Transitions and More on Daycare

Today is Laurel's last day at her current daycare. We stumbled upon this place at just the right time, as we were going through another period of transition when M and I both started new jobs and we were getting used to the whole two working parent thing.

I really went back and forth about the decision to move her. She cried a lot during the first couple of months when she was in the baby room, but when they started her in the young toddler room, everything in our lives seemed to settle a bit. She started napping once a day, weaned easily from breastfeeding, slept through the night (amen!), stopped spitting up constantly, and got her molars so she could eat more regular food. She loves the coloring and songs and playground and the other kids. I watched her for a few minutes today, standing around with two other little girls comparing shoes, dresses and jewelry. She looked so independent, standing there "chatting" with her friends, and I thought about every woman who came up to me when I had her strapped to me in the Moby when she was an infant.

"Savor this time. It goes so fast," they always said.

Now I know what they mean. Sometimes, in the moments when you are explaining patiently for the 97,000th time why you cannot stop driving the car to pour more juice, time seems at a standstill. But here we are, getting ready to take another leap.

We've decided to move Laurel to a daycare center in our neighborhood, so that we can share the drop-off/pick-up duties. It's also cheaper, and the care seems comparable. I'm not super picky about daycare. I looked at a bunch of them and my personal preference is small, privately owned centers over chains. From what I observed, there is far less staff turnover at the small centers. I like places where you bring your own food - I'm not wild about starting her on a school lunch diet of tots and chicken fingers and mac & cheese, which seems to be what they serve. (HFCS. Empty calories. Nothing green on the plate. Ew.) I considered home based care which would save us a LOT of money, but Laurel is way too social, and loves being surrounded by a lot of kids, especially kids who are older than her. I will consider this option when I need something part-time, but for 40-50 hours a week, I think she likes being in a large group. Not all kids are like this, and you can spot them right away at daycares...they are the teary-eyed ones clinging to the teacher's leg or crying in a corner.

Sometimes I think parents obsess way too much about daycare - it's a frequent topic at the playground, but maybe we just lucked out on our first pick. I hope the second one turns out just as well.


It does grow on you...

I hate pretty much everything the first time. Ask M. It's one of the charming-slash-most-annoying qualities about me. This axiom applies to music, food, people...pretty much everything except jobs. I usually love jobs the first month, and then hate them. And then quit.

The thing is that I'll try most anything. I'll try it again, even after I find that I hate it. I just complain about it, or give it a bad review, or tune out when someone is talking about it. In general, I think I could be quite happy with vanilla ice cream and green curry and walking for exercise. At least, I like to say that. It would probably get boring. I never have to worry about getting bored, nor do I have to really do the work of introducing new music/food/hobbies into my life, since M pretty much takes care of that with his own varied and ever changing interests.

So this pattern has been repeating itself for years. Therefore, I always hate what the cool kids like, and then start to like it when it blows up and goes mainstream.

M downloaded the tUnE-yArDs' 2 albums a while ago, and I've been groaning when he requests them on car trips, but something clicked the other day. I'm now obsessed.

I love this video, especially the classroom scene at the beginning. But this is the song I can't get out of my head. You know that feeling you get when you're singing along to the radio in your car on a sunny day...wind in your hair, nary a care, and a landscaping truck passes you, and all three guys crammed in the cab of the truck turn and look at you, and you can just tell...they think you are rock star sexy?


Merrill Garbus is how I picture my inner sexy, rock star self.

I could not remember our Amazon Cloud Music password today, but it was fortuitous because in my search for tUnE-yArDs music, I came across this lovely little record store with a great collection of videos. It made me think about Music Saves in Cleveland, and Stinkweeds in Phoenix and Paul's here in Pittsburgh. All these places, M has dragged me around to, over the years, and we've heard some unbelievable music in tiny, sweaty venues, and carried home t-shirts and vinyl sold directly from the hands of the artists who carted themselves from city to city in rusty old vans.

Following their dreams. And looking bad-ass while they did it.

Confession: I am not following my dreams. I am living a very nice life. Blessed to be surrounded by such incredible, loving people. Food on the table, roof over my head, and all that. And when your life is so good, it is easy to get complacent and say, "This is good enough. I can be happy with this."

But....the idea of following my dreams? It's growing on me...


Semantics, AKA What the heck are they talking about??

M and I have a long-standing disagreement of sorts over the word "strive". He finds it somewhat distasteful. I live by it. As our relationship matures - or perhaps as we tire of having the same arguments repeatedly - I find myself reflecting on the nuances of the language I use. While sitting around a neighborhood association board meeting recently, I listened to an exchange that sounded on the surface as if they were disagreeing. As it went on, it became clear that they actually seemed to share the same opinion. It was the language chosen by one party that turned a common vision into an argument.

Strive has two definitions in the Merriam Webster dictionary...."to devote serious effort or energy" and "to struggle in opposition".

Strive has a positive context in my internalized definition. It's about working hard and accomplishing things, perhaps things that scared you. Perseverance. Pushing limits. Striving is a way to get substantially better at something in a timely fashion.

Now, in examining the second part of the definition, I was surprised to find the word opposition. Struggle made sense, because when I think about hard things, like hiking the Appalachian Trail, or moving to a far away state and teaching poor, learning disabled students to read, I remember the tears and confusion and feelings of almost-ready-to-throw-in-the-towel that happen along the way. But opposition? A force working against you to prevent you from reaching your goals? That's a whole other story. So, even though I really like the word strive, and all the schema I have built up around it, maybe I'll just use another word, like "endeavor" or "bang away" when I'm talking about it with M.

I got an email today advertising for this summer book club for teachers. I don't know Mike Schmoker. This is not a book review. Maybe his book is actually awesome, and the description doesn't do it justice. Maybe I'm the ridiculous one for being tired of books about education using phrase like "in no uncertain terms". I think it's funny that he calls standards documents "bloated". My interest is piqued enough that I will probably add this to my library request list. I tire of the endless parade of experts pushing their solution to school reform when none of it does anything to actually rethink schools. Kids don't grow up to work in factories anymore, so why do we school them in factories?

My point here is that maybe teachers should work to increase their own content knowledge. Less on how to teach. Don't even worry about your content area. My overall content knowledge of math is far broader than what I will ever talk about in class lectures, but without that understanding, I would fail in my ability to talk about the number line. Taking in new content (aka "stuff") puts you back in the experience of a learner, which is probably a highly valuable activity, and would probably teach you more about building understanding of unfamiliar topics than listening to yet another blow-hard describe the "essential" elements of instruction. Look beyond books. Look for some TED lectures online or go to a thesis defense at your local university or take a welding class.

And now I must go and take my own advice...


I Touched Your Peas...

I picked a bunch of peas when I worked at our CSA farm on Friday and they were lined up in baskets at the market today when we picked up our share. In the midst of our urban existence, we can still say that we know the farmer that grows our produce and have ourselves walked among the rows of leeks and lettuce. We've leaned over rows of carrots with a shuffle hoe, and delicately extracted tiny weeds with a pocket knife. We've jumped over the fence to wade into a flock of chickens to feed them, and then eaten the eggs we picked from their coop. I like being part of this gentle revolution, where I'm surrounded by people who think it's important and neat to buy food that is local and grown carefully without pesticides. Laurel will grow up knowing that vegetables have dirt on them when they come into your kitchen and chicken eggs have deep golden-orange yolks. She'll know that grass-fed cheese is worth the extra dollar a pound and you buy beer in growlers through an unmarked door under the busway and the guy who brewed that beer will often-times be the guy who pours it for you and he'll tell you how he came up with the recipe while you are waiting.

Blow up your tv, peaches, and all that. John Prine always did make a lot of sense to me.


Great American Backyard Camp Out

We camped out to celebrate this event. We cooked hamburgers and hot dogs, had a campfire, went on very short hikes around the yard, looked at bugs, played with a carnival fish pond game my mom had, and after a somewhat restful night in our tent, ate blueberry pancakes around the fire pit. It was fun, and now my hair smells like campfire smoke, and Laurel is conked out for a nap since she stayed up until ten o'clock, babbling to herself in the tent and rolling around in her sleeping bag. Sarah and Jeremy and Kai camped, too. The funniest part of the whole trip was when we pitched the tents and Laurel and Kai were jumping around in ours, which had not been staked yet, and they managed to roll it over down the hill. When I went in to fish them out, they were giggling hysterically.



Laurel is more than a year and a half, almost 20 months old. We commented over dinner last night that we thought she would still be more of a baby at this point. She's most definitely a girl. Tonight in the bathtub she asked M something about if he saw boats at work today (he works near the river). Her language is mostly still babbling at this point, but interspersed with words, and she is most definitely using it to convey meaning. Or at least attempting to convey meaning (there were some tense moments involving the words pierogies, cupcakes, and no in the kitchen before dinner time today - turned out she wanted to eat her pierogies frozen, not boiled). She likes to carry a purse, and read books to herself and today she imagined a lengthy conversation between a paper elephant and a paper lion that she brought home from daycare. She can do stuff, if you give her the chance. Today she wanted to put the umbrella up, and I told her to push the little green circle on the handle. She found the circle but couldn't get it to work. I told her that she was in the right place and needed to push harder. And then I thought about the rationality of instructing a one year old to open an umbrella and prayed that if she managed to push hard enough, she would not also get poked in the eye. (She opened it. Her eyes are fine.) She likes to use a napkin, and carefully spreads it out on her lap, the way we do at dinnertime. She can put laundry away, if you give her one thing at a time and don't mind if it arrives in the drawer wrinkled. She recognizes her name in print, and likes it when we guide her hand to form the letters on a piece of paper. Definitely a girl and not a baby.

I went out with my mom friends this week. I remember the first night out we had over a year ago, testing the waters of new friendship. We knew each other first as new moms, but since then have become true friends, and it's delightful getting to know each of them through stories about their families and work, books they've read and places they've traveled. It is unexpected to me that I should have happened across these women, at exactly the most necessary time. Teddy and Niam and Laurel will all be going to the same daycare in our neighborhood in another couple of weeks. I hope they will be friends and that we won't get called in for a meeting with the director because one of them bit another one.


A Dad and A Daughter

I love this photo. I snapped it, last minute, with my phone, when M was getting ready to capture Laurel and drag her out of that fountain so we could get back to the hotel in time for a nap. But you don't know anything about schedules or obligations or soggy diapers by looking at this image. All you see is bliss in the moment. Toddlers don't need to "let go" and enjoy life. They just enjoy it. But enjoying life is clearly something M has not lost on his path to adulthood. That's one of my favorite things about him.

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Overcoming Obstacles, Community Action and Math

Yup, there's a connection there. Yesterday, I had sufficiently recovered from a very difficult school year to finally start tackling some of my embarrassingly long To Do list and I ended up contacting a local news station to report the crappy job Walgreens is doing maintaining the house next door to mine pending the sale. I've also resorted to the rather dirty tactic of passing out the cell phone number of the gentleman I've been dealing with at Walgreens, and am constantly urging my neighbors to call the 311 complaint number. Periodically, neighbors show up next door and have a discussion with us and say "Isn't someone doing something about this?!" And I say, "Um yes, letter, letter, phone call, letter, meeting, email, EPA, closing date, letter, phone call." And then nothing really changes, and I get busy with washing dishes or writing IEPs and put it out of my mind. Except I never really do, because every time I walk out my front door I see urban blight and I spend a lot of time chasing off vagrants.

This morning a landscaping crew showed up and mowed it.

This has been a lengthy process and it is not over yet. I will need to continue to make phone calls and write letters and threaten empty legal action and in general continue to be a constant annoying bug in the ear of Walgreens Corporate until they complete the sale. I know that failure or perceived failure often comes before success or mastery, and I have spent good portions of my life doing things that are really, really hard or took a really, really long time. So, I will persevere.

In reflecting upon my year teaching math, I have decided that giving up when one experiences failure or difficulty is one of the biggest problems students with special needs have. Scaffolding is perhaps an overused strategy in the special ed. world and it eliminates the process of muddling through partial understanding or confusion on your way to making sense of something. Teachers are instead encouraged to break things down into such teeny tiny, guided steps that students could not possibly experience anything but confidence. But they also grow dependent on a teacher, and even though we are supposed to engage in "gradual release of responsibility" so that students are eventually doing things on their own, the whole thing is just very teacher centered. The most brilliant minds spend years, decades even, puzzling over problems, trying and failing and trying some more. My students will "try" on their own for about 10 seconds before they turn to a teacher or an aide for assistance. Not good. And very annoying.

However, I have also been reading a bit of neuroscience on brain damage and the question of whether or not humans have an innate number line. Interestingly, this author entered number theory on a similar trajectory as I did...he studied dyslexia and speech prior to becoming interested in numbers and one of the things that spawned his interest was the birth of his first child and watching her develop.

So part of the problem is that they give up too easily, but there may be some neurological reasons for not knowing what 2 + 5 is.

On a side note, why do they not teach neuroscience in teacher prep programs? I never learned anything about this stuff other than what I have read on my own, and perhaps carrying over a bit of what I got from my undergraduate work in linguistics. Most teachers know very little about the brain. Isn't that odd?



We went to Chicago this weekend for a friend's wedding. We met Thom at Pitt when he was a pensive philosophy student and have been fortunate to maintain our friendship across a decade and half a dozen cities. His bride, Colleen, is one of the most interesting and kind individuals I know. Both of them are united in their commitment to environmental protection and it was nice to eat dinner with their friends and family, many of whom share that passion. Unfortunately I have limited photographs of the lovely couple, as M and I were mostly busy trying to keep Laurel from running down the aisle during the ceremony or pulling the table cloths down once the reception started. We succeeded. There were no disasters. Laurel enjoyed the wedding and carried not one, but two purses. We tag-teamed the reception so I got a chance to have lengthy adult conversations and several glasses of wine.

We decided to go a few days early, so M could participate in the bachelor party festivities, and I could visit with one of our oldest friends, and the person we credit with our initial introduction. Mary Beth has an almost-three year old, and Laurel was so excited when we got to their apartment and they had toys and a small person to play with and snacks and macaroni and cheese for dinner.

Chicago was great for many reasons, but especially for the abundance of boats, taxis, trains and buses. And elevators. Our hotel room was on the 20th floor, overlooking the river and Laurel woke up from every nap saying "boat!" and jumping in her crib to see out the window. The other big hit was the fountain at Millenium Park. Since we are all in the habit of getting up at the crack of dawn, we didn't even have to wait to get a table when we went out to breakfast at Yolk. We spent a lot of time walking around the city and went to Intelligensia more than a few times.

Hanging out with Laurel in a new city was awesome. Even though we didn't make it to the zoo or art museum, she was still really aware that she was in a different place, and when we would ask where we were at she would shout "Gago!" Chicago always happens to have great weather when I'm there, and I fall in love with it every time.

Enjoy the photos below which are mainly of Laurel and Mary Beth's daughter frolicking in various parks. I'm looking for one of the three of us all dressed up and fear we may have neglected to take one.


Raincoats and Reason

Today, I had to go to work to have an IEP meeting. Perhaps it is true that teachers have the summer off in some other universe. But today, I finished up one difficult case, and ran into the social worker and got myself something else to do with another kid.

So we were all getting dressed and ready for work and school, and Laurel insisted on wearing a scarf and a raincoat. It's 70 degrees outside at 8:00am and not a cloud in the sky. I must admit to being a bit of a scarf junkie. I have many and they are my favorite accessory. Like mother, like daughter, I guess. So just picture a tiny toddler with an old-fashioned silk scar tied fashionably around her neck and a green rain coat zipped up all the way, with hood up. We were able to convince her, before we left daycare to remove some of the accessories. I actually made her take off the scarf as soon as she got in the carseat, thinking of the Near Death Balloon String Fiasco of last weekend.

I see a lot of five year old girls wearing tutus to the grocery store, so I know I'm not the only one to have a difference in opinion with their child about appropriate clothing. My question is not so much about whether or not you let them out of the house like that (because let's face it, kids are just really dang good at winning arguments like that through sheer volume and endurance, thus all the tutus in non-dance class settings.)

Instead, I'm thinking about how we discuss appearance in a broader sense. How about when she wants to get this or that pierced or tattooed or her hair dyed blue or wear really short skirts and tattered fishnet stockings. How is that different from saying "It's 15 degrees outside, you need to wear a hat."

I think the topic of appearance has the possibility to really drive a wedge between parents and children, to the point where they are no longer following their own style, but just trying to do something irritate you. I don't like that, and don't want to parent that way.

How will we define "pretty" around here? Does it have to meet society's standards? Or does pretty just mean, I feel so good I could dance! How will we define "acceptable"? How will we help her to get through the hard lessons of judgment by others when you don't have the right jeans or sneakers? Will she even care about that?

For now, she's one, and one year olds are granted incredible leeway by society. Most anything odd she does is interpreted as cute. So she can wear a rain coat in the sun and growl like a lion when she's happy. For now.


Playground Fun

Yesterday we met Sarah and Kai at the playground in the late afternoon. It was an impromptu playdate...but in the car on the way, Laurel kept saying "Kai!" They actually seemed excited to see each other and they are definitely starting to say each other's names. One image I have stuck in my head is when a helicopter went by and both of them spotted it. Two little blond heads, bobbing as they raced along the fence, pointing at the sky and shouting, looking back at us every so often to make sure we were equally excited. It was hard not to be.

On my way to drop Laurel off today I saw a group of four kids, elementary aged, presumably walking to school, as they were carrying backpacks. All of a sudden, I saw all four bend down and start pointing and shouting and peering at something in the high grass next to a tree in the easement between the sidewalk and street. I have no idea what was in that grass, but their excitement was contagious.

This is my litmus test for a good day. Did we see something interesting? Did I pause to give Laurel enough time to process her observations? Did I see something in a new light?


All the little things....

It's the first day of summer vacation. Sort of. I have an IEP meeting to schedule this week and some paperwork to write and tutoring clients to prepare for. Since we already paid for daycare for the whole month of June, I took Laurel over this morning, so I could as I told M this morning, "Get a grip." That makes life sound a bit more dramatic than perhaps it is. We're busy in a normal kind of family way, with two parents working and a constantly-on-the-go-toddler. It's not like we never have problems (I am shocked when a week goes by and we don't have a plumbing disaster, small fire, injury or illness.), but everybody's alive and well.

I think today everybody in the house was grateful for alarms that went off after 6:00am and having had three nights in a row of pretty darn good and plentiful sleep. But I've been in survival mode for far too many months, and in a weird place emotionally where I can't seem to decide what I want to do with my life, and getting lunches packed and laundry folded seems insurmountable at times.

But who cares what you are going to do with your life when you can watch your daughter get a hooping lesson. This is from the concert at Hartwood last weekend.

During this past weekend we held a baby shower for M's sister. Laurel got to go swimming in a baby pool and the big pool and cried terribly when we made her get out, even though she was trembling from the cold. She demonstrated her utter lack of caution about deep water by walking straight off the edge of the pool.

Fearlessness was a theme of the weekend...I wish I had pictures of the moon bounce at our neighborhood picnic to show you. One of our neighbors owns a party rental business, so there were all of these inflatable moon bounces and mazes and climbing slides set up at the Park Place picnic. We let Laurel go in one, thinking she would be terrified. No way, quite the opposite, in fact. The bigger the kids around her, the higher she was bounced around and she loved it. Laurel is a vocal kid. She screams when she's excited. She figured out how to run around in there while mostly keeping her balance. During the whole rest of the day, when we asked her about the bounce house, she would wiggle up and down and start babbling excitedly.

I can't wait to see what the rest of the summer brings.


Summer's Double Edged Sword

Good things are happening in the 'Burgh. The annual Park Place neighborhood picnic is coming up on Sunday and M's Drupal meet-ups are getting exciting. Summer brings movies in the park and free concerts at Hartwood and no school, which means we can sleep past 5:00am starting on Saturday, and Laurel can perhaps adjust her bedtime to a more acceptable hour (because having a kid who needs to go to sleep at 6:30 can be mildly inconvenient).

But summer is also hot, and for some reason, every year I forget how hot summer in Pittsburgh can be, until it's upon us, and sweat is dripping off my brow and I'm rubbing ice cubes on Laurel's neck to keep her cool. Part of the bliss of living in this climate is watching snow from our cozy upstairs window seat, and conversely, lazy summer afternoons where you have to sit in a tepid bathtub to make it until sunset. There's something about being really hot that forces you to slow down and do only what's most important. We will put wet wash cloths on our heads and splash in the baby pool and dream up a lot of different cocktails containing Campari.

As Laurel gets older, I start to think more about what experiences I want her to have. And one thing I get more and more serious about is making sure that our lives are authentic in a way that she knows summer...that physical memories of sweat and popsicles are permanently imprinted on her psyche. I want her to grow up feeling a real connection to the earth and her neighborhood and the cycles of nature.

Does that make summer sound really romantic in a K-can-make-lemonade-out-of-lemons kind of way? Like, you want to come down here and sweat your butt off with us this summer? It will not be pleasant at all times. It will feel endless. I will want to abandon my old house for one with central air, and trade in walking for a mini-van with tinted windows. But then the heat wave will break and I will remember that being a little uncomfortable never hurt anyone.



Life has, as it tends to do from time to time, gotten away from us a bit. Today we took some time out to go to Hartwood Acres and listen to a concert and hang out with friends and family. (Josh Ritter played and was amazing. Very fun.) This photo is of Laurel playing with this long piece of cloth that M and I got when we went to Uganda. She spent a good half hour dragging it around, laying on it, laying under it. I've been experimenting with carrying her on my back with it. It's a bit long for a wrap, but one I get her in, it is really comfortable even though she's close to 25 pounds now. She slept on my back for a while at the show. If I could have only one piece of baby equipment, it would definitely be a long piece of cloth.

It's amazing what sitting in a field, listening to music and hanging out with good people can do for your psyche.