Let’s play doctor and…

As with so many of the unexpected things that she says it took me a moment to figure out what she’d asked me to play.  We bought her a little kit with a stethoscope and doctors tools and she was busily investigating them.

“Mommy,” she said, breathless with excitement. “Come play with me. We will play doctor and wait. You will be the doctor and I will be the wait!”

I frowned at her, puzzled. “Okay,” I nod slowly. “I will be the doctor and you be the -”

“Wait,” She finishes for me.

It takes me a second because I’m really not all that quick on the uptake. “Oh! Patient! You’ll be the patient!”

“Yes!” She shouts and throws herself on the couch, crying about the crocodile that bit her foot.

I think the exact phrase that led to this moment was, “Fiona, just wait. Be patient!”

“That” Mom.

So, it’s the end of the first week and we’re all exhausted hereabouts.

Fiona loves school. The school is working with me to improve her food options. Though, to tell the truth, I’m pretty sure that they think that I’m “that” parent at this point.

They asked me to make a list of foods that Fiona could eat that matched up with the foods that they want to serve the other children as closely as possible. More specifically, all of the foods needed to be purchasable at a particular local grocery store. So I did.

As I was dropping it off with the secretary this morning our exchange went like this:

“Here’s that list you asked for. I think I matched up all of the foods pretty closely.” I say, handing her a single sheet of printed paper.

The school’s resident organization guru and secretary took the sheet and glanced over it, “Do you need me to copy this for you?”

“Nope,” I smile. “I’ve got it in my computer. I can print it, if I need another one.”

She snorts softly, “Of course you do.”

I can’t help it. I bust up. She sees me through the tiny super organized lens of my life that revolves around Fiona’s food. And, yeah, when seen through that lens, I’m definitely “that” mom. On the other hand, most of the rest of my life is a careening series of catastrophe’s and near misses.

I’m mostly messy, so it feels very strange to be thought of as an organized control-freak. I’m kind of okay with it though, as long as they treat Fiona well.

On the other hand, Fiona is doing awesome at school and is her usual creative, interesting self. As we were walking into the building this morning,  we stopped to look at a sunflower. It’s flower head was drooping from ripening seeds. I explained that it would stay heavy until all the seeds dropped off and were eaten by squirrels.

Fiona thinks about this for a moment, looks up and me, and seriously asks, “When I am a squirrel, I will eat the seeds?”

I’m never sure what to say to those things. When I am a puppy… When I’m a squirrel… When I’m a Daddy… –None of these are easy to answer. I always want to talk about the second part, but some part of me is divided about the first.

Do I tell her that she’s a person and won’t ever be a puppy or a squirrel? Do I quash her dreams of someday being a daddy? If I start telling her that she can’t do the impossible will she start believing me?

I sure hope not.  Better not to chance it though.

The First Day of School

Yesterday was Fiona’s first day of preschool. I crouched down beside her and told her I’d be back in a little while to pick her up. She looked up at me and distractedly said, “Yeah, okay. Bye Mom!”

The preschool director was standing nearby. “Now there’s a girl who’s ready for preschool,” she said.

“Yeah,” I agreed. And left the room.

I stood in the hallway for a few minutes, trying to make leaving feel less strange. Less anxiety producing. I mean, I have freedom! For the next three hours my time is all mine!

And I have this tight feeling in the middle of my chest, like I’m forgetting something important. I want to run back into the room and hold on to my girl.  Hold her to my chest and tell her a million trillion more times that I love her.

She’d be so annoyed if I did.
I walk slowly out to my car and sit in the front seat willing myself to turn on the car and leave the parking lot. I know that in just a few hours I’ll pick her up and I’ll be on again. Back to being Mommy, back to having to have patience, back to all the things that have been making me crazy. But in this moment, none of that exists. What exists is that I have just trusted the most precious person in the whole world to people who don’t know her, to people who don’t know me. To people I’ve vetted, sure, but they are not friends. They don’t love her yet.  It’s terrifying. It’s like walking out without my lungs. I feel tense,  claustrophobic. Angry. Scared.

I fight back the panic. I pick up my phone and call a friend and leave a voice message.  I put the car into gear and drive out of the parking lot and get myself a coffee. The world feels surreal, but I have myself under control.

My child is fine. She is happy. She is getting something that she’d never be able to get from me. She is making friends. She is learning.

I drive myself home and turn on White Collar on Netflix and paint. I talk to a friend on the phone for a few minutes and relax. This is fun. This is peaceful. At around 11:00, I start watching the clock. If I leave to early, I won’t be able to pick her up.

I’m anxious and hopeful as I drive back. I hope she’s okay. I hope she had fun.

I watch through the little observation window for a while. They’re finishing circle time and the kids are restless, but all sitting, lying, wriggling in a circle. Fiona sits, then sprawls on her tummy as she listens to the story. The teacher is untroubled, by the lack of sitting still. Fiona is still paying attention.

When I walk into the room, she jumps into my arms and wraps herself around my neck, “Mommy, I missed you so much!”

“I missed you too, Baby.” I say as I sign her out with one hand and wave goodbye to a teacher who winks at me.

This growing up stuff is hard.

Better than expected

A while back I asked you, readers, for your opinions on preschool. I listed a bunch of pros and cons and seriously considered not sending her this year, despite her ongoing desire to go.

Despite her Daddy’s reservations and my own internal conflict, I started looking into preschool options locally. I had to scrap a few right off the bat because they were simply cost prohibitive. It left me with a couple options. A co-op preschool, a county funded preschool (with about 15 different school options), or a state funded preschool.

The state funded preschool wouldn’t let me enroll her because she didn’t meet their age cut off, so I started looking into the county preschools. I discovered that one of the programs was a teaching lab school on-site at the local college.

I was in.

See, the thing about lab schools is that they are generally well funded. They are always well staffed. And, typically, they use a fully developed curriculum and emphasize best practices.

I nailed this one.

We got to visit her preschool yesterday and it was a wonderland. There were no desks. There was a table for painting and places to sit, but no rows of little desks.

They have a large class room (twice the size of the bottom floor of my townhouse) and it is full of spaces for the kids to explore and engage with. There are musical instruments, books and reading areas, games and puzzles, dress up and pretend areas, science areas, art areas, and more little engaging pieces of stuff than I can possibly name.

They have an outdoor the size of a nearby park with jungle gyms and balance beams, water tables, tricycles, and a sandbox that’s bigger than my living room. And the door is always open. The outdoors is part of the classroom.

There are twenty-five kids in her class and one teacher with three full time assistants.

Now here’s the really cool part: they teach using what’s called constructivism. That means that the entire environment is teaching. Every object in the room has a lesson and a purpose and will educate just by being played with. And they let the kids learn. The teachers will engage with the kids where they are and do things with them that they want to do. They’ll teach, but they won’t interfere with learning.

They’ll still have group activities and song, story and circle time, but those will come at the end of the morning, when the kids have explored and played and calmed down.

I’m amazed. I thought that I was going to feel guilty for sending her away from me during the day. Instead I find that I feel guilty for not giving her this environment earlier, either at home or away from me.

When I grow up…

Yesterday, Fiona and I were having some quality Mommy-Daughter time. She likes jumping on the couch. I’m pretty okay with her jumping on the couch, though saying so makes me feel like I’m breaking some of the basic parenting rules.

She grins at me from the edge of the couch, bouncing, “Mommy! Watch this! I can fly!”

She bounces until I assure her that I’m watching, then leaps from the couch. “Wow,” I say appreciatively, “That was a big jump!”

She frowns, “I didn’t fly! Let’s try again!”

Again she jumps. And again. And again. Each time I appreciate the jump. Each time she becomes more disappointed. Finally she crawls onto my lap and concludes, “Mommy, I can’t fly.”

“It’s okay, Honey.” I pet her head. “Mommy can’t fly either. Do you know why?”

She shakes her head. I explain gravity. “Gravity takes stuff and makes it move closer together. So gravity makes the couch stay on the floor, and it makes Fiona fall onto the ground, and it even keeps your water in your cup.”

At that last one, she frowns at me, unconvinced.  I smile, “Do you know what water would do if you didn’t have gravity?”

“It would stay in the cup.” She says firmly. Clearly, there are rules.

“Nope.” I say, “It would float like a bubble.”

“No.” She says.

“Do you want to see a video?” I ask.

“Yes!” She says.

We watch. First this video. Then another. Then another. Finally, I begin to run out of zero gravity videos. “Another one!” She demands.

“I’m sorry, Baby. We watched them all.” I answer.

“We will watch them again!” She says.

“Oh,” I say, smiling because she’s so excited. “Do you like them?”

She puts both hands on either side of my face and looks me squarely in the eye. “Mommy,” she says firmly, “This is so cool!”

Then she turns and points at a video on the screen. “Let’s watch this one again.”

We watch them all over again. Finally I ask her, “When you grow up do you want to be an astronaut?”

She looks at me and frowns. I wait while she considers her answer. She answers suddenly, with inspiration, “When I grow up I want to be a doctor! In outer space! I want to be a doctor-astronaut!”

Gravity is so cool. Zero-G is even cooler.

Pay Attention!

“Mommy, watch this!” She says.

I look over to see her balancing on the edge of a chair about to leap to the couch. She waits until I’m watching then leaps between them. “Wow, great jumping!” I say, in a tone that to my own ears sounds amused and slight wary. “Be careful jumping, if you miss you may fall.”

“And then I’d get hurt and you’d take me to the doctor?” She asks excitedly. She hasn’t lost her enthusiasm for doctors. She just doesn’t want that last one again.

“Mm, probably not,” I want to quash the idea of greater risk taking. “Probably, you’d just cry a lot.”

We’re in a boundary testing, risk taking, “Mommy, look”, “Mommy, watch” kind of phase right now. Everything takes input and attention. It’s actually the bulk of misbehavior right now. If I’m engaged in a task for any length of time, I will be interrupted. At all costs.

It’s frustrating. It’s cute. It’s hard to know the exact right kind of attention to pay at the exact right moment. It’s annoying to know that responding to the wrong thing reinforces it.

For instance, I was chatting on the computer the other day and Fiona got bored. Evidently the existing toys are insufficient without an audience. After a couple of rounds of ordering me to play (“Fiona you need to use your nice words. I’m doing something else right now. I’ll play with you in a few minutes.”), followed by whining at me to play (“In a few minutes”, followed by ignoring), she switched to licking me. That’s right, licking!

Yeah.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not that good at ignoring. Now licking is hilarious.

And she knows she’s doing it. The other day, I was trying to read and she started shoving her ball in my face with the words, “Mommy, ha-ha, I’m bothering you! Ha! I’m bothering you!”

Um, Yep. Sure enough. You are.

Now, the long and short of this is that attention is a commodity around her. She wants all of it. I need to spend some of it on other things. I need to do them without being licked. Which means I have to block off time to fully engage.

I read last week somewhere on the internet (take your pound of salt here), that the average American parent spends 7 minutes a day actually with each of their children. That sounds low to me. I’m not sure I buy it. If it is true, though, I want to be better than average. I want to engage. I want to play. I want to fill up this intense need for attention so that I can get something done without being interrupted.

Some pleas for attention are quite intrusive after all. You try ignoring being licked. I can’t do it.