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?

 

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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