To Mrs. Rich, wherever she may be

Thanks for taking us out past the playground into the warm, dim, shadowy woods so we could drink our cartons of milk on a carpet of pine needles while you read to us about The Little Red Hen. I really liked it.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Photo by Yogurt yeah [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Nervous about kids starting school? 10 things to remember

As I’ve mentioned a million times, we have tried nearly every form of schooling that is out there. The biggest change was going from home school to the classroom. Lots of adjustments, in our habits and our attitudes! Here are ten things we learned the hard way.

(Please note: this post is intended to help parents who have some trepidation about starting their kids out in school. All of the “lessons” in it come directly from my own family’s experience, and are not intended to mock, belittle, or stereotype anyone. If you insist on assuming that my motives are foul, just remember what they say: “assume” makes an “e” out of you and your, um, ass. Or something.)

1. A kid who is old enough to go to school is old enough to pack his own lunch. He’s also more likely to eat food he chose than food you chose for him; and food that gets eaten is always more nutritious than food that doesn’t get eaten, no matter what it is. However, an adult must inspect these lunches regularly to make sure they have more nutritional content than the bag in which they are packed. No, checking how heavy the bag is does not count.

2. Teachers do not want tea lights or magnets or paperweights or wreaths or adorably decorated clothes pins. They want gift cards to office and craft supply stores, or to Starbucks, and they want boxes of tissues and Clorox wipes. Or, they would settle for an involved parent. They would probably prefer an involved parent.

3. Being a Catholic means you’re going to be different, and kids need to learn, sooner or later, that it’s not the end of the world to be different. If your kids are going to be in an environment where they are the only Catholics around, they need to have constant reminders (in word and in deed) that Christians are bearers of Good News, not bearers of hostility and smugness.  Also, If you are a serious practicing Catholic, you’re just as likely to stand out in a typical Catholic school as you are to stand out in a secular school.  The wearin’ of the plaid is not a guarantee of an excellent faith formation and a wholesome environment, so pay attention.

4. Skip the personal bottles of hand sanitizer to be used every time your snowflakes come into contact with the outside world. We actually got sicker when I tried hard to sterilize everything, because kids do need to be exposed to some germs. Try and remind them to wash their hands before they eat, but just resign yourself to some sniffles and pukies, and get on with your life. But don’t let them share hats or hairbrushes! Trust LICE me LICE on LICE this LICE one. (If they do get lice, that’s not the end of the world, either.)

5. Most teachers are not the enemy. We’ve run across a few teachers who genuinely don’t like or understand kids, and sometimes a situation really is unendurable, and you need to switch teachers or even switch schools.  But generally, if a teacher is in the classroom, it’s because he wants to do right by your kid. So if there is a problem, start by believing that you can at least partially solve it together with the teacher, rather than by believing you need to protect your child from the teacher.  It’s much easier to communicate with someone when you go into it acting like you’re on the same side.

6. If you’re going to believe everything your kid says about what happened in school (“Mrs. Fleishhacker says that she was going to beat me with barbed wire if I didn’t wear matching socks tomorrow!”), then it’s only fair that your kid’s teacher should believe everything your kid says about what happens at home (“Here is my picture of my family eating breakfast! All those whiskey bottles are my mom’s”).

7. Yes, your kids will probably change somewhat when they’re put into a new situation. This is just human, and not necessarily a bad thing.  Be ready and open to embrace positive changes, as well as being on the alert to ferret out bad changes. Do be concerned about a kid whose behavior changes drastically — a cheerful, outgoing kid who becomes very quiet and withdrawn, or a cooperative kid who becomes defiant and obstinate. Some changes are normal when kids are adjusting to a new environment, but if you’re worried, trust your instincts and look into it. There could be any number of things going on: a bad teacher, a good teacher who is approaching your kid the wrong way, a bully, a character defect in your own child, not enough sleep, hunger, or any of dozens of physical, emotional, psychological, or situational problems that don’t have anything to do with school. Most kids go through rough patches at one time or another, so if this happens to your kids, don’t assume he’s lost or ruined or that you’re a failure; but do take it seriously if your kid is consistently unhappy for a long time.

8. A lot of kids crash right after school. It’s partly being tired and hungry, and partly because they’ve been trying really hard to be good all day, and their tanks are empty. If possible, just be grateful it’s not reversed, and do your best to wait it out until the kid matures a bit. Have a snack ready, and be prepared to give even older kids some decompressing time before you expect much out of him after school.

9. Remember that you are still in charge of your child’s education. If there’s something they’re not getting at school, you give it to them. If they’re hearing something that’s not true, correct it. If you need someone else’s help to educate your kids, that is not an objective failure on your part!  Remember that they’re still your kids, and you can and must be the primary influence in how they see and respond to the world.

10. You’re not going to get an ideal education in a brick and mortar school. You’re also not going to get an ideal education by home schooling, or by unschooling, or by semi schooling, or co-schooling, or private schooling, or charter schooling, or attending-all-the-conferences-and-working-yourself-into-a-damp-spot-on-the-carpet schooling. Some schools are better than others, but since we are dealing with finite time and human nature, there will always be gaps. Expect this, fill in what you can, and remember that your kids are people, not empty mason jars waiting to be filled up with the perfect combination of ingredients. We’re making people, here, not soup.

***

A version of this essay originally ran in the National Catholic Register in 2014.

How ready are you for the end of school? A quiz

You check your calendar and realize there is yet another evening concert tonight. You . . .

(a) stride into the child’s room to make sure the concert apparel is clean and pressed, shoes are shined, and that the after-school snack you’re planning doesn’t include cheese, which can produce a phlegmy sound in the vocal cords. Oop, there’s just time to run out for flowers!

(b) sigh a little and adjust your schedule so everyone can get there on time. Maybe bring some work with you.

(c) barrel through the stages of grief as quickly as you can, then set to work figuring out why it’s definitely your husband’s turn to represent.

(d) contact your lawyer. This just isn’t right. This just isn’t right. 

As your child leaves for school, you notice that his shoes are pretty beat up. You . . .

(a) are relieved, because it’s been nearly four months since his feet have been measured and fitted by your on-call orthopedist. Optimal brain function is only possible when the body is cared for from top to toe.

(b) dig out a spare pair that are not perfect, but they’ll get the kid through.

(c) hope the gas station sells flip flops.

(d) growl, “Well, we got plenty paper bags. Here’s a marker; draw yourself a swoosh.”

You are packing a lunch for your kid and you make sure it . . .

(a) includes a lean protein, two servings of veg and one of fruit (local, obvs), a grain (because kids will be kids!), and . . .  let’s see, it’s Thursday, so that means the extra treat will be . . . cauliflower-based! Fun! Now, which mason jar conveys the most love?

(b) is reasonably balanced, won’t trigger anyone’s allergies, and may even get eaten.

(c) has some food in it, none of it used.

(d) is heavy enough to appear to contain food, for plausible deniability.

You are informed there will be three field trips next week, each one requiring a special lunch and extra snacks, early drop-off and late pick-up time, a sheaf of permission slips and release forms, and of course a check. And money for the gift shop. You . . .

(a) sprint to the phone to volunteer as chaperone. You always wanted to see how they sort industrial grit, and now you get to do it alongside a large group of middle schoolers! Win win!

(b) are just grateful someone else is organizing these things. It’s nice, really, that kids get to break out of the routine.

(c) shout, “FINE” and tear a check from the checkbook so violently that you accidentally clock the kid in the jaw, and when she stops crying, she admits that she didn’t want to go anyway because her best friends Braeydinn and Peyytun are being weird, so you decide to just skip it and get donuts together.

(d) take the kid by the hand and ask him if he really wants to go, grasping his hand tighter and tighter until he begs you to let go, I mean let him stay home and help you get caught up on laundry and really just be useful to you in any way you need, really.

You scroll ahead in your calendar to find out when the last day of school is, anyway. You . . .

(a) sit right down and write a thank-you note to the superintendent for all his hard work and wise and prudent choices over the year. Those guys just don’t get enough credit, you know? Six figure income, you say? That doesn’t seem like enough.

(b) sigh a little bit, but you have to be grateful there is such a thing as school. Some places don’t have school.

(c) massage your temples, breathe like your therapist wants you to breathe, and work toward a place of acceptance, by which you mean “only soft screaming.”

(d) decide that, as of this minute, you are homeschooling, dammit, and it is summer.

***

Scoring:

Come on, what do you want from my life? A+. You all get an A+. All right?

Image by Ian Chapin via Flickr Creative Commons

Like a lark who is learning to pray

Yesterday, we went to another lovely concert at the public high school that my oldest two kids attend.  As usual, I was stunned at the variety of music presented:  old and new vocal and instrumental jazz, medieval hymns, funny arrangements of secular Christmas songs, even a Sephardic song about the sighting of a star at the birth of Abraham.  And they were good.  They opened with the entire band playing “O Come All Ye Faithful,” and then the various choirs filed in, singing, from both sides.

When I was tried to sneak quietly back into the auditorium after taking the little guys for a bathroom break, the choir director, who was taking a break too, grinned and whispered, “Bless you!”  I don’t even know why.  For dragging little kids out at night in the freezing cold, I guess, just so they could hear some good music.

For the second song on the program, the stage cleared and six high school girls tottered out to the mics — every one of them wearing black or red dresses, some skin tight, some buttcheek-high, some of them constructed of evil-looking lace, straps, and bands.  One girl wore black booties with a stacked wedge, but the others were balancing atop black or red heels so high, it looked like a novelty act when they started to sing:  look, this girl can sustain a high C without breaking an ankle!

There’s no other word for it:  they looked awful.  Too young to look sexy, too sexy to look young.  You know what I mean.

PIC Bratz doll face

 

And what were they singing?  “The Sound of Music.”  They sounded good, sweet, young.  God help me, I cried.  Of course everything makes me cry, but I was just so glad, so glad that someone was teaching these girls music.  You could see what else they had learned about beauty.

To the choir director:  bless you, too.