Monday, October 08, 2007

Parents Day

Ed. note: The November issue of Wondertime is out and I encourage you to pick up a copy. There's some great stuff, as usual. If you still see September/October still on your newsstand, get that and then go back for November. It's a great magazine, no I'm not biased; one childless friend in her forties says she found it interesting and useful and she doesn't even have young nieces and nephews.

Last week we were closing an issue and Friday I was to be at Bement all morning for a parents open house thingy. Thursday night I was late at work, and I said to my editor, resignedly but with acceptance, I was supposed to come in late tomorrow because of this school thing, but I can skip that and come in to work on time, to get this story through. She said, of course not! Go to school! This is just work. That's your daughter. We can move this story without you.

This is the great thing about working for a parenting magazine that actually walks the parenting talk. And because many of us have young children, we all have the same sort of schedules--open houses, pre-school events, parent-teacher conferences--that all occur around the same time of the year, public or private. It helps that most folks are in the same boat.

So Friday Dave, Lily, and I went to Bement and hung out and met parents and sipped tea and talked to teachers and listened to the kids sing and watched them in class. It was a gorgeous blue-sky day and we all, parents and kids, spent most of the time outside. Bement has several buildings on its campus, so we went from one to the next, as needed. Lily's building was recently constructed but it's post and beam so it looks like fancy barn and it feels old, which is cool, given that she goes to school in Old Deerfield. It's kind of like going to school in a museum town, and in fact the fourth graders are studying the colonial era this year, touring seven of the original buildings and culminating in a colonial ball.

Lily really likes her teacher, who we agree reminds us of Nan O'Shea, her extraordinary second grade teacher at PS 261. In fact, Lily says the first time she heard Mrs. Mullens' voice she thought, "What's Nan doing here?" She's been at Bement for nearly 20 years and has taught before that, too, so she's got lots of experience. Many people have told us that she and maybe one other are the best teachers in the entire school. That says a lot, and yes, I can feel it when I hear Lily talk about her, and when I myself talk to her. I'm a sucker for elementary school teachers, anyway, having been raised by one. And Mrs. Mullens is smart and kind and in charge and confident and really understands and enjoys kids, and those are all lovely qualities to have in your kid's teacher.

It's been harder for Lily recently. The honeymoon is over. The homework is about 45 minutes a night. Last year in Amherst she had about 10 minutes a night, less than she had at PS 261 in the second grade, and that particular teacher, herAmherst third grade one, was known to give a lot of homework!. Now she gets more both because it's a private school and because of fourth grade, which is a pivotal year: two years before middle school so they have to start ratcheting up the expectations. That's true in every fourth grade, public and private, from what I understand.

Here, if Lily doesn't get it done at night she stays in at recess to finish it. That sucks and it happened a few times in the last couple of weeks. So now Dave has to focus on bringing her home right after school, giving her a snack, and sending her up to her room, or to the dining room table, to do her homework right away. We decided to skip starting up the individual flute lessons again for now, so that she can get her feet under her. She'll continue to take chess on Tuesdays after school--she took it at PS 261 but dropped out because she was the only girl; not an issue here, thankfully-- but we are keeping an eye on that, because it means she doesn't get started on homework until 5:30 or 6, rather than, say, 4:30.

She's also not eating, really, until she gets home at like 4:15. My kid. Sigh. I know 7 am is awfully early for breakfast (we have to leave to get her to the bus at 7:30) and she doesn't want to even try the morning snacks (usually graham crackers or fruit, etc) or lunch (typical but tasty school lunch). So so she often just has bread and butter for lunch and by the time she gets home she's ravenous.

We've been talking to Mrs. Mullens, who says she's perfectly capable of doing the work and suggested things like going straight home and getting started right away, and skipping flute for now, and seeing if she can handle homework on chess Tuesdays. She will make sure Lily's adult at her lunch table (the lower school eats together at long tables, family style, and mix up the tables every two weeks, so she could eat with, say, the first grade teacher, and a couple of third graders and kindergarteners, as well as fourth graders) gets her to try different things.

Mrs. Mullens said to me, you know, we are asking a lot of her, what with a new school, higher expectations (cursive is required; she finally has to memorize her times tables; they are learning grammar, and French, etc.), and a whole new environment, from the city to the country. Yes, she's been here for a few months, but now with this school and this house it's much more real and grounded. Now she can relax--maybe test and push!--but also relax, as she realizes that things are now stationary and not changing so much any more.

I do think this is best for our family and we all settling down into it. I was chatting with a friend yesterday and mentioned something I'd heard here, "oh, years ago" that was actually last winter. So, okay, we have not been here a year and I am already thinking in terms of having been here for years. I have certainly acclimated-- but hey, it's my home state, so it's not as big a jump. Dave has too--it's similar to the environment he lived in when he was at SUNY-Stony Brook, I think--and while he could probably use some regular work and more people around, he seems to enjoy his homemaker/primary caretaker/house-fixer-upper status right now. I know he'd been wanting a break from work for several years and we are fortunate enough to be able to afford it. Barely, but so far, okay.

I always say this transition is the hardest for Lily, who had never known anything other than Brooklyn. And it is the hardest. But she likes it here. She has seven friends, four boys, four girls--four kids from Bement, two from Amherst, and two from Northampton-- who she wants to invite to her birthday party next month. Not bad for being here less than a year. She likes school (the campus includes a brook, and woods! she builds fairy houses at recess!); she likes hiking in the woods, despite herself; she likes the space in this funny, open house; she likes how much room she has to be here.

And I think she likes being the displaced New Yorker, in a way, the kid from The City. (That sense of uniqueness may change once the boarders start coming from Singapore and Taiwan and Seoul.) I know part of me does, although I think I'm more doing the, "I'm cool because I lived in New York for so long and then moved out because I could tell the city wasn't doing it for me any more." Or some weird thing like that. But that's another blog entry.

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