Thursday, September 20, 2007

Lily update - another long one

Well, Mum, you were right. Lily is really happy at Bement, happier at a smaller school with lots of one-on-one; friendly, kind classmates; stimulating work; clear expectations; and lots of structure. She's meeting friendly, bright kids who like to do well in school and are interested in being active members of a community. Private school is not necessary or even good for everyone, but for this kid, it's going to make all the difference.

She had a palate expander put into the roof of her mouth last week and instead of making fun of her, her classmates all gathered round and peered inside. (The week before the installation I was getting very frustrated with her reluctance to try new foods and said, "Lily, you need to expand your palate!" And she shot right back, "Mama! I'm having a palate expander installed next week!" We laughed a long time over that one.)

She comes home every night and sits at her desk in her room and does her homework. All of it. She is a good kid, picking up when we ask her, setting the table and clearing her plate and helping me find kindling. She and Dave go grocery shopping or to the library after school. Tuesdays she's started chess, now, which she really likes.

She is meeting some nice kids--her new friend Michaela (I work with Michaela's mom, Rachel) says she really likes Lily because she's silly. They are going to take a pizza-making class together next weekend at Lamson & Goodnow, a kitchen store in Northampton, and Michaela has invited Lily to her birthday party in October.

Lily's also meeting nice kids at Bement, boys and girls, and Dave and I can both see her visibly relax as she settles in. Relaxing so much that she chose the Bement tag sale on Sept. 29 over a trip to Brooklyn. Now that says something! Tonight we were talking about PS 261 at bedtime and she said something about leaving Bement in a couple of years. And I said, Lily, by the time you graduate from the ninth grade, you'll have been at Bement longer than you were at PS 261, and she cheered and punched the air. I think she's had enough change for a while.

Dave and I went to the lower school open house tonight, where we all sit in those too-small chairs at those too-small desks and read the notes our kids have left for us and listen as the teacher tells us about how the start of the year has gone. We all met in the gym first, the teachers were introduced, and then we went off to our classrooms.

I knew we weren't in public school any more when the head of the lower school, in a pink sweater jacket and pearls, stood up in front of us, lined up all the classroom teachers behind her, and sang a song introducing them all to the tune of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? As in, "these are our wonderful teachers who all have wonderful features." Actually I don't remember the words and they were more clever than that, but you get the idea. It was all very good-natured -- she has a nice voice! -- and unselfconscious, and the teachers went along with it with smiles on their faces. Genuine smiles.

I kept flashing on PS 261, that old auditorium, the very mixed audience, ages, races, appearances; the mic that never worked well as the principal tried to talk over the low murmur of chitchat, the parents whispering to each other or their small children or trying to keep their babies quiet long enough to catch a few words. Each specialist teacher -- music, art, science, PE, etc -- would talk just a tad too long, although you didn't want to miss a word. And then we'd split off to our classrooms, same deal with the small desks and chairs and stuff all over the walls, but three times as many parents (Lily's classroom has 12 kids), much higher anxiety levels, much more concern about homework and test scores and how to cope with the various independent projects coming our way.

PS 261 had is own charms and excitement and I am going to blog an open letter to the school community, telling the parents they don't know how good they have it and thanking the teachers and administrators and encouraging them to persevere against all the Department of Education odds. The farther away I get from it the more I think it's a unique community, genuinely built on love, and if we had stayed there Lily would have been fine. But while I loved Lily's third grade teacher in Amherst, I don't miss that school one bit; I suspect few schools, public or private, are as extraordinary as PS 261.

For better or for worse, though, we have moved on, and tonight I felt it. It was wonderful to be in this quiet, very small classroom, the tons of work already, in just two weeks, on the walls for us to read. It was lovely to hear Lily stories from her teacher, who obviously gets her and enjoys her. (We've been so lucky, all these years; all of Lily's teachers, right from the first year at the Montessori Day School, have "gotten" her and loved her.)

The first thing Mrs. Mullens said was, "She's going to be an actress!" Apparently Lily had told her classmates the first day of school that she was not consulted about moving from Brooklyn to Bumbleville, or something like that. (She was very dramatic, apparently. Hard to believe, I know.) Now that's what I call relaxed.

The hardest part for me, aside from not being there for her after school any more because I am at work, is that she doesn't have nearly the playdates that she did in Brooklyn, where she had so many old close friends and it was so easy to get together with someone. Now she spends weekends with us picking peaches or whatever we are doing as a family. Or she reads or does art work or goes on the computer or watches TV. I'd love to get her one playdate a weekend, although now that the summer is over, Dungeons and Dragons has resumed with some Amherst buddies.

But I'm coming to think all that downtime's not necessarily a bad thing. She's had all these changes, as I say, and she and all her classmates are tuckered out from their intense school. Says us, says her teacher. Maybe just hanging around and being with Mom and Dad is enough, right now. The air is getting colder, the leaves are changing, we turn the heat on in the morning now. There's frost on the windows.

Moving is hard, isn't it, when you are young. We moved when I was four and that changed me for the rest of my life. I lost my dog and I lost my fireplace. One down...

1 comment:

  1. You've had quite a year, but the corner is turned. When we went to visit Bement I could see Lily in that small classroom, lining up for lunch, and out on that wonderful green playground. I'm so glad it all worked out. You're all settling in and relaxing, not just Lily. love you, Mum


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