Kindergarten or Why I'm Crying This Time

This is the second week of school for LAUSD. It still feels like the middle of summer, but my Facebook feed is full of shiny faces, new shoes, and backpacks. Our tiny friends with older siblings are on different schedules, no longer able to meet up for an impromptu afternoon at the park.

For the first time, I really know some kids and some parents that had their first day of Kindergarten last week. Before this year, it has always been a vague, abstract, someday kind of idea. This year is different. This year it lands heavy on my chest. This year I cried at the pictures of other people's children on their first day of school. 

I can't tell you why I cried. Maybe it is because the school looks so big and she still look so small. Maybe it is because I've known him since he was half this age, held his hand and wiped his boogers. Maybe it is because I know how this big new step, not more than any of the others, but in a new sharp way, makes her mom feel that she is losing her, even when she knows that isn't true. Maybe it is because I don't have a plan yet. It's only a year away and I don't have a plan. 

But they all did it anyway. The first day of school came and went. The intelligence I've received from the other side, is that somewhere, deep down, all of the work of those first five years pays off. I've heard that they eat more at dinner and fall asleep in a sweaty heap in the middle of bedtime stories. I've heard that after six hours apart, they miss their siblings, who they've been been squabbling with all summer. I've heard it has been a grand adventure. 

Whether I am or not, they were all ready.

I'm so glad I have another year. 

A Museum, a Park, a Beach, Repeat

O: Momma, are we starting the day, or ending the day, or in the middle of the day?

I love summer, or at least I used to, when I was a kid. As I trudged into adulthood it has started to mean less and less. Sure, it is warmer and it is light later into the evening, but gone is that free feeling of having nothing to do, nowhere to be. I no longer live in my swimsuit, my hair in an eternal matted pony tail. 

But here we are, at the beginning of O's second summer off from pre-school, and somehow, that tingly summer feeling is returning. This week I rolled down a hill, swam in the ocean, and ate ice cream for dinner. Our bathing suits are living on the line outside and haven't been fully dry all week. In a few days, we are going camping. We will return home, exhausted and that first post-camping bath will leave a dirt ring around the tub as satisfying as the trip itself. Summer is a time to be dirty, to roll in the sand, to eat cherries until your fingertips are stained red, to lay in the dirt on your belly and look for bugs, to lay in the grass on your back and watch the clouds. I'm ready. I suppose, if O and P want to join in, they are invited too. 

This summer, my recipe is this: a museum, a park, a beach, repeat. Every week, we are going to attempt those three things. That should leave plenty of time for cloud gazing, getting dirty, and cherry eating too. 

Grand Plans

O: Mooooom, slow down. You walk too fast. Why do we always have somewhere to be?

Summer is nearly upon us and I was making grand plans.

I have a tendency to make grand plans, aspirational, over-reaching plans. I love schedules, lists and graphs, but I don't alway love following them. Sitting with a lined legal pad, a sharpened pencil, a cup of coffee and a world of possibilities is one of my favorite things. Everything feels possible from that place. I like possible.  

A friend shared her goals for the summer with me, and it got me thinking about how I set goals and measure my own success at reaching them. I will usually set a detailed (no joke: like by the hour) schedule and attempt to follow it and as soon as I miss one bench mark or time stamp, I will chuck the entire thing out the window, because my perfect plan has been sullied and is no longer viable.  We will then proceed to spend the entire day in our pajamas, watching Frozen on a loop and counting the minutes until bedtime.  

Photo Credit: O Felton

Photo Credit: O Felton

My friend's goals didn't need a time stamp or bench marks.  They were big-picture goals about what she wanted for herself and her children. They were attainable, reasonable, and exciting. My list-making mind instantly saw the smaller steps that they needed to be dissected into, but the goals themselves were beautiful in their simplicity and focus: one for her alone-a commitment to her own physical health, one for her family-embarking on a creative project on behalf of her daughter that she would share with her husband, and one for her kids-to spend as much time as possible exploring our beautiful city.  These clean, lovely goals instantly made me realize my own lack of focus, in spite of my color-coded graphs and charts.

So, following the rubric of my dear, and very wise friend, here are my summer goals:  (I am not sure I will be able to resist the compulsion to schedule, graph and color code, but if I am at least working from a big-picture place, perhaps that will help.)

1. A goal for me: I want to begin making relationships with theaters closer to home. There is a lot of theatre in Los Angeles and I need to start putting in the time and energy to make relationships there, so that I can do more than one show a year and not kill myself with the Long Beach commute. 

2. A goal for my family: A move away from our beloved screens. Frozen and Curious George have become a huge presence in our house over the past few months, and I am not apologizing for it, but I am excited to see a lot less TV time. As for Jim and me, we have both made a commitment to be more present and less plugged in this summer. We've been looking here for that inspiration and support: The Hands Free Mama.

3. A goal for O and P: Spend as much time outside as possible, recognizing that our adventures don't have to be grand in order to be exhilarating.

It is a place to start.  I will still use my giant blackboard wall calendar in my kitchen. I will still draw out schedules on those legal pads. I'm not sure I know how to stop myself, but I will also try to forgive when I fall short, to pick-up and carry on where we left off, instead of chucking my well-meaning plans out the window. 

I can't wait for summer. I am replacing my grand plans with trips to the beach, playdates, and days with no schedules, where I will say yes as much as possible, slow down, and try to quiet my own mind when P wants to spend twenty minutes talking to a leaf or O wants to take pictures of some flowers. I can't wait. 

POTUS v. Preschool

O: I mostly didn't like it.  It was exciting, but loud.

This is not a political post. I promise, not even kind of.  

Los Angeles is a strange and wonderful place.  A few days ago, after sign out at O's school, a bunch of parents were just hanging out in the park, when WWIII began, or at least that was where my hyperactive worst-case-senario brain went.  

Several large grey helicopters flew low over the playground, ruffling the kiddos hair.  They landed in formation just up the hill.  Moments later two identical green helicopters approached from different directions and landed on the field too.  The loose perimeter was maintained by a couple of intimidating dudes in polo shirts and jeans.  Everyone ran up the hill to watch.

  It was very clear that this level of security was way too lax for Marine One to have it's illustrious passenger inside, but it was still pretty cool.  A couple of the babies are still pointing emphatically at any plane, helicopter, or bird they spot in the sky, and then insisting that their mothers force a landing for closer inspection.  

I'm not saying that that was a dry run for Obama's visit to Los Angeles this week.  I am saying that preschool was unexpectedly shut-down for two days due to unforeseen "park maintenance".  I guess it makes sense that POTUS trumps preschool, and at least we got a really awesome, up-close, personal air-show out of it.  

Two Loners and a Social Butterfly

O: But mama, I miss my friends.  How am I supposed to feel happy without people that are not you and dad?

Jim and I are loners.  We really enjoy solitude. We are often overwhelmed by large groups. We are happiest at home.  We will make plans, with people we genuinely like, then have to give each other pep talks in order to get out the door. One of the reasons I knew that he and I would be good partners, was that we figured out, very early on, how to be alone, together.  

May she always know that love can be this beautiful.

May she always know that love can be this beautiful.

Somehow, in spite of her parents, O is a social animal. She loves being around people. She thrives at school and in large groups.  She can talk to and befriend anyone.  I think she takes after my dad.  After a few days at home without outside contact, she is climbing the walls, craving that interaction and stimulation from her peers. Honestly, I am in awe of her at times, her energy for people, her empathy, and her complete willingness to see everyone as a potential friend.

My best guess is that in the neighborhoods of yesteryear, or maybe even still, on the streets of small towns, this kind of thing works itself out.  The introverted parents attend the requisite number of community functions and then retreat to their shag-carpeted dens to read science fiction, while their extroverted off-spring wander from house to house in a neighborhood of best friends, a full-social calendar achieved with very little effort.  Los Angeles, however, is the land of the playdate, a culture where having parents with some mild social anxiety can seriously conflict with the filling of a tiny person's dance card.  

O has forced me outside of my comfort zone more times than I can count, and in trying to act in her best interest and respond to her needs, I have found myself, inadvertently acting in my own best interest. Because I recognize in her a need for community, I found one for myself as well. That community of friends, of other parents, of other children, has become invaluable to me, and my sanity. It is yet another reminder that these tiny humans we are living with come with their own wants, needs, and passions that we might not be able to fully grasp or comprehend. Yet, if we can step back and try to learn about them, we might learn something about ourselves as well.

That is what joy looks like, in case you were wondering

That is what joy looks like, in case you were wondering

A special thank you to all of those families who have endured my awkward behavior at playdates over the past three years, and I owe a debt of love and gratitude to O for helping me find my community that I didn't even know I needed.