This afternoon at the pediatrician’s office, the nurse taking The Who’s vitals (tiny blood pressure cuff FTW!) asked him if he had made his Christmas list yet. The Who paused and with a sort of quizzical expression, said, “no.” I didn’t intervene, waiting to see where he would take this. She continued: “When are you gonna make it?” Again, he paused. “I don’t know,” he said. And then she asked, “What’s the first thing on your list gonna be?” Finally, he said, “Well, I’m Jewish.” And her reply, like the replies of the many other people who have learned that we don’t celebrate Christmas after asking us all about it, was, “Oh! That’s cool!” And then, “It took you a long time to say that!” And what was funny to me is that I thought it took him no time at all. For a five-year-old in a Christmas-obsessed culture being asked about Santa and presents. I thought two minutes at most for him to say, with self-possession, “I’m Jewish,” was no time at all.
I’m surprised — and frankly annoyed — by the Christmas assumption. It’s 2013. It’s the goddamn middle of Hanukkah. It’s the east coast (ish. I have a hard time calling a landlocked state part of the coast.) Please don’t misunderstand; I don’t begrudge people their Christmas. And I understand that the nurse had no ill will and was just making small talk with a kid in December. But I really would think (hope?) that people would be done assuming that everyone celebrates his or her winter holiday by making lists for Santa.
And, since we’re ranting about cultural impropriety, I saw a photo on Facebook today of The Who’s preschool class at their Thanksgiving Feast (which The Who missed this year due to travel) and each kid was wearing a “classic” brown construction paper headband with orange and red construction paper feathers. Seriously. Again, please don’t misunderstand; I don’t begrudge people their Thanksgiving. I participated in the 30 days of gratitude and I used this holiday as an excuse to get together with my family and eat lots of turkey. And no, not one person (myself included) discussed the travesty that Thanksgiving actually is when we were going around the room saying what we were thankful for. But none of us went as far as to co-opt the native headdress and wear it while celebrating a holiday that marks a time when white people committed genocide on an entire people.
And, so again, I am surprised — and frankly pissed — that in 2013 this is still going on in what I consider to be a fairly progressive and culturally sensitive preschool.
Society’s disappointing me this week, man. It’s a real bummer.
When I was a new, young professor, I had this student who wore a shirt and tie to class every day. He carried a briefcase and wore Dwight Schrute glasses. When, as an icebreaker, I asked each student to tell me his or her major and favorite band, he answered that he didn’t have a favorite band, but that he had a favorite composer. Every other student in the class glanced sideways at each other, stifling laughter and, even I — the adult, the teacher — had to work to keep a straight face and resist the urge to join the compelling, almost intoxicating ruthless majority.
I had another student, several years later, who clearly had some social/emotional/learning disabilities. He had a letter of accommodation allowing him extra time on tests, permission to take notes on a laptop, etc. He was brilliant. He knew everything I taught him within moments of my teaching it (and often before) and although his quizzes were sloppily handwritten and often the last to be turned in, they were always perfect. He asked multiple questions in every class in a voice that was loud and earnest and his questions often lacked subtlety and common sense. One in-class assignment asked students to write something that would ordinarily be inappropriate for the classroom and when I read it aloud, this student laughed heartily along with everyone else. Except, when it was over, he kept laughing. In fact, I heard him laughing about it down the hall after class had been dismissed. The other students glanced sideways at each other, stifling laughter, the way I now know students do when someone in their midst doesn’t meet their social expectations.
That time, I felt only warmth toward the student. And also a little protective. I was several years older and several years more confident in the classroom, but more than that — by that time, I was a mother. And all of a sudden, my students weren’t just random teenagers. Once I became a mother, my students became my child, 15 years later. And that changed everything.
I think that most parents, when they think of the people their kids will become, think of other adults that they know. Of themselves and their siblings and other older specimens of people. Most parents have memories and stories. They might have nieces or nephews, or some friends with college-aged kids that they can use as templates for their own future teenagers. But, in large part, the long-term effects of our current parenting choices are hypothetical. We encourage our preschoolers to play soccer because we loved soccer. Or because no one introduced us to sports and we feel like we suffered because of it. We force food choices on our kids because we want them to be healthy. Or, at least not fat. We teach them to brush their teeth so they won’t get cavities, but also so they won’t be the kid with bad breath. We hope that the choices we make will turn out a well-rounded, well-loved person in the end.
I had another student once who always smelled like soap and mint. He was so laid back and had a great sense of humor. He was an excellent writer, he played rugby, he had a great bromance with his roommate. No one ever had to stifle laughter because of something he said.
Working where I do is like being given a magic looking glass, through which I can see all the possible futures for my own son. He could turn out to be the kid who has only a favorite composer. He could turn out to be the kid who asks the loud earnest questions. Or he could turn out to be the kid who smells like soap and mint. Is there anything I can do to nudge him one way or the other? Should I have given him siblings so he will be more “normal?” Should I stop teaching him complex vocabulary so he doesn’t get laughed at when his diction is inappropriately awesome? Should I make him stop trying to force kids to play with him so he doesn’t become an outcast in retaliation? I see all the outcomes in my classroom and I can become obsessed with trying to create the perfect set of childhood circumstances to yield the most desirable result.
Maybe that kid who carries a briefcase to class was perfectly happy. Maybe he had a few great friends who really got him and the cruelty of the rest of the world around him didn’t even touch him. Maybe if his parents had tried to “make him more normal” he would have always felt wrong. Like a failure. Maybe his parents just stood by and supported him and gave him the strength to cope with whatever came his way.
But maybe he always wished he fit in better. Maybe he blamed his parents for not helping him. Maybe he wished they’d taken a more active role in guiding him down the middle of the road.
I’m worried about The Who. Worried about what kind of teenager and adult he will turn out to be. Worried about what I am supposed to do and not do in order to help him find his way in the world. Worried about knowing how much is my job and how much is his. I have found, over these past twelve years of observation, that there are no answers. That every kid and every family and every set of circumstances is unique. But that doesn’t stop the pain in my heart when I watch The Who get passed over or hurt because of something that maybe I could have helped him avoid.
We took our first trip to Sesame Place (which The Who called “Elmo’s House”) when he was just nearly two. We took one of our best family photos just inside the gates and the larger-than-life characters wandering around the park were thrilling. For me, anyway. The Who was definitely excited to be there, but I don’t think he fully grasped just how excellent it was. I don’t remember from my own childhood, but I’m guessing that, like, just a random Tuesday seems excellent when you’re two.
From that trip, I recall three things:
- The carousel is super.
- Big Bird’s Nest was made for my kid.
- Naps ruin everything.
There was so much more we wanted to do when we were there and we had to miss a lot because our toddler Who just didn’t have the stamina. And this was in the autumn, during The Count’s Spooktacular, so a good part of the park wasn’t even open anyway. Still, more than enough to fill a kid’s day.
But now, with a nearly five-year-old, I knew this visit** was going to rule so much more. First of all, there’s no nap schedule to get in the way of our good time. Secondly, The Who is now a full-fledged fan of Sesame Street — familiar with all the characters and downright friendly with some of them. A couple of years ago, we got a personalized Elmo CD, which we have practically worn a hole in. A lot of the songs from that CD were among those piped all over the park. (“Sarasponda” is our fave.) Plus, this year, Halloween is the biggest deal it has ever been for The Who and he was psyched to wear his costume and trick-or-treat at Sesame Place! (Are you kidding me with that? So cool.) Plus, shows and rides and toys and parades!
Sesame Place, you guys. It’s not just for nearly two-year-olds.
After our visit, I asked The Who what his favorite part was and he predictably said “trick-or-treating.” But then he added “Ernie’s Bed.” My favorite part was the part where I realized they served Starbucks inside the park. Thank you, Sesame Place. Thank you a lot.
The lines were long; I’m not going to lie. But The Who never complained about waiting, which just tells me that what came at the end was well worth it.
Another favorite for The Who (and for me and for our buddies, who joined us on this adventure) was the show. There were multiple shows all day (made totally easy to time and locate with the free Sesame Place app I had downloaded in anticipation) but the one we saw was The Count’s Countdown to Halloween, which was every bit as professional and entertaining as the Sesame Street Live! show we saw in Boston a couple of years ago. The characters are spot-on (they must be pre-recorded, right?) and the action was close enough to be really exciting without being scary for the littlest kids.
Sesame Place is mostly a year-round gig and I know lots of people who go every summer. We’ve only gone in the fall, though, and I love it then. First of all, it’s not hot, which is really important to me. It was easy to walk around all day and be comfortable, not to mention that there were plenty of places to pop into to warm up (like the store, where The Who was able to procure the last of the “spinny light-up things” that he so desperately wanted.) Also, Starbucks. Remember the Starbucks coffee? I do. I remember it.
We’ll definitely go again next year, even though by then I’ll have a nearly six-year-old. But that’s the thing about Sesame Place. It really doesn’t ever get old. There’s just as much to do that’s challenging and fun for big kids (Cookie Mountain was a total hit for us and if my Who was a ride-loving kid, the roller coasters would be awesome, too) as there is fun for little kids. I didn’t see The Who’s excitement wane at all and when we left, he did so under protest, even though the park was closing.
The Count’s Spooktacular is over now, but I hear there’s an awesome Christmas-themed thing during December. You should go. For real.
**The nice folks at Sesame Place comped us tickets to come and visit in exchange for this review. The views contained within are completely my own and not at all outside-influenced.
The Who got really mad at me tonight. He wanted a bath instead of a shower and he didn’t want me to tell him to stop singing when he was singing. I’m not sure if there were other things. Maybe he was also just really tired. And maybe he was sensing my horrible mood. But whatever the combination of factors was, he was pissed. And he was acting out in tiny ways that slowly escalated. First, by mewing like a kitten — the way he always does when he is sad and wants to make sure I know it. But that got on my nerves and so I nipped it in the bud, which I’m sure didn’t help him any. Then he was doing subtle passive-aggressive things like putting things down with a thump or closing the door a little too roughly. He even started to tell me about it: “Mama, you made me put my socks on the bed and THEN climb off the bed with my WET towel!” But the next thing he did was swing his bathrobe around instead of put it down, swiping everything off the top of his dresser and I nailed him with a loud, firm voice and a threat of no stories.
M* came in at that point and I don’t remember the exact sequence of events, but within seconds, he was sobbing on her shoulder, saying how horrible I was and how I made him do all this stuff and how I made him want to kick me and I made him want to cut my face. I wasn’t mad. And I didn’t take it personally. I loved it. I loved that he was being given space to talk about how he felt instead of keeping it all inside or continuing to be passive-aggressive and never actually get a chance to feel it all the way through.
When he sat back down for me to put his socks on, I could see him looking up at me and I wasn’t sure if he was checking to see if I was angry or looking for something else, so I asked if he wanted a hug, which he immediately did. He said he felt sad and worried that he would feel sad forever. M* reminded him that he wouldn’t, even though it felt like he might and she understood that.
I cried when he hugged me, although I don’t think he saw it. I also held back laughter when he was so angry, but I don’t think he saw that either. I tried really hard not to let him. Sometimes his extreme anger and frustration makes me feel like laughing even though I don’t think it’s at all funny. I suspect it’s some kind of discomfort on my part. Some automatic reaction to feelings, which aren’t my specialty.
He’s so lucky. He’s so lucky to have m*, who today was his shoulder to cry on and who encouraged him to feel it all. He’s so lucky to have me, who has also been that for him at other times. He is so lucky to have a place in which to grow up where he is honored and valued and listened to and I’m so lucky that I get to keep witnessing it. Keep seeing what it’s like to have an emotion, express it, feel it, move through it, and be done with it. What gifts we all keep giving one another.
What does a parent do when she knows that public school is probably not the most ideal place for learning, when private schools are exorbitantly expensive, when homeschooling seems like a valid choice, but the thought of every hour of every day with her one child alone sounds challenging, and when the decision has to be made, like, yesterday?
I am an idealist. I think that things can be as good as you’re willing to make them. I believe that, despite how many “American Schools are Ruining Our Children” articles I read, that my child’s school will be different. That my child will not suffer the slings and arrows of a “public school education.” But while I carry my idealist angel on one shoulder, there’s a realist devil on the other. Your child is not that special, says the devil. Your child will be one of at least 25 in his class, the devil says. Your child, no matter how smart and engaged and excited about learning he is, will indeed be herded like an animal into a row of desks, a line in the hallway, a cafeteria crowded with sleepy teenagers on an early Saturday morning to take a long and horrible test. The devil tells me that it’s irresponsible for me to sign my kid up for that fate when there are other options.
(I think it’s important to note the other options here. I acknowledge my privilege here. The privilege of being able, financially, to choose among public, private, or home — of staying home to school or going to work — of even having the time and the education and the space to contemplate this.)
I am public school educated and I am a Big-Government liberal lefty. I am pro-communities, pro-taxes, and pro-education in general. I live in a “good” school district, if by “good” you mean “well-performing” and I will admit that, to an extent, I do. I want my kid to go to public school and have a wonderful experience there and I want to be of help both in the classroom and out in order to make his years there excellent for him and for all the kids who will follow him there. I believe that part of a whole education includes diversity and comfort-zone-testing. I believe that kids who are given all the free rein in the world will have a rude awakening someday when they are big people, out in the world of rules.
After extensive conversation, my wife and I have decided on public school. We have decided that when he is finished with Pre-K at his private pre-school, where he is one of 8 children in his class, he will go on to our local public school, which we have only heard tell about. (I plan to visit, but I haven’t. Maybe when I do, I will feel less conflicted. Or, God forbid, more.) But even though the decision is made, as each day ticks us closer to Fall, 2014, I worry about our decision. I shame myself into believing that I should be homeschooling. That it’s only selfishness keeping me from doing what is best for my child (I’m not convinced homeschooling is best, either. It’s all a little abstract and kind of irrational.)
Is this what it’s just going to be? A lifetime of making decisions and then second-guessing them? Is there a time, as a parent, when you’re actually able to find comfort in the decisions you’ve thoughtfully made? Because right now, it doesn’t seem like it.
On our way to the grocery store this afternoon, we were held up by a police car, lights flashing.
“There must have been an accident,” he said, but when we were finally allowed to move, I saw that it was a funeral procession, which, of course I had to explain. And then of course, I had to describe. And then — OF COURSE — I had to Google Image a hearse and a coffin and a person in a coffin.
“He doesn’t look dead,” he said when I showed him this. ”He’s all dressed up.”
“Well, that’s what they do when someone dies, usually. They dress them nicely and make them up and then people who are close to the person who died can go in and look at him or her one last time and say goodbye. You can touch their face or kiss them if you want. But you don’t have to.” This is where I silently thanked God that we are not Christian and won’t have to suffer many wakes. Jewish funerals are closed casket, but there is usually a few minutes beforehand for the family to take a peek. And then, y’know, shiva. No mirrors, lots of deli platters and more rugelach than you can shake a stick at. It’s not a bad party, to be honest.
“What is all that stuff?” he asked.
“Well, sometimes they make the insides of the coffins very fancy with pretty pillows and satin sheets. Usually Jewish people are buried in plain wooden coffins with no fancy stuff.”
“I want a plain Jewish box,” he said. Surprising, really, given his propensity toward fancy. I would have put money on him saying he wanted a glittery rainbow coffin lined with cotton candy. (That’s totally what I want. Someone take note.)
This conversation went on and on as he talked about being underground and why all the people drive from the funeral to the cemetery and what is a funeral anyway? And how do they know how to write down what to say (eulogy) and people who die don’t have to be lonely because also goblins live underground!
And then, you guys. Then he goes, “When I die, I don’t have to be sad because I will always be with myself. Because I am The Who and I won’t have to say, ‘I miss The Who’ because I will always be with me. And you can love yourself forever and ever — even underground.
Y’know what this blog’s been missing?
A couple of things, actually. The first is photos. Because I made a decision a long time ago not to post pictures of The Who’s face here, it takes a bit of effort to get photos that are both interesting and blog-safe. I used to (and sometimes still do) take photos that explicitly avoided his face with the blog in mind, but I have been doing less of that lately. iPiccy is my dreamy boyfriend. But as dreamy as he is, he still requires some effort. Still, photos make everything better and it’s not fair to you that you’ve been subjected to a bunch of wordy posts without any shiny eye candy for your effort.
The other thing it’s missing is frequency. Blogs are best (to me) when they have a serial quality to them, a la Life With Roozle. Here are the things we’ve been doing and they’re interesting just because I’m writing about them in a regular sort of way (and including photos, thank you very much.)
So, here’s my pledge: more photos, more frequency.
(I feel like I’ve made this pledge before.)
Here are some of the things we did at the end of the summer.
So now you’re all caught up. I promise to keep doing stuff like this.