Friday, October 13, 2017

A Menace Miasmic

When you become a parent, there is no more decorum. Your clothes will invariably be stained with some of your offspring's excrement, which you will indubitably discover right before a meeting and a few seconds after you've checked yourself out in the mirror and adjudged your sleep deprived aspect somewhat decent. Forget savouring the sweet sapour of your meals, your eating habits will be perfect training for Coney Island hot dog competitions. Your alarm will be shrill and will repeatedly pounce on you and pull at your hair (the "sun camed up!" "the sun came up" (grumble, turn) "OK! the sun CAME up mama! Get up!"(bellyflop, hair pull). Concerts, galleries and films will be swiftly colonized by swim classes, music lessons and soccer/football games. You will become extremely adept at undertaking one-armed activities while holding thirty squirming pounds in the other.You will spend so much time in the local park (at least for us urbanites) that you will start to wonder whether you should just pitch a tent and save on rent (or taxes). If you have multiple offspring, you will spend hours in conflict resolution, negotiating the boundaries of toys and games. You will be scolded by your own offspring for indiscretions of your sanctioned etiquette and routine, with a calculating but forgiving eye. Your children's view of the world will seep into yours just as your vision will instruct them, enriching your joint mosaic with an incandescent glint and weaving vibrancy into its colours.

The other night, my elder son sitting happily criss-cross apple sauce in his PJs on his bed, before book time, began to gargle out a story with a gregarious tone than ensnared me and my husband into its picaresque plot. There were dump trucks. Tow trucks. Rockets. Money. You need money for the tow truck (otherwise it won't come - for some reason this logic did not follow with respect to dump trucks nor for that matter rockets - if only someone told Space X that they were free! D'uh). There was Uranus. And there was his injury. We inquired further. You were hurt? We asked. Where is your boo boo? No, he clarified and clutched his heart. We all have an injury, close to our heart and we must keep our injuries safe so they don't crack, he explained with a sombre tone. Everyone has an injury? We asked. Yes, he asserted with the glint of a glare that expressed his irritation at having to explain something twice that was so rudimentary.

The next morning, I asked his teacher if she could discern what "injury" was, my husband and I concluding from its use that L was mispronouncing a concept he must have learnt at school (possibly during a Kimochi instruction). She started at me flabbergasted for a second and then said she had explained she had a chest injury to the kids a few days ago. Could that be it?

I couldn't help but ruminate on this concept. We all have injuries close to our heart. L may not have known how true that testament was. We become who we are because of our injuries, our emotional experiences, from which we learn - learning the most from those that have produced conflict, apprehension, melancholy. We are all walking, breathing injuries in search of healing. A line from Pasolini struck me, l'anima malata, santa - are we not all souls, saintly and sick? We must keep them safe, my son had declared. Was he speaking about life? Is life not a fatal injury? A chronic illness pronounced upon our first breath, as our constructed piece of the cosmos experiences separation and pain from the whole?

The Bay Area was plagued by a miasmic menace this week. On Sunday night, I was convinced our building was on fire as the smoke was so patent and pungent that when it was discovered it had drifted to the city from Napa, we remained somewhat incredulous. Migraines, sore throats and nausea affected the whole family. I was too late in seeking filtration masks - the more diligent had already bought the lot when I sought them out and we lacked any for a few days. I made a makeshift mask from my scarves and told L that we were travelling in masquerade home from preschool.

M, our intrepid adventurer, was dismayed that he could not run out on the grass and hurriedly walked to the door when anyone was bracing to leave as if gearing for an escape to the park. On Friday, he stole my keys and made for the door, as if he had calculated his previous failed attempts were due to their absence. I watched him in stupefied fascination as he tried to uncover the lock to no avail. Dejected, he accepted defeat and languidly retreated into the living room, where he climbed up on the armchair and resumed his watch over the traffic below. Every so often he would catch sight of a plane and erupt in excitement. "Plane!" "Plane!" he would shout (apart from members of the family and the ubiquitous chameleon "this", this is M's first word - L's was "car")and then jump down and run around the room in circles pretending to be one, mimicking the whirr of its engines (the Blue Angels had mesmerized both boys last week).

L's reading is progressing exponentially. Our one hindrance is the fact that I had foolishly not taught him lowercase until a few weeks ago - albeit, he is picking it up fast - as most words are of course, in lowercase. Learning from my mistake, I am teaching M both concomitantly.

M is using the potty! He has been notifying us for weeks now of needed diaper changes by clear gesticulations and for the last week has been using the potty a few times a day. After every potty triumph, he emanates an ebullient, victorious smile. Soon, soon, I will be free of diapers... I cannot wait! Woohoo! Invariably at this first stage of potty training, the Persian rugs, which cause us no harm, are cruelly disgraced. They appear to be forgiving.

The boys have been having fun with felt projectiles. They were learning to aim. I had what I thought was the bright idea of utilizing their aiming to enhance their alphabetic and then geographical knowledge. After each letter had been targeted, we began on the continents. Australia was an easy hit, North America not so much. The more my elder son missed a continent, the more he repeated it and remembered where it was. I was thoroughly pleased with my endeavour, until I later reminisced on my ill advised cartographic exercise, in which I encouraged my young Americans to plague the planet with their projectiles.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A Deluge of Thoughts Disconnected

Our pediatrician had calmly warned us that in the first preschool year, kids will contract around 9 viral infections. It's been three weeks and we've ticked off two, with M unsurprisingly contracting all the communicable diseases that L brings home. Their immune systems have been unwittingly enrolled in an intensive course. 

L is enjoying his preschool (if intermittently, interrupted by viral woes) but he seems to be much more socially developed than other kids his age and prefers the grade above him. I think this is due to the fact that he was in full time care with my friend’s son since he was 9 months old. Both the boys are quite colorful conversationalists and strikingly precocious (says the mother). Some children in his grade however, have been home with their mother and without older siblings and have not had the ability to build the same rapport with their peers. They do not yet know how to play with other kids and this was confirmed by the Director of the preschool, who notified us that kids L’s age engaged in “parallel play” and didn’t form friendships. Not all of them! 

 L and W have a solid friendship and go to different preschools. My son informed me that he missed W and that he wanted to see him. We met up with W, his big sis (and my son’s Venere) and their mum, one of my best friends, at the park the other day. They hugged each other, screaming each other’s name out with glee and then started to run around holding hands, before they attacked the playground with a shrewd strategy which ensured that they had ample time at each contraption whilst we were there. 

Before I had kids, I didn’t have much of an interaction with toddlers and stand surprised by the breadth of their knowledge. L has a voracious appetite to learn. He can read a few words now (car, bus, dog, cat, cow, pig, bee, sun, home) and wants to learn more. He asked me to spell “rocket” and “robot” the other day and concentrated on remembering them, albeit I had wanted a progression from three letter words to four (if you are wondering why I didn’t start with two, I wouldn’t have an answer, “dog” for some reason seemed the most natural word to start with, possibly because it was one of L’s first words). Last week we started learning about the solar system and began modeling it with available balls at home (albeit my husband was concerned that the proportions were far from correct). Utilizing music to jolt memory, we started scouring for solar system songs and after dismissing some confusingly tragic tones, we found an upbeat animation which made L burst into laughter. “The sun has eyes and a mouth!” “Earth has hands!” L thought the anthropomorphism of the celestial bodies was a real hoot. L quickly remembered the position of the planets and some of their properties. The hottest planet is not the nearest, the coldest is not the farthest and the biggest mountain in the solar system is not on the biggest planet - just to make it all the more fun. Now that he learnt about planets, we started to connect it all together.
L now knows he was born in New York, lives in San Francisco, that this city is located in California across the country from New York but within the same country, America, which is part of the North American continent, on the Pacific Ocean, that his grandfather lives across the ocean in a city called Sydney in a country called Australia, and that all of us live on a planet called Earth, which has one moon and revolves around the sun, our closest star, just like the other planets in our solar system. He remembers it all, but how much of that does he truly understood, I wonder?

Teaching L about dinosaurs, the world and the planets is exciting and also nostalgic. Countries that existed when I was his age no longer exist and borders have been redefined across the world (including the country I was born in), dinosaurs that existed are no longer recognized and the solar system either nixes poor Pluto or includes a bunch of dwarf planets and asteroid belts that are frankly hard to rhyme (if you’re ever having an insufferable day, just bear a thought for poor old Bronte or Pluto and their existential tumult).

M has started to speak! We weren’t surprised that his first word, other than family members, was a directive, an earnest aid in achieving his goal - the grand adapter, “this” - oh, yes, this. L had used it to his advantage too in his early vocal steps. M's ability to communicate has been greatly enhanced. M is quite dexterous in the versatility of his gesticulations, which he amplifies with animated expressions to propel his will upon his parental servants. He has been signing “no” , in which he flagellates the air before him with both arms with an admirable vigor, for months. The past month, he started to point at the objects of his desire and has now escalated his mission in service of his interests by pointing, gesticulating “no" and screaming “this!”  - a fascinating display if you were not the subject of its command, earnestly trying to effect his wishes as quickly as possible to avoid the ire of his imperium. 

M may be small, but he is fierce. The other day he stood up to three six year olds in the playground and has a persistence, perseverance and intrepidity that is as admirable as fearful. The world will not be enough for this little dude and hell hath fury for anyone who should stand in his way. Fortunately, his disposition is usually cordial and he enjoys charming a crowd. It’s only if his defense mechanism should be triggered, such as when three six year old boys decided to drown him in a deluge of their decibels, that the cyclone cascades its chaos. 

L is of a much more sensitive demeanor and while the disparity may be genetic, it is most likely due to the contingency of their birth order and environment  - M after all was in a nanny share with his brother and another boy his age and had to consequently be bellicose in order to protect his environs from their rampage. L, conversely, never had to worry about his defenses, is a cuddler, a creator and a clown. He loves to make jokes. The other day we asked what he wanted for dinner and he laughed and said “boogers!” We laughed too. “Booger pizza!” “Booger sandwich!” - not satisfied, he pinched his lips together and furrowed his brow as if on the cusp of a thought and raucously yelled “booger burger!” - and there you go, his first attempt to punch out a pun. I was delighted. 

Friday, September 8, 2017

Preschool Pandemonium!

This week my elder son, shy of three, started preschool. I had been prepping him by reading him various books on preschool a couple of weeks before he started. He seemed excited but I wasn't sure whether he understood that it would be a new daily routine in which I would not be present, for while he would exclaim he was going to preschool through an amplified smile he added "and you come too" as if it were an epithet.

Finding the right preschool was a travail, admittedly because we were a tad (or more) tardy in our approach. San Francisco has long waiting lists and anxious parents and I had made the novice mistake of searching for preschools the same calendar year as I wanted my child to begin. Even though it was the beginning of the year, most schools had already closed their admittance for the 2017-2018 school year. I knew grovelling before their Admission Directors in which I would beg them to forgive my indiscretion and take my money, wasn't going to get me anywhere so I ventured on a new plan in which I veiled the truth.

I called up each school I was interested in and explained that even though I understood admissions were closed, we had recently moved and was wondering whether there was a waiting list. Empathy may render rigid rules elastic and one would have more empathy for one that found themselves in an unavoidable conundrum than someone that admitted carelessness. The intercourse of a conversation is much more than the mere exchange of words (hence why I prefer face to face encounters and failing that, over the phone in our electronic age where we mediate most of our communication through bytes). When we meet, our integrated intercourse is comprised of words, gesticulation, expressions, eye movement, tone and pauses. Every pause is pregnant with narrative. From our primeval existence we survived based on our ability to form patterns and deduce conclusions therefrom and when we encounter a new person, our minds instinctively and methodically interpret te gaps. Did you jst notice the two typos I wrote or did your mind simply read the previous two sentences and fill in the letters? Our words are patched into a tapestry that other people weave for us as they subconsciously fill in our narrative.

In my particular case, I flexed the adjective “recently” in order to obtain an interview. What’s recent is relative but if you attest your urgency, the other party will most likely impress their own understanding of what temporal period that is. I attested that we recently moved from New York and invariably was interrupted by an eruption of emphatics. Most likely the person on the other end of the line didn’t assume that “recently” was nearly two years ago, but assured of their own impression, they never asked for me to quantify. If they weren’t so pliable, I added that I recently gave birth. I also did this to seed in their mind that I had two potential students and attendant tuitions.

We were thus fortunate to have received interviews. It may seem a tad laughable that toddlers have to interview for preschool and have supervised playdates in which their suitability is assessed, but one crude chord may compromise a composition.Thankfully, my affable, extroverted son easily won over his potential peers and teachers.

We were on the fence between two preschools and decided to entreat both so that we would be the ones to decide which offer to take rather than have the schools make the decision for us. Fortunately one sent over a draconian agreement that allowed me to question some of its terms and the manner of writing while we played out all the pros and cons. A bunch of our friends told us to pick a preschool based primarily on scheduling. When can you drop off and pick up? How close is it? All very good considerations.

However, my husband and I were determined to find the very best curriculum for our son because we are of the opinion that these early, impressionable years are the most important. You can learn at any time, but learning to learn, which is a predicate to learning anything, occurs at a young age. At the least, it is easier to mould these fundamental characteristics at a young age.

Before we looked at preschools, I decided to study the Waldorf-Steiner, Montessori and Reggio Emilia approaches and decided that the holistic, community focused Reggio approach in which children learn through explorative and cooperative projects was most aligned with our philosophies. I had also read Positive Discipline which I continue to re-read and adopt this approach with my children at home. Serendipitously, a Reggio inspired positive discipline school was a short walk away and we got in!


We were given the option of accompanying our son for the first half of the day. I decided to go, if only to be able to witness his routine. The other parents mostly kept by their kids and played with them, but I was determined to keep away as I didn’t want L to include me in his understanding of what preschool entailed.

It was easy to do because as soon as we entered, he ran off to play! I was surprised to see how my son reacted in a new social environment  - he was the class clown! Slightly disruptive, he was overall pretty obedient but certainly intent on attention. He made loud jokes in a clownish voice, once even interrupting a song about monkeys jumping on the bed to state they were jumping on poop and then to ensure everyone was on the right page, he exclaimed “that’s funny!”  - indeed. Thankfully the teachers understood his behavior as a means to endear friendships and found him more hilarious than disruptive. I decided not to intervene and leave them to discipline if need be, for I didn’t want to undermine their authority.

At first he ran to the trains, which he remembered from his playdate months ago and then rocked to the sandpit where he stumbled upon a penguin which he began to play with and after a while my little copacetic carnivore proudly proclaimed he was cooking him! A teacher nearby nervously laughed and betrayed her surprise by the enlarged circumference of her eyes.

After free playtime, the kids rounded into circle time where they discussed their feelings and the activities of the day. Next, armed with orange vests and holding a rope, they trudged up to the park. It was Tuesday, so park time was free play. Other days they have structured activities – Wednesdays is Playball, for instance (which L loved). On return to the school, there was story time, lunch time, nap time and then project time. L made friends with a boy, S, the first day and he seems to still be his best mate there (interestingly, I note that S was born on the very same day as L’s best bud, W).

L didn’t cry the first day but I did. He seemed so grown up! His life away from our nest was beginning. It was a bittersweet bite of a moment when L, who was having trouble donning his orange traffic vest, went to his teacher for help. I had not wanted to intervene because I wanted him to do exactly what he did, and yet, when he showed the independence and aptitude I had hoped for, in a shatter of a second I turned triste as I digested my demotion. Ah, the calamity of change!

Only one other kid cried that first day, her mother with her. I assumed that the girl had never before been at preschool or had any other carer but her mother and shot her mother what I thought would be understood as a supportive look. Later, when we were talking and I said it seemed really difficult for both of them, her mother sighed in agreement and related her story which was pretty much the exact opposite of what I assumed (hence the problem of filling in gaps as I explained above – which you can use of course to your advantage). Her daughter had been in day care for a long time but had developed very strong friendships and didn’t want to leave for preschool.

L's school is very proud of its curriculum and the teachers are constantly being trained to finesse their pedagogical programme. Tonight we have a two hour presentation on their method so we can apply it at home. And I thought it was a meet and greet!