Flux.

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.

Asshole.

I’m going to preface this post by saying that there is nothing right about it. It’s all wrong. I mean, wait. Don’t misunderstand; it’s all accurate, but it’s wrong. So wrong.

My kid is an asshole. And I say this with complete confidence because I know that all 4-year-olds are assholes. I know it. I have done enough primary and secondary research to be able to definitively make this statement. And I have evidence, too. Plenty of it. So, don’t start with how awesome they are and how cute and loving and whatever. I know. I hear your counter-argument and I respectfully disagree.

I offer you these examples. Read them and then see if you can really stand there and tell me that 4-year-olds are not assholes. Go ahead.

  1. When I am trying to walk somewhere, he decides he wants to walk in the exact same place and doesn’t give a shit that someone else is trying to walk there, too. I am forced to hold his head with my hand to keep him in one place so I can squeeze through the doorframe before him. Then…
  2. …he complains that I messed up his hair when I was trying to pass him.
  3. On his way to do anything I have asked him to do, and after he has asked the mandatory “how come?” at least twice, he takes baby steps to do it. With a pouty face on like I am asking him to shoot the neighbor’s dog instead of go pee before he puts his clothes on.
  4. From the back seat: “Put my music on!” “I can’t HEAR it!”
  5. Interrupting.
  6. Interrupting.
  7. Interrupting.

There is, of course, more. But I’m gonna let Louis CK explain the rest of it to you. This is in no way safe for work. Or children. Or anyone who doesn’t have kids, frankly. There’s a lot of cursing. And oh so much truth.

(The relevant part is between 3:17 and 5:28.)
The Kids Do You In

Asshole.

I’m going to preface this post by saying that there is nothing right about it. It’s all wrong. I mean, wait. Don’t misunderstand; it’s all accurate, but it’s wrong. So wrong.

My kid is an asshole. And I say this with complete confidence because I know that all 4-year-olds are assholes. I know it. I have done enough primary and secondary research to be able to definitively make this statement. And I have evidence, too. Plenty of it. So, don’t start with how awesome they are and how cute and loving and whatever. I know. I hear your counter-argument and I respectfully disagree.

I offer you these examples. Read them and then see if you can really stand there and tell me that 4-year-olds are not assholes. Go ahead.

  1. When I am trying to walk somewhere, he decides he wants to walk in the exact same place and doesn’t give a shit that someone else is trying to walk there, too. I am forced to hold his head with my hand to keep him in one place so I can squeeze through the doorframe before him. Then…
  2. …he complains that I messed up his hair when I was trying to pass him.
  3. On his way to do anything I have asked him to do, and after he has asked the mandatory “how come?” at least twice, he takes baby steps to do it. With a pouty face on like I am asking him to shoot the neighbor’s dog instead of go pee before he puts his clothes on.
  4. From the back seat: “Put my music on!” “I can’t HEAR it!”
  5. Interrupting.
  6. Interrupting.
  7. Interrupting.

There is, of course, more. But I’m gonna let Louis CK explain the rest of it to you. This is in no way safe for work. Or children. Or anyone who doesn’t have kids, frankly. There’s a lot of cursing. And oh so much truth.

(The relevant part is between 3:17 and 5:28.)
The Kids Do You In

Heil.

Ok, so there’s this thing called “The Paperclip Project,” which was an idea that a middle school in Tennessee had to memorialize victims of the Holocaust. Apparently, a documentary was made about this project. (I had no idea. Can’t wait to see it. I think it’s on Netflix.)

Aaaaanyway. The Who’s school is housed inside a synagogue and last month, the synagogue broke ground to build this giant paperclip statue outside as a nod to this project.** It’s really pretty cool and when I learned what it was all about (after several weeks of speculation and wonder with The Who as we passed it at drop-off) I told him. I didn’t tell him anything specific. Just that it was a paperclip statue for the synagogue.

Fast forward two months. As I’m driving, The Who — out of the blue — asks me about the paperclip. (We weren’t even near the school. I have long since given up on trying to trace the path of his thoughts to figure out where his questions come from.) So, I tell him it’s a memorial.

“What’s a memorial?” he naturally asked.

Well,” I said. “Sometimes, when people want to remember people or honor them or remember something that happened, they will build a statue or something like that to remind them.”

“Statues are of people.”

“Yes. Some statues are of people. Lots of them, but some of them are of things.”

“Why is that one a paperclip?”

I explained that the paperclip reminded people of a story about about a mean man named Hitler who killed lots of people because he didn’t like how they looked or who they were. The paperclip was built so we would remember the story and the people who died and so it would never happen again. (It occurs to me now that I never did quite make the paperclip connection because, as you might imagine, once I mentioned that a dude killed a bunch of people, the conversation took a much different path.)

“How many people did he kill? Ten?” he asked, his eyes wide.

“He killed about 6 million Jews,” I told him, my tone incredulous to match what I knew he had to be thinking.

“Six MILLION? That’s as many can fit in our big purple [exercise] ball! How many people did he kill who weren’t Jews?”

“Another 6 million.”

“That’s so many people!” he said. And then, immediately: “Why did he kill all those people?”

“Well,” I said, knowing I was falling deeper into the rabbit hole than I had bargained for, “he didn’t like people who were different than he was. He didn’t like Jewish people or men who loved men or women who loved women — gay people — or people whose skin was a different color than his.”

He thought about this for a minute and then, clearly latching onto the skin color element, said, “But we’re the same as him, so he didn’t kill us, right?”

“No, actually,” I corrected. “We’re Jews. We’re not the same as him. But he didn’t kill us because people made him stop killing long before we were born. We’re really lucky.”

“Oh, so you mean he killed people when the dinosaurs were here? Did he kill dinosaurs?”

I explained that, no, it wasn’t quite that long ago. To put it in perspective, I said that it stopped happening right before his Grandpa was born. But that it was still happening when his Nana was alive. He chewed on that for a while, too, and then said:

“The Wicked Witch is more wicked than Hitler. He has five pieces of wicked and the Wicked Witch has 100 pieces of wicked.”

I knew that reasoning with him on this was going to be an exercise in futility, but I tried.

“Well, he doesn’t look wicked, like the witch. Or like a monster. If you saw a picture of him, he would just look like a man to you, but he is actually much more wicked than the witch. He killed so many people for no good reason, but the witch was just trying to get the ruby slippers and didn’t actually kill anyone.”

“No, Mama,” he told me, firmly. “You’re wrong.” The Wicked Witch has more wickedness.” (Yes, he said “wickedness.” He turns adjectives into nouns, no big whoop, much to my delight. He also used “otherwise” correctly in a sentence yesterday. But I digress.) I decided not to fight him on it because we were coming up on dinnertime and no one needs to engage in a battle of wills with a hungry, tired four-year-old.

And, so that was that. Then we went into Target and had a little gift-card shopping spree and Hitler was all but forgotten. I had to come home and tell m* all about it, though, in anticipation of the day when he, again out of the blue, says something like, “Remember that time when Hitler killed 6 million Jews?”

No one needs to be hit with that at 7am on a Sunday morning without warning.

————
** Edited to add: once I began watching the film tonight, I learned that the reason the school collected paper clips is because people in Norway wore paper clips on their collars during the Holocaust as a show of solidarity. So the paper clip really became a symbol of solidarity and that is the reason for the statue. Not actually the middle school’s project.

Gash.

I decided that, instead of going to the usual bagel place, I would go to the one in the middle of town because they had better coffee. And so, as you might imagine, now that it’s all said and done, in my mind, the whole thing happened because I wanted better coffee.

We parked and fed the meter one quarter for a half hour and then happily started toward the cafe. The Who rounded the corner onto the brick walkway and the tip of his shoe caught the tip of mine and he was down. Knees first and I remember popping out a casual, “oops!” before he then tipped forward and slammed his face into the wrought iron chair with a sickening thunk. He immediately popped up, both hands over his nose, Marcia Brady-style, and was hopping around in the way he only does when he is in so much pain (either physical or emotional — I’ve seen both) that his little body just can’t stand it.

Within seconds, blood was seeping through his fingers and pouring onto the ground like a slow-streaming faucet. Just. So. Much. Blood. Someone asked if he should call 9-1-1 and I said yes. In the far-off distance, I heard that call being made. A kind-eyed woman told me she was a medic and asked if I wanted her help and because I was basically a shivering, hysterical puddle, I accepted. She immediately got on her knees and applied the wad of napkins someone had procured. She started talking to The Who. “What’s your name, buddy? How old are you? You’re gonna be just fine. You got a little boo-boo on your nose. Is this your Mommy? Are you going to dress up for Halloween? What are you going to be?” As she distracted him, she pulled his hands from his face, exposing the biggest, most gaping wound I have ever seen on a child. (The EMT later told me that face wounds just pop right open because of how taut the skin is.) It looked like a wide open laughing mouth right on the bridge of his nose. I saw tissue. And bone. I am sure of it. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I kissed his head and told him he was going to be fine, but I couldn’t stop myself from hysterically asking, repeatedly, if he was going to be ok.

He later asked to return to the scene. We examined the blood spatter on the bricks and I secretly thought about Dexter and what the Miami PD Forensics Department would have made of it.

The kind first-responder kept giving me tasks to do. “Why don’t you take that ice and wash his hands, Mom. Why don’t you wipe that blood off his shoes.” And a few times she said, “You need to hold it together, Mom, so he stays calm. If you need to step away for a minute, do that.” Which I did. I called m*. Nine times. She didn’t hear her phone (which, in retrospect, is probably better. I would have panicked her if she had spoken to me then.) Another sweet bystander rubbed my back and gave me sweet looks. I continued kissing The Who’s head and holding his bloody hands.

For all of our family love for emergency vehicles and sirens, The Who was not delighted to be riding in an ambulance. I do think his repeated visits to the local fire station helped keep him calm about it, though. He climbed into it all by himself. And that would be the theme for the rest of the day: The Who totally stepping up and far surpassing anyone’s expectations for a 3-year-old in an ER with a marble-sized hole in the middle of his face.

There’s never a time when seeing this feels ok.

I did get ahold of m* and thanks to Hurricane Sandy, she was home from work for another day. She showed up at the hospital and for the next hour, as The Who intermittently napped (which ended up helping with his energy for trick-or-treating later), we took turns holding the numbing solution on his cut and tossing mournful, supportive looks at one another.

After an hour of pressure and resting, the giant hole started to come together a bit on its own. Here, instead of looking like a cruel, laughing mouth, it just looks like a delicate pair of lipsticked lips.

Now, he’s got five stitches in the middle of his face, holding together a half-inch crescent-shaped wound. He said it looked like his “boo-boo has eyelashes.” Astute observation, indeed.

Third eye. I imagine in some cultures, this is considered lucky.

He told me this morning that he wished he didn’t have his boo-boo. I assured him that soon, it would be a distant memory. He’s not totally at the “I have an awesome story to tell!” phase yet. He’s still pretty traumatized. So are m* and I, actually. Last night, trick-or-treating, I wished he was wrapped in cotton. All the tree limbs and slippery leaves. I thought five stitches was enough for one day. He was, of course, fine. (He told me it was because his “Spidey Sense” told him he would be.) I shined a flashlight directly on his face last night when he was sleeping to make sure it was ok and poor m* woke up at 3:45 am (for the day), thinking about him.

We both feel incredibly grateful. A harder hit, a smidge to the left or right, a slower-responding medical team and/or good samaritans — it all could have gone a different way. We vowed to donate regularly to our local fire department. I wish I had that kind medic’s name. The gash already looks better. He doesn’t have two black eyes — yet. My body is exhausted. I can’t imagine having to do this for more than one kid.

Barbie.

This morning, my kid and I are watching Strawberry Shortcake and yesterday, he saw a commercial for a Barbie dog toy and said he wanted it. I was inclined to buy it. Barbie. Me. Buying it. What?

So, there’s some hypocrisy for you. If I had a little girl, I think I’d dissuade her from watching insipid, pink-and-purple animated shows about teenage girls and I’d be really hard pressed to buy her Barbie, despite having grown up on it myself. But my son? Asking for a doll (even a doll as aesthetically and morally disturbing as Barbie)? I’m knee-jerk all for it. Does gender non-conformity really change the rules that much?

I’ve had a similar discussion with myself before, the first time I bought The Who pink jammies. The argument was different, then, though. That day in Old Navy when I was faced with “girl” jammies being the only ones available in his size, I found myself having a hard time buying them — worried about what people would think. Worried about what I would think. Fast forward to today, when his favorite jammies are pink, flowered Dora ones and a set of pink Elmo ones with hearts.

The Who’s older now, though, and “peer pressure” is bound to become an issue. Will his friends make fun of him for having a Barbie toy? And do we even care if he gets made fun of? I’m fairly certain that we should be directing our energy toward helping him feel secure in his choices than toward avoiding peer criticism, right?

God.

We decided, before The Who was born, to raise him Jewish. To me, that meant that he would receive a Jewish education and that he would have a Bar Mitzvah. I guess this also meant that we would join a synagogue and enroll him in Hebrew school, but that felt so far off at the time. (More far off than a Bar Mitzvah? Somehow not. Don’t question it. I was a little crazed during those months.)

Tiny Yarmulke. (Getting his Hebrew name at about 6 months old.)

I have never been totally solid on my belief in God. For a really long time, I couldn’t believe in something I couldn’t see and know. I wasn’t willing to believe that anything had more power or control than I. Letting go of the reins has not been easy for me. I have, however, always believed in the power of the universe, insomuch that it could make paths easier or more complicated — open doors to what was meant to be. (Like, for example, getting pregnant with The Who. All of it fell so easily into place that I have always known it was meant to be. The timing was right, the health issues all aligned, it only took two tries, etc.) But the universe is not God. God is heavy duty. God is religion and religion is divisive. I have long seen organized religion as a problem in our society — a fortress behind which people stand as they hurl out icy snowballs. (I think, perhaps, I am beginning to re-form my opinions on this, but that’s another post.)

So, Rosh Hashanah is coming up and The Who goes to a Jewish preschool. Much to my delight, they had a “shofar factory” program the other day where a rabbi came in and showed the kids how to make and blow the shofar. He also talked to them about the holiday and what it means and, after school on the ride home, for the first time, The Who talked to me about God.

Who: The shofar sounds like a seagull! Aarr! Aaaar! Aaaaaar!
Me: You’re right! It does sort of sound like that! Why do you blow the shofar?
You blow it up, up, up right to God.
Oh, cool. Who is God?
God is almost like a giant that’s up in the sky.
Do you know God?
No, I don’t really know him, but I know about him. He lives in the sky.
Is God a man or a woman?
God is a man AND a woman!
So, how do you talk to God?
You cry to him.
You cry to God?
Yeah, we cry like babies to God and he helps us have a good year and we help him have a good year and next week we’re gonna blow the shofar up to God for a good year.

We have never talked to The Who about God. In part because he’s three and he hasn’t asked about it and in part, I’m sure, because we haven’t gotten on the same page about it. I loved hearing his take on it, though, and I think I know what m* and I will be talking about over dinner on our date night this weekend!