Winter Warrior Woman

Hello, most recent Snowstorm.

You have met your match.

I watched my Facebook newsfeed nervously today, and when that dreaded announcement came, I had the most surprising feeling. Instead of the sinking depression, hopelessness and overwhelming anxiety that I was expecting to feel, I felt angry. And then something miraculous happened.  Snowstorm, you have awakened the guerrilla mom within. The mom who is not going to be shamed from voicing her frustration by people who are not in her shoes.  The mom who refuses to be painted as an employee on the “mommy track” who does not prioritize her career. The mom who is tired of resorting to yelling, time outs and threats to keep the kids quiet while she’s on conference calls.  After all, this is the same woman who landed a career-defining job before college graduation, managed to pass the bar on the first try, and successfully reinvented her career three times. In other words…you are screwed.

Being a working parent is hard. Really hard. It is an art that is practiced over many years, but never quite perfected. It is a constant balancing act, carefully patching together child care, coordinating drop off and pick up times, remembering homework, school projects, parent council meetings and responsibilities, snack donations and backup clothes, all while building credibility and proving yourself every day at work. It means doing housework at night or early in the mornings (or not at all) so you can spend your precious few hours outside of work with the kids.  This is NOT to suggest that being a stay at home parent is easy.  It’s just that there is a vast difference in the consequences of not doing housework during one snow day, and missing important deliverables and calls at work.  Schedule and routine are critical to the working parent’s success, and any anomaly, such as a business trip, must be carefully orchestrated as to not disrupt the balance. Anyone can manage one snow day, or even two or three. Facing eight snow days since the beginning of January, however, proves to be a special challenge. I wish that I had the luxury of spending this stolen time with my littles. I want nothing more than to do all the activities and crafts that I see on Pinterest with them. The worst is that the kids don’t get it. They don’t understand that I really am working, at a job that requires concentration and conference calls. They want to spend time with me, too, and I realize what a special (and fleeting) gift that is. I can’t describe how low I felt last week when Bree told me that she and Emma were wishing for “a big sister” so that I’d have someone to help me on snow days.

I work from home the majority of the time, and am so grateful for this. Not having to commute, or get myself gussied up for the office, saves me so much time and helps me be more productive at work. I do not want this privilege taken away. So while the one or two snow days would likely not put this at risk, eight snow days within five weeks is extremely problematic. Social media and online news resources are overflowing with people who are actually excited about missing school. It shouldn’t be a surprise that many of these people do not seem to be working parents. What is happening in Boston right now is unprecedented. It’s not just that we have a lot of snow and have missed a lot of school days. On the days when we do have school, it is virtually impossible to get around the city right now. The MBTA is not running consistently and is overcrowded (and not usual overcrowding – I’m talking crushing small children crowded) and many of the roads are narrow and clogged. Although some sidewalks are cleared, others only have a small path created by people walking – not wide enough for two people to stand side by side and certainly not wide enough to walk multiple children safely. If you’ve ever been in Back Bay or the Financial District during rush hour, you can appreciate what that does to the foot traffic. While I was away last week, it took Patrick two hours to pick up all three kids. And they are all the SAME city!!!  It took Patrick several calls to our City Councilor to get the sidewalks and streets cleared around Bree and Owen’s school, because as the City Councilor stated, the CITY WASN’T PRIORITIZING THE SCHOOLS.  Apparently, City resources were focused on prepping for the Patriots Championship Parade.  Priorities.

Feeling that I have been whining too much on Facebook, I was so happy to FINALLY talk to other working mom friends who shared my same level of stress and frustration. One admitting to having to do her conference calls in a closet last week. A few others set up a “child caravan” of sorts, carting a small group of kids from house to house for a few hours at a time while parents took turns attending critical meetings. Sadly, with three, my options are very limited – very few people offer to do “tradesies” with Traveling Chaos – and my youngest is too little for the usual backup care. But, as I’ve said Snowstorm, you’ve awoken the Winter Warrior Woman within, and I am not one to be messed with.

I plan to get through this winter with my job and work arrangement intact, no matter how many snow days you throw at me. And here’s how I’m going to do it:
1. Plan the day’s schedule, down to planned meal times, snack times, rest times, and activity blocks (both planned and “choice” time). This will also include a couple of times for me to do something with the kids when I am able to take a quick break.
2. Set ground rules for the day. Such as, when I am on a call or in the middle of an important project, you must keep voices down. I will come out to check on you periodically, but do not disturb me unless it’s an emergency.
3. Gather materials for activities to include art and craft supplies, etc. in advance.
4. Have a morning meeting with the kids. During this meeting, we will go over the day’s schedule and ground rules. I will welcome input and ideas from all at the meeting.
5. Clean up as I go, and expect the kids to do the same. We’ll see how this one goes.
6. Designate authority in the form of a mother’s helper. Emma Sullivan, your day to be the boss has come. Make me proud.

So take that, Snowstorm.  You’ve thrown me a challenge and awakened my fiercely competitive spirit.  You may get the best of me in the end, but I will not go down without a fight.

XOXO,

Winter Warrior Woman

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.

It’s only Kindergarten, right?

When I was in college, I took an entire class focused on Maria Montessori.  I fell passionately in love with her educational philosophy on child-driven education and discovery, and on one late night in the computer lab with my best friend finishing our terms papers, I think we both swore our children would attend Montessori school.  And what could be more important than securing the very best education for our children?

That was over 15 years, 3 busy careers and 3 children ago.  Suddenly, I am faced with the reality that this fall, my oldest must leave our day care that provides a safe learning environment between the hours of 7:30 a.m. -6:30 p.m. and head off to Kindergarten.  So, like many parents before me, I have thrown myself into the whirlwind known as the Boston Public School lottery process. Of course that means I’m also feverishly researching any and all private schools in the area. For those of you who don’t know how the Boston lottery system works, each neighborhood in Boston is assigned to a “Zone” which is a roughly drawn area that may or may not be anywhere near your actual home. We live in the North Zone, which includes Allston/Brighton, Downtown Boston, and East Boston.  For those of you not familiar with Boston, believe me when I tell you that these neighborhoods are not at all close to each other.  The bottom line is that your child is not guaranteed placement at any school of your choice, and also could potentially go to a school fairly far away.  Thus, I would prefer that the city of Boston not call this “School Choice Time” but instead call it “try your luck with your child’s fortune time.”

My first mistake with the private school search was not realizing that all private school applications (and the related teacher evaluations) are due mid to late January. One excellent private school in the Back Bay actually closed applications for this fall’s incoming Kindergarten class 18 months ago. Oops.  In addition to researching all of my “Zone” public schools, I now need to research all of my private options.  Like this weekend.

My second mistake?  Forgetting about the teacher recommendation.  I had a meeting with E’s teacher about the recommendation form and she said, “you need to give me some notice to get these completed.”  Well, how does a week sound to you?  Not to mention that E is still on “Observation,” which is two steps away from expulsion.  I asked her teacher what I should expect from the evaluation.  Meaning, is all hope of getting into private school lost?

“E is very smart,” her teacher replied.  “She knows how to write and recognize every letter, she knows all the sounds, her numbers…”  “But what about her behavior?”  I asked, dreading the answer.  She gave me a weird look and said, “Well, I would have to say all the areas that she needs to work on.  Like sharing.   And transitions.  And managing her emotions…”   Ohhhhhkay, thanks.

E would thrive in a Montessori environment.  Part of the reason she’s on Observation in the first place is that she is fiercely (stubbornly?) independent and likes to move at her own pace. If she’s really engrossed in an activity, it’s hard for her to stop.  Even as a young toddler she always just had a sense of how things fit together.  When she tries to learn something, she’ll do it over and over until she gets it right.

I have no idea what her chances of getting in are, given the mixed recommendation I am expecting.  Even if she does get in, our local Montessori school costs the same as I paid for a year of college.  For Kindergarten.  And classes end at 3:30.  After school care, summer care will all be extra $$$.  So I will continue to look at all of our options, including some of the very good public schools in our zone.  I’m just not sure if we will have good options come March.  But it’s only Kindergarten, right?