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A couple weeks ago, I started writing a letter to the principal of Nuala’s school explaining our departure and it grew out of control in no time flat. We have a lot of complaints. The internet is a limitless repository of complaints about public education (and higher education, for that matter) these days, and I don’t necessarily want to pile on, but our experience confirms much of what I’m reading, such as:

…we tend to rely on rewards and recognition to reinforce conformity. What is so offensive about Skinnerian programs like PBIS or Class Dojo isn’t just their methods, which amount to extended exercises in manipulation, but their goal, which is to elicit mindless obedience.

The “clip chart” has been the bane of our existence this year: a multiple-times-daily and public exercise in enforcing behavior. It raised our hackles at the beginning of the year; we followed up with a wholly unsatisfactory conversation about the nature of the clip chart and the program to which it is attached, then gritted our teeth and rolled our eyes throughout the rest of the school year. Maybe one of the things for which Nuala “cilpped down” was social in nature–she shoved a classmate. I’m totally okay with consequences for antisocial behavior. I’d be happier if they enforced a routine of kids handling their own interpersonal conflicts, but whatever. The rest of her (many) transgressions were about failing to follow rules or do precisely what she was told when she was told to do it. Our response? She’s five. She’s headstrong. Of course she doesn’t do what you ask all of the time. She doesn’t do what WE ask all of the time, and it’s not because she’s a bad kid. It’s because she’s five, highly distractible, and bored out of her mind.

At the end-of-year event this week, a handful of kids received awards for clipping down two or fewer times throughout the whole year. How this is possible is beyond me, the mother of a child who clipped down more like two times or fewer per week. We had another good eye-rolling moment later that day, when we looked at the book she’d compiled with her teacher’s help to commemorate her year in class. There was lots of language from Leader in Me sprinkled throughout, but the one piece that caught our eye was a sentence about the positive relationship between leadership and following rules–something like “A leader is one who follows rules.”

Seriously.

Our minds were boggled, then, to see her final report card, where her scores for “independence” dipped in the last quarter of the year.

Our conclusion? They have no idea what they’re doing, at least in regard to “independence.”

Six

Today this girl is six years old. In the parlance of our times, I can’t even.
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In regular people parlance, I can’t even believe how many things I’ve missed out on documenting in the last year. Nuala had a dance recital on Mother’s Day weekend and it was adorable. Here she is doing a “ball change” to “These Boots Were Made for Walkin’.” DSC_0040

It has been a whirlwind year, lots of ups and downs. The ups are mostly because Nuala is an awesome kid, tremendously funny and bright and silly and interesting and sweet. The downs are mostly because her school has been disappointing in the extreme. It’s a public school that many in town agree is one of the two best (townies prefer the other one; university people prefer ours). The list of complaints we have about this year is too long to get into now, but the short version of it is “square peg, round hole.” I think a lot of kids are square pegs, and it’s not just Nuala who chafes at the particular routines and methods they use. Not a week has gone by this year where Spouse and I weren’t upset at something going on–endless fundraising, obsession with behavior tracking, ever-present sweets used as rewards, the cult-like aspects of the “Leader in Me” program, Nuala being allowed only to check out library books that she could’ve read a year ago–and we spent the year wondering whether and how we could work out sending her back to the Montessori school. We finally took the plunge last week and sent in her enrollment packet. It’s going to be a stretch, but the peace of mind knowing that we’re back on the same page as her teachers, which happens to be the same page that Nuala herself is on, is worth every penny.

We are in the midst of a great leap forward with BeBe. All of a sudden she knows a blue million words. Not that she can say them, but that she recognizes and responds accordingly (if she feels like it). One of these words is “glasses,” which sounds something like “dass.” She looooves taking off my glasses and wearing them around, usually on her neck and shoulder region, and smiles so big when I ask her if she’s wearing my glasses.

DSC_0077 DSC_0085Also on her vocabulary list:

Nurse. She’s known this for some time, and we try to spell it out so as to reduce the risk of her diving down my shirt or disrobing me in public. We avoid this word now as I’m trying to wean ahead of a 5-day trip to England in June. Ugh, weaning…but after lugging a breast pump to a 3-day conference in March I wasn’t about to take it on a longer transatlantic trip, followed by another long trip to San Francisco in July. Damn work.

Books. And Pig. Every night I read Sandra Boynton’s Going to Bed Book right before I sing her nighttime song (Woody Guthrie/Billy Bragg’s “Ingrid Bergman,” which isn’t exactly child-friendly, but it is easy to sing and it’s short). The same cast of animal characters appears on each page, and among them is a little pig. I’ve been pointing out the pig for a few weeks and asking her “Where’s the pig? Where’s piggy?” She’s started picking him out of the lineup and boy is she happy with herself when she does.

Hug, kiss, pat, night-night, and bye-bye. She still does the baby open-mouth kiss, but we’re working on it.

Belly and belly button, both of which she would love to show you if only you would ask.

Blocks, with which she can occupy herself for a good long while, and can I get an amen for that one?

Milk, cereal, cheese, apples, banana, bite, all done, and more. She learned a sign for “more,” which, same as Nuala, she uses to indicate “want.” So she’ll sign “more” when I get myself a glass of water or pick up a piece of paper she’d like to get her hands on. It’s a revelation to know that she can communicate like that, but it has certain limitations. Not only do we have to guess what, exactly, she wants, but she can be standing behind you signing away for “more” and you have no idea she’s asking for anything until she starts whining. Whining works pretty well, in any case.

And last but not least, she has the wherewithal to make a joke. She loves our phones, of course, and can do all sorts of things to my settings that takes me a while to undo. So I ask for her to give me my phone back and she extends it in her little hand and walks toward me…and then takes it back at the last minute, turns around, and “runs” away laughing. Repeat a dozen times and you have the better part of pre-dinner festivities.

She’s just getting warmed up. It’s going to be a fun summer!

I’d say the following, which transpired over the course of about four seconds, is good evidence someone has a good shot at a career in the opera.

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Once upon a time, we went to see the WKU dance extravaganza including Cinderella. I had her photo taken with Cinderella and Prince Charming and everything! The photo never made it out of my inbox and I just rediscovered it while tackling one of my summer projects (INBOX ZERO). It’s not a great photo, but it is a nice reminder of how little my big girl was just a year and a half ago. Sigh.

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There are no words

I had to work late last night and came home as the girls were in the bath. The second the naked baby heard my voice, she started calling, “Um! Umum! Muh!” (her “Oh, hey, someone in my family! Come here!” call).The second I poked my head around the bathroom door, she stood up in the bath and tried to climb out to get to me.

This morning, Spouse needed to be downstairs and I needed to be in the shower, so we stuck the big girl in the little girl’s room with instructions to keep the door closed. I got out of the shower to the sound of a big girl and a little girl playing and laughing together.

I’ve found it really easy to explain to childless people how difficult parenting is. They know how it feels to sleep terribly and can imagine how awful it is to sleep terribly night after night ad infinitum. They can imagine how it feels to miss out on socializing and leisure time in general. They know what whiny kids sound like and can imagine the torture of being stuck in a confined space with multiple whiny kids who want nothing more than to whine to you about the unfairness of the world and/or whatever it is you just said to them.

It is extremely difficult, however, to explain to childless people how powerful the good feelings are. “A naked baby tried to climb out of the tub so I could hold her after being away from her all day” doesn’t sound like anything special to these friends, nor does “I made two human beings who interact with each other and make each other laugh and who love each other regardless of my presence.” I don’t think there’s any way to inject that feeling into someone who hasn’t experienced it.

It’s a pity we can’t have it all: Netflix marathons AND hearing the big girl read story after story patiently to the little girl; uninterrupted alone and/or adult time AND soft little arms wrapped around your neck, soft little cheeks snuggled on your shoulder just because the baby feels like snuggling; the freedom to take off to Nashville for an unjustifiably expensive dinner AND poems and portraits that communicate things you didn’t know she’d noticed, things you hadn’t noticed. Maybe we’ll get to have all the fun stuff later and all the heart-explode-y feelings now.

Damn near impossible for all four of us to get in the frame.

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