The Summer Camp issue has started popping up in my Mom Circles.
I have mixed feelings about the issue. First, I believe that we are way too structured in the way we treat our children. I think kids need more free form play and more time to just free associate. Summer is a great time for that — you can go outside, the kids can run around, there are fewer deadlines. One of the moms in the preschool insists that she doesn’t do camp for her kids until they are in kindergarten because that was you have more time for spontaneous adventures.
But part of me is exhausted by the idea of dreaming up and orchestrating spontaneous adventures for a precocious four year old all summer. (And, of course, let us not forget the parenting advice that those adventures need to be fit into the flexible parts of a regular schedule without disrupting aforementioned schedule.) There is only so much time I can spend at the local parks, only so many play dates I can plan.
And, frankly, I need some alone time. That’s sort of the big theme of my motherhood, I think. Alone time and the lack thereof.
The summer that The Child was 2, we had a good routine. Get up, walk to ‘Bucks, play at the park, maybe shop for groceries, home, lunch, nap, play inside (too hot to go outside), and then dinner and bed. But last summer this didn’t work so well. She was bored with the parks because, frankly, most of the kids there are two and the older kids all … go to camp.
And, of course, there’s the money thing. We’re paying two tuitions — The Child’s and The Husband’s — on one salary. The summer camps I’ve been checking out are $300/week or so. I don’t know if we can afford that, frankly. Things are tight.
I’m thinking I may do one week-long camp and one once-a-week class. I’m also going to try harder to try to do some of those spontaneous adventures. Last summer I got really homebody. This year, i’m all about driving to a wildlife sanctuary and going outside all day.
At least in theory. In reality, I’m likely to stay a homebody. Except for those days when she’s at summer camp and I can drink iced tea and read trashy novels!
I know I haven’t written in a long time — more on that in some other post — but I’m in the middle of a brouhaha that needs airing. Both because of the complex issues surrounding it — issues of parenting in the 21st century, of information and privacy and safety. But also because it’s gotten so frigging out of hand already.
Let me preface this with the fact that The Great Valentine’s Day Kerfuffle of 2010 set the stage for this. More than 50 emails went into a serious and multi-week debate about whether or not the kids should give each other Valentines for V-Day. (And WHEN did that start getting called “Happy Hearts Day”?) I laughed and moaned — it was my fault because I asked for a class policy on V-Day after getting caught out in last year’s class.
At the beginning of the year, as part of the pile o’ paperwork involved in preschool, one of the things we had to sign was a release allowing the school to take photos and use them in promotional material or whatnot. I signed — what the hell, right?
In the first weeks of the year, it became clear that one of the moms had NOT signed. It was N., and she admits, a little sheepishly and little defiantly, that she has “a weird thing” about not putting her kids’ picture on the internet. Okay, we all shrugged. It’s a quirk, we can deal with it.
The teachers mostly took the brunt of that — they had to keep N’s kid out of the way if any photographer came to take photos. Didn’t affect anyone’s life but the teachers, so we went on.
I need to also tell you about L., one of our class moms. L is very intense. There’s no other way to describe her. She’s an older mom with way way too many post-grad degrees (two masters and a law degree), an in-your-face attitude, and excellent hair. She also has twin sons, one of whom has Autism Spectrum Disorder. She’s very proactive — one might even say aggressive — in advocating for her son. Of which I approve, though it’s a sometimes exhausting. Her son has a therapist who sometimes comes to class and who often uses digital photos of the class in his therapy. (He’s an awesome kid, btw, and very similar to The Child in so many ways that I have to talk myself out of little fits about The Child having ASD, sometimes.)
She is, I think, my favorite preschool mom this year. I should say that, too.
Last week, the head teacher came out and handed out a new form for us to sign. (Sometimes, it seems like motherhood is mostly about managing paperwork.) It was a new EEC statement regarding policies about digital images of preschoolers. One of the moms — P., who is nice and sweet but coddles and smothers her son a bit — declared, in front of the other moms that she was going to say no. I didn’t even notice, really.
To be wholly honest, I didn’t read it as carefully as I ought to have. I had other things on my mind (like the new Kim Harrison novel! Yay!). At the library, a few hours before the form was due, I asked L. to borrow a pen so I could sign it.
Well, I got an earful. Turns out, many of the moms were taking P’s lead and going to refuse to allow photos. And L was PISSED! It was going to affect her son’s therapy! It was going to completely strangle the cute photos we could post on the mailing list!
I agreed that it would put a lot of restrictions on what seemed like an important part of her son’s therapy. I also agreed that it seemed a little silly, given that any stroll through Harvard Square generates thousands of digital images of your child. I also agreed that it seemed impossible to enforce among the population that most moms are worried about — the casual pedophile. (The school is on a farm that anyone can pay $5 and get onto. They kids often encounter total strangers with cameras and cell phones. Short of the teachers tackling everyone who pulls out a cell phone, the only people that they could enforce this upon would be the folks visiting the school, all of whom have been checked out via CORI forms.)
Then I left, handed the paper to the head teacher, and heard from her that there was a major block of moms who were saying “no.”
Again, I didn’t give a damn. It seemed silly, but the parents have the right to control their child’s image. And in the 21st century, controlling your online image is a good idea, an excellent idea, in fact. (Hence the theoretical anonymity of this blog.)
When I walked out of the preschool a little early (never mind why), I was startled to see all the moms in a huddle in the parking lot, with L. holding forth. I didn’t hear much, but “I hear what you’re saying. I don’t think you hear what I’m saying,” and “I just want to protect my child!”
Ooooakaaay…. time to get the hell outta Dodge. I dashed to the car before I could get caught up in the conversation. I describe the situation, with some humour, to the Husband at dinner last night. We discussed the various permutations of the arguments and actually had some interesting thoughts on the issue. But I figured it was majority-rule, case closed, let’s move on.
The morning, the emails started. L sent out a lawyerly, bullet-pointed … screed, I guess is the best way to describe it. She mentioned a meeting on Tuesday and how she wanted to get her arguments in now, rather than taking up the whole 30 minutes. She talked about her son’s therapy, how important having photos of his peer group was, etc. etc.
I thought about it for a minute and decided that I remained weirdly apathetic. I really didn’t care one way or the other — both sides had valid points. So I decided to do something I don’t normally do — I suggested a compromise: to allow some people, like the therapist, to take photos after he’s signed a form that promises not to release the photos online.
I also pointed out that anyone with a film camera wasn’t covered, so there’s a giant ass loophole. Then I added, “I have no dog in this fight, I just want to point out that this isn’t an all-or-nothing situation.”
(I also did something stupid. I sent a note, privately, to L., saying that I hoped my emails had helped her case and that it might shift some of the more sheep-like moms. Change one mind and you’ll shift the whole herd. That was unkind, impolitic, and sadly, true. But I still shouldn’t have committed it to pixels.)
Then one of the other moms wrote a pretty aggressive email about how “we all thought about what was best for our child and we have the right to make this decision and I don’t think any of us are going to change our minds!” Well, that ratcheted the heat up.
A few more emails went back and forth, all polite, but then P. (the coddling mom), sent out a supposed-to-be-soothing email about how we need to be calm and not use words like “paranoid” or “reckless” to describe either side in the debate. Since no one has used those words in the general debate, you gotta wonder what’s been said in private, huh? That also ratcheted up the tension, but killed the thread to everyone.
What I find most interesting about this is how much effort this is all taking. More established preschools have policies on these things, but since ours is a new preschool (with a wishy-washy, half-assed head teacher), it’s very much a consensual democracy. Which is nice, in theory, but exhausting in practice.
Anyway, that was a long post after a long silence. I’ll let you all know how it turns out.
So I just listened to a story on NPR that I knew I shouldn’t listen to. A young girl’s fight with the Swine Flu. It’s awful, don’t listen to it. It’s important, you should listen to it.
Every once in a while I hear stories like this and I get a glimpse into what life must have been like 100 years ago, when a virus or plague could sweep through a town in days and kill wantonly. The idea that my daughter — my healthy, sturdy, big, strong daughter — might die because of the flu…. it’s terrifying. I can’t imagine living with it all the time, every time someone sneezes, every time someone coughs.
I’m pro vaccine and going to get the Swine Flu shot as soon as I can, going to have my daughter get it. (I’d like my husband to get it, but we’ll have to see when shots become available for people without any risk factors. I’ve got asthma, so I’m in the earlier bunch.)
I know, objectively, that the swine flu is pretty mild in most cases. I know that she’s strong and healthy. But I also know that 60 kids have died and while more than half of them have had underlying causes, about a third were perfectly healthy. (If I start thinking about herd immunity, I get all kindsa pissed off, so I won’t even start.)
Anyway, I’m just trying to stay calm and remember that the odds are in my favor. And using lots of Purell.
Technically, that should be “parenthood”, since The Husband is taking half a day to come, too. But then the alliteration would have been screwed up.
Today is The Child’s first parent-teacher conference. She’s three and delightful so I’m not worried… in the abstract. But there’s a small knot of worry at the base of my spine. It’s not about her. It’s a visceral memory to those days when my parents would go in for parent-teacher conferences.
Not that I was a rotten kid. I was well-behaved, if something of a slacker and underachiever — in large part because I had serious social issues. But my mom would always get snappy beforehand and then, afterwards, have long and serious conversations with me about how I needed to change in order to fit in better.
One of my mom friends says that one of her friends pulled her kid out of preschool based on a bad p.t.c. I’m confident enough that I’m really not worried about what they are going to say about her, more about whether or not I’m going to make an idiot out of myself.
I’ve never been to one of these things and that, combined with my childhood flashbacks, has me just nervous enough that I called my sister in law to find out what I should expect, what I should do or say. (She’s a teacher.) She gave me a quick cheat sheet: ask if she listens, how does she do in one-on-one interactions, how about circle time? Does she make friends, get along okay with the other children?
The Husband, as I said, took a half day to come with me. Given that he’s one of only two dads doing that (and the other is a teacher who gets out at 2 o’clock anyway), I again feel blessed to have a husband who is so involved. It makes the title of the post all that more unfair (but still… alliterative!)
I’ll let you know how it goes this evening.
My sister in law is a reading teacher in inner city New Haven, one of the worst slums in the U.S. She has been a teacher forever, including stints at Kindergarten and preschool. So I called her up to ask her about the Scholastic Book Club thingy.
According to my darling s.i.l., I haven’t precisely been had. It was sorta kinda a fundraiser…. maybe.
Turns out that Scholastic “takes good care of teachers.” For every dollar that we unsuspecting parents spend on the books, the teacher gets some number of “points.” She can then use those points to buy books. One assumes that the books will be used in the classroom. Yay books! Yay reading in the classroom!
However, and this is a big however, the books go with the teacher usually. Not the classroom. When my s.i.l. gets shifted from this school to that, from K to Reading Recovery, she brings her library with her. So if Miss P., the head teacher for The Child’s preschool, decides to hare off to a better preschool next year, say Wonder Canyon, the books go with her.
I’m now sort of torn about this. There are a number of variables — it’s a good cause, it’s my daughter’s classroom, reading is important. But I pay a buttload of money for that place, can’t they buy their own flipping books without hitting me up for more? What’s the socially acceptable amount to spend? Will I get dissed if I don’t spend as much as the other parents? Those other parents own second homes — I can’t spend as much as those other parents! Then again, I bought $30 worth of books. Maybe I’m spending more than the other parents? Does that get me any special mom points?
On a related note, I mentioned that there are only two other girls in The Child’s class. Well, those two little girls are best friends and have been since birth — apparenlty their moms are good friends and neighbors, too. The moms — K and H — often arrive together and just start conversations in the middle, the way that old friends do.
Here’s the funny thing. H is always really friendly to me. She’s outgoing and easy to talk to and laughs a lot. I like her. I’ve never seen K without H around. But whenever I find myself walking or talking with them both — often, since we’re usually the first ones there — I noticed something. K makes a point (a subtle point, but a point nonetheless), to turn the conversation away from general stuff and back to personal stuff between the two of them, conversations I couldn’t partipate in.
At first I thought I was imagining it. But I started paying attention and yes, she was deliberatly excluding me from conversations, going so far as to put herself between me and H. (H, incidentally, is usually fine whatever is happening, conversation wize. She has a 6 week old baby, however, and probably isn’t at her best, mentally.)
Wow. A preschool mom for two weeks and already I’m being regarded as a friend stealer. It really is like being back at middle school. I’m tempted to bake some cookies and share them with H when K isn’t around, just to really indulge in the genre, you know?
This is the crap that made me dread eating lunch in the cafeteria when I was 10 and it’s the crap that’s going to make me cranky as an adult.
So the first day of preschool, last week, asI arrived to pick up The Child, and was busy checking that she still had all her fingers and toes, that she wasn’t pining for me, the lead teacher (P.) handed me a four-page, newsprint… flyer. It had books on it, and my name written on the back and … an order form? I didn’t even look at it, just shoved it in my bag, scooped up my kid, and off we went.
Earlier this week, unable to find my keys, I dumped my back out onto the table. And there was that flyer.
I took a look and something dinged a faint bell. Oh! It was like those fund-raising forms we had back when I was in school. I scanned quickly, Scholastic Book Club Something or Another.
I sighed. I’d been a preschool mom all of three hours before they were hitting me up for more cash. But such is life. I picked two of the most useful looking “packages” (instead of single titled I’d never heard of), ordered something like 7 books for $27 and folded it up with a check into an envelope. So I wouldn’t forget, I wrote “Preschool Fundraiser” on the front and shoved it in my bag again.
(Whole civilizations have been known to spring up, evolve, and die in my bag.)
Yesterday, dropping off The Child, I handed P. the envelope. She looked at the words enscribed on front, frowned for a minute, and when I said, “The books to buy?” she went, “OH!” and took the envelope.
Suddenly, I’m realizing, I don’t think it was ever said that this was actually a school fundraiser. I mean, really, no where and no one said that. Maybe this is just some prschool teacher’s version of Am-Way or something. I may have just put some commission on $27 into P’s pocket.
I mildly resent being asked to raise funds for a preschool I’m paying pretty big bucks for The Child to attend. I really resent not being explicitly told that this money is for the school. And if that money is for the teacher….
I may have to write a stern note.
Yesterday was The Child’s first day of preschool.
I admit I was a little apprehensive. She’d been very very excited for it and then Monday, when we were talking about it, she asked, “Mommy, what will you be doing?”
“I’ll be having a cup of coffee, sweetheart.”
“Why am I going to school all by myself?”
“You won’t be,” I said, my heart quailing in my chest. “You’ll be with all those new friends and your teachers and the animals…”
She seemed to accept that. But for the rest of the day and all morning Tuesday, she kept asking, “Why am I going to school all by myself?”
I was sufficiently worried that I spent all Monday evening embroidering a special little token with her bear on it so she could keep it in her pocket, like a kiss, for when she needed it.
But then Tuesday came and she skipped right into the classroom and when I said “Goodbye,” she waved and went back to playing like it was no big deal. I walked out without a blink.
There was a little tiny corner of my heart that was wailing, “You’re leaving your little girl with total strangers!” but there was a much bigger part that was thinking, “Three and a half hours all to yourself!”
Other moms were holding each other and sobbing. The teacher, Miss S., made a point of telling me how she’d cried when she put her little girl on the bus for Kindergarten. My sister-in-law told me about how she just sobbed and sobbed.
I walked out and got a chai and sat and read a Laurie R. King book under a tree in Concord.
Should I have wailed, moaned, sobbed? If she had clung to me, screaming, “Mommy, don’t leave me!” maybe I would have. But she was happy and confident. Should my heart be breaking? Other moms, sane moms (not my sister-in-law), have told me how they cried when they left their little ones.
In fact, when The Child was merely a month old, I left her for an hour with my sister-in-law to go get dinner. My s-i-l made a big deal about it, about how the first time she’d left her child, “it was like a physical pull on me, I had to get back to my baby!” She cried while eating and rushed back.
I ate two plates of dinner and meandered back, thrilled to have an hour with my husband.
Am I a bad mom because I’m not tearing at my hair?