing clown makeup and a bikini and asked, “You didn’t think that you should bring your child to meet her teachers and see her classroom before the first day of school?”

The absurdity of the situation really sunk in while I was sitting in a child size classroom chair waiting for the parent meeting to start while “Tainted Love” played on a portable radio/tape deck that was so “vintage” that you couldn’t quite call it a boombox.

I was in Parent Disorientation and suddenly became a lot less sure of this next phase of my life.

Emma’s Orientation at her new school is coming up this Friday.  On the plus side, the message was idiot proof as the event was billed as a “Parent and Child” Orientation [emphasis added] and the email specifically noted for us to “please bring [our] child.”  On the down side, we just received the invite on Monday and had to rearrange our entire week’s work schedule in order to be able to attend…

I’m hoping that one of these orientations will eventually help ME improve my own comprehension of what it is that I should be doing.  Transitions are always hardest for the parents, right?

 

For the good of the family….

I reread the email several times, wishing I could take a shot of vodka or something similarly strong before hitting Send.  After several months of waiting to see if we’d be winners in the Boston Public School lottery (we were) and in the Brookline housing market (we weren’t), the time had come for me to email Bree’s current school and let them know that we are moving her to Boston Public preschool in the fall.

I should feel very happy about the money we’ll be saving with two kids out of private, full-time (gold plated) daycare, but instead feel an incredible heaviness in my heart.

Bree has been going to this school since she was three months old.  It is all that she knows.  Over the first four years of her life, she has had some of the best teachers I’ve ever seen, and we have gotten to know some of the nicest families I’ve ever met.   Many of her best friends have already moved up to Pre-K as she’s a few months younger than they are (damn Fall birthdays!) and I don’t think it’s fully sunk in that she won’t be joining them in September.  We’ve been talking to her for several months about this possibility, even taking her to an Open House to visit her new school.  I’ll never forget her reaction when she walked into that empty classroom (which oddly reminded me so much of my old elementary school in Northfield, NH).  Instead of running around excitedly, she stepped in, stopped in her tracks and wheeled around, informing Patrick and I that “this is BAD!”  She sat on my lap during the Principal’s presentation, her big blue eyes wide as she watched her future classmates, some who weren’t even three yet, tearing the library apart, pulling books from the shelves, knocking over art supplies (and to my shock, USING the art supplies, which were not set out for our use).  Most of the other parents didn’t even try to stop their children, and I walked away from the whole thing wondering, what did I get our family into?

But I kept a big smile on my face that day, telling Bree that her school was great.  And I do think it is a good school.  The curriculum is focused on reading, and most kids are reading before they enter “real” kindergarten.   But do I believe that it’s the best place available for my daughter?  I’m not so sure.  So here’s the conundrum that we all face as parents – how and when do you make decisions that are right for your individual child versus for the good of the family?   If you are fortunate enough to have various childcare and/or school options, when do you decide that you’ll settle for “good enough” for one child in order to save your family a little bit of money?

While I’m sad that Emma is also moving on to a new school, I do not have the same concerns about her.  I know that I could drop Emma off in any environment, and she’d be just fine.  Emma has always had a preternatural and somewhat eerie confidence and independence about her so that on the times when she does have a breakdown/tantrum or admits some fear, I have to remind myself that oh yes, you are only five.  I also feel like I know more about Emma’s school and am confident that she’ll learn all the right things in Kindergarten.

Perhaps I don’t give Bree enough credit, but since the day she has been born, she has been an incredible force in our family – both in a joyous and a terrifying way.   At her best, she is utterly charming, completely amusing, and empathetic to her friends who are sad.  But she’s also very sensitive to how others treat her.  It breaks my heart when she tries to engage in a game with Emma, who just shrugs her off.  And for a while recently, she was having “bad drop offs” at her current school – crying and screaming when I leave, “Mommy, please don’t leave me!”  I’m sure at least part of it is an act.  At least that’s what I tell myself when I head to work.

Many people say that transitions like this are harder on parents than they are on children.  Maybe I’m just overly sensitive because I moved around a lot as a child, and hated the transition between schools. I made the decision that I would try to minimize the number of times the kids move. Maybe I won’t actually be able to control it; we’ll see. I love the idea of friends growing up together!  Bree is excited to go to her new school.  We let her pick out a new backpack and lunchbox (Brave/Princess Merida, unfortunately the “jazzed up” version).  We’ve made plans for her to continue activities with her “old” friends to maintain those relationships.  And since my job is the parent here, I will continue to keep up the big smile and the encouraging words and try to keep the faith that it will all work out in the end.

But will I be able to hide my tears at next week’s “Stepping Up” day at school?   We shall see…

Bree School

And with a single envelope, our family’s future has changed…

Whomever wished us luck over St. Patrick’s Day weekend – thank you!  No, we weren’t lucky with the house search.  We were outbid AGAIN for a great place!!!  For a great three bedroom outside of Coolidge Corner!!!  Emma could’ve gone to Devotion School!!!  Ughhhhhhhh…..

The Boston Public School lottery results arrived that weekend.  And whether it was Irish luck, or because someone randomly pulled a government connection we didn’t realize we had, both Emma and Bree got into good public schools.  Emma got into the Josiah Quincy school in Chinatown, and Bree got into an Early Education Center/Pre-K program about a mile from our house (essentially free daycare!).   This news should have been met with pure happiness, as this is the luckiest thing that’s happened to us in some time.  Maybe it’s because the school search has been such an emotional rollercoaster or maybe just because I’m me, I freaked out.  Immediately, I assumed that Patrick would call off the house hunt, and sure enough, he had the audacity to suggest that we wait another year to buy to save up more cash.  I started to panic about staying here another year, and whether I did the right thing putting Quincy down for Emma instead of the Early Education Center or the Lyon School…Once cooler heads prevailed, we both agreed that we’d still look for a new place.  Now that we have a decent school solution for the girls, we are no longer desperate buyers.  Just very, very eager buyers.  We have time to wait for just the right place.  We could even consider buying something in Boston, where we would get a lot more for our money.  And while I’m not sure that one year will really help all that much in terms of saving money, we hope that our child care costs will go down at least a little.

Like many parents with children still in full-time daycare, we didn’t realize that care for school age children is still really expensive.  There’s before school care (Emma’s new school starts at 9:20 – what’s up with that???), after school care (most schools are out by 2:30/3:30 p.m.), summer camp (no, I’m not talking the situation I always dreamed about growing up – sleepaway camp in a mountain cabin retreat for the summer – I’m talking about the weekday “camps” working parents drop their kids off at over the summer), school vacation camps, etc.  I can practically hear you parents with school age children giggling at my naiveté.   Not to mention the million holidays schools are closed, snow days, sick days….come to think of it, school is only required to open 180 days a year….I’m no math major, but even I know that is less than half a year.  When I combine that with the fact that most people have to work more than five hours a day, I tend to believe that our current system is set up against working parents.

And if we do move into Brookline or Newton, we will have missed the deadline to sign up for before and after school care anyway.  A mom I met at Ballet on Saturday asked me why I didn’t JUST SIGN UP for before and after care in Brookline, and tell the schools that I’d be moving there soon…I had to explain that I don’t even live in Brookline, I live in Boston.  If they didn’t really check on residency, wouldn’t everyone try signing up???  Apparently she signed up for all SEVEN programs offered by Brookline even though she still hasn’t closed on the apartment they just bought.  Hmmmph!  One nice surprise about the Boston Public School system is that there are people working at the schools called City Connects Student Coordinators whose job it is to support families, including helping parents navigate care options.  While I was in the midst of my freak out, this really nice woman emailed me and Patrick with a few options for Emma including a before school orchestra where she could learn to play violin or cello.

I am quickly coming to the one conclusion I’ve been dreading – we are going to have to get a babysitter.   I will not detail here my feelings about leaving one person alone with my children for extended periods of time, but I will openly admit that I have NEVER had someone unrelated to me by blood or marriage watch my children outside of group day care for longer than 20 minutes.   And there’s a reason for that.  How much would it cost to install Nanny Cam in every room?  Plus, my house is the saddest place on earth, and I hate having to subject my children to it, much less inviting a stranger into the chaos.

But it is what it is, and while I know I’m not the first parent to struggle with this issue, I do wish I had known all this going in.  Perhaps I would’ve chosen a different career path or would’ve saved money more wisely.  Luckily, I don’t have to figure it all out tonight, sir, so I’m just gonna hang with my daughters.  Note to Patrick:  that’s a play on a movie quote.  But in the meantime, it’s good to know I don’t have to break out my old waitressing apron anytime soon to pay for private school tuition.  And that if we don’t find the perfect place to live by the Fall, it’s not going to be the end of the world.

You can pick your friends and your nose, but can you pick your school?

While we are waiting to find out what Emma’s school “choices” are, I’ve been reflecting on what a strange experience it’s been to research and apply to private schools.  We’ve finally completed all of the required tours, prospective student visits and parent interviews.  Well, except those for the Catholic school that I’m ironically praying that we won’t have to apply to.   I’ve been treating the whole thing like a job search/interview process.  Making sure I’m acting engaged during visits, asking thoughtful questions during the tours…and not giving what Patrick lovingly refers to as my “bitchy” face when I hear something I don’t like.

We’ve had an odd experience with one particular school.  As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m a big fan of alternative education styles and think that Emma would do really well in that type of  environment.  The school itself is just beautiful.  And so clean that I wouldn’t have to spend nights and weekends there with my Clorox wipes and steam mop.  But there’s an odd undercurrent/vibe that I’ve been feeling there.  And it’s not just because I found out that the fourth graders watch and analyze Hitchcock’s “Rear Window.”  First, there was the prospective student visit day.  They whisked Emma off to a classroom to let her experience the teachers and materials while I sat with 15 other parents in the library.  Really, the 16 of us were sizing each other up.  I counted about 4 or 5 Louis Vuittons (I’m more of a Marc by Marc Jacobs on Clearance at Nordstrom kinda gal), and one woman’s nametag read “Chessy.”  Seriously.  I don’t mean to offend any ancient prepster families, but that alone made it clear that I was out of my league.   The Assistant Director kept stressing to us that this “was not an interview” and that our children “were not being interviewed” but also seemed a little put off by the fact that we weren’t asking enough questions.  One parent leaned forward and asked, “so what is your acceptance rate into Harvard?”  We all laughed nervously.  “No, seriously,” he continued “what is your acceptance rate into the exam schools?”  Of course he was referring to Boston Latin.  Somehow over the past few months I’ve gleaned that the “other” exam school, Latin Academy, doesn’t have the same level of perceived prestige as Boston Latin.  Please note that I have no data to back that up…and also?  Am I supposed to be thinking about junior high already?  I just want to find a good, safe Kindergarten for my child.  During our discussion, the head of admissions came in, asking for Jose’s “grandmother.”  Apparently, Jose was struggling with his visit.  Jose’s mother stood up in a grumpy manner, saying, “I didn’t realize I looked like a grandmother!”  The rest of us felt awkward for her, but secretly  happy that our own children were faring better.

I recently attended a parent visit there, during which I got to observe the Kindergarten class in action.  My first observation was that the class was stunningly, and almost eerily, quiet.  The children were sitting cross-legged on a circle mat, quietly eating homemade, all-natural, milk and nut free cookies, listening to the teacher read from a chapter book.  During pauses in the reading, one little boy made comments about the story.  At one point, the teacher said to him, “Joe, I will ask you to keep all your comments to the end.”  It felt a little firmer than I would expect of the situation, but I didn’t think about it too much of it at the time.  Later, the teacher was explaining a game the class would play and asked if anyone had any questions.  Joe said, “so, if you get all the spaces marked off and say Bingo, it means that you win.”  To which the teacher replied, rather curtly, “That’s not a question, Joe.”  My very first thought was:  there is no joy here.  Worse, it was a situation I could see Emma getting into.  While Emma could use a bit of self-regulation, given all of her recent antics at school, I don’t want her to become a Stepford Child!

Later, the Director met with the parents for a short interview. I was expecting this to be a private experience, but we were joined by another mother…funnily enough, it was Jose’s (grand)mother, who seemed completely disengaged and annoyed throughout the visit.  The Director asked us both to tell our family’s “story.”  I made the mistake of letting the other mom go first…it turns out that she had a complicated and very sad tale about her struggle through childhood (including immigrating to the US, growing up as a non-English speaking illegal immigrant who was forced to work in a factory from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day in order to pay for her mother’s medical bills, and being responsible for bringing each of her 8 siblings over to the US).  Then it was my turn – what could I possibly say after that?  Ummmm…..my husband and I grew up in comfortable, middle-class surburbia and went to good schools?  I did take a minute to talk about how I feel that Allston is at a disadvantage as most of our neighborhood schools are considered to be poorly performing, and that I feel it’s overlooked because people forget that it’s not just BU students who live there…to which Jose’s mother replied, “Oh yes, the schools in your neighborhood are bad.  And I know because I work for the school system.”  Now if that woman with everything she had to deal with growing up thinks our schools are bad , they must be really bad!  Not to mention the small detail that all families are expected to contribute to the school’s annual fund and other fundraising efforts.  I was so grateful that Patrick refrained from asking out loud, “do you mean ON TOP OF the $30k tuition????”

Contrast this with our another private school we applied to – there is so much life and energy and light at the other school.  The academics are stellar, they have very small class sizes, and a low teacher turnover rate.  They offer reasonable tuition rates  good school hours.  The school is housed in a cute brownstone in Back Bay.  Even Patrick liked it.  It is quirky, of course, but quirky in a very charming way.  The environment is so impressive that families have actually taken their kids out of Boston’s most coveted public schools when they got into this school.  Unfortunately,  the unusual admissions process and waitlist procedures are keeping this school out of our reach.  They fill their Kindergarten class 18 months in advance, so I needed to apply this time last year.  The director of admissions confirmed at the end of our parent interview/tour that there are no spots for Emma and that we will get a letter saying we are on the waitlist.  And to make matters worse, even my Holy Cross alumni connection with him wouldn’t help us get off the waitlist –  they select families off the waitlist not by number, but by how a certain child would “fit” into the current class.  So, if another caucasian girl from Allston happens to drop out WE ARE IN!!!

So we will wait, checking our mailbox every day, to see what our “choices” will ultimately be.

May the odds be EVER in your favor….

I never thought that my child’s education would become a game of chance.  We’ve submitted all of our Kindergarten applications for Emma, and the final tally is:  two private schools, one charter school and six Boston Public Schools (BPS) via lottery.  Over the next few weeks, we will continue to have a number of school visits, parent/child interviews, parent meet-and-greets with current parents and spend many anxious days waiting and wondering if we will be lucky.  Whereas many other parents carefully plan their preschool strategy since the day their child is born, or simply fill out a registration card for their local public school, I feel like someone has thrown a deck of cards into the wind, and now I’m trying to catch an Ace and not the Joker.

We had to drive all the way to Roxbury to register in person for the Boston Public School lottery.  For those of you not familiar with the current system, Allston/Brighton (which is pretty much separated from the rest of Boston by Brookline) is part of the same zone as Downtown, Back Bay, the South End, Roxbury and East Boston (?).  You need to travel to your assigned Family Resource Center, in person, with all of your child’s documentation.  There once was a Family Resource Center just a few blocks away from us in Allston, but unfortunately, that was shut down due to budget cuts. Now families from Allston/Brighton have to drive well out of their way to register for schools in their own neighborhood.

The registration process was fairly painless since I preregistered online, and the person who assisted us was extremely sympathetic as a fellow BPS dad.  He did not do well in the lottery the first year, but eventually got his child into a better school.  Good to know that BPS employees do not get preferential treatment!    We put Bridget in the lottery too because if she does get in to a “good” public school, we may need to apply her daycare money to Emma’s private school tuition.  Yes, our life is that complicated right now. Oddly, while Bridget has fewer choices at the moment, her chances of getting into a good school are actually better than Emma’s as there are fewer available seats at Emma’s age.  Lesson learned – if your children will be going into the BPS lottery, enter them as early as possible as they’ll be guaranteed a spot at their school for years to come.

As part of the process, we had to rank order all of the schools in order of our preference, and I resisted the urge to ask our BPS staffer his opinion of our school rankings.  I’ve learned that the BPS staff will not opine on schools, but will instead encourage you to look past test scores and state rankings.  I’ve also learned that other Boston families don’t like to share which schools they’ve applied to – especially the lesser-known charter schools –  for fear of adding one more child to the lottery.  It took me several weeks to learn which schools were the “good” ones, and which ones are ranked among the lowest performing in the state.  And as I was so pressed for time between the holidays and busy season that I could only make it to a few open houses.  I really wish our local elementary school had potential, as I am a big believer in community schools, but every visit was awful.  I wandered around aimlessly trying to find the kindergarten with no one to direct me and the school was just dirty.  Really dirty.  That, and it gives the feeling of an abandoned industrial warehouse.  When I met the Principal, I had to resist the urge to say, let’s get some Clorox Wipes and a steam mop going in here! Interesting aside:  Not sure when I became so judgemental – I went to a very good public high school that featured open air “classrooms” in building much like a warehouse, separated only by partition walls.  You could hear lessons on Geometry at the same time as US History – talk about efficient.  If Emma does end up going to that school, my new part-time job may be as a school janitor after hours.

When our BPS Staffer wished us luck on the way out, I couldn’t help but feel that I was in the Hunger Games, or Shirley Jackson‘s “Lottery.”  Ok, so no one is dying, but it feels like there are very few winners in this lottery, and the process feels suspect to start.  We did, however, enjoy the free swag bags for the girls (including a new Curious George book) and were surprised to receive a new Hess truck and race car for Owen (who is not even in the lottery).  I only hope these aren’t consolation prizes when we receive the lottery results in a few weeks!