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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Back to School

Not that we ever really were away from school over here, because S had summer classes to teach, and BJ stayed in preschool throughout the summer. But the academic year calendar does have its impact: S will start his new fall classes in a few weeks, and today BJ moved up to the 'big kid' room at preschool.

What a difference from the first day of preschool last year! Today, he was jumping around with excitement, exclaiming, "School! School! Schoooooool!!!" He had made not one but FOUR drawings for his new teacher (there would have been even more, but we had to tell him four was enough!) and he was thrilled to be wearing his new shirt with the planets on it (all nine of them, which delights him to no end). I wanted to get a picture of him before he left, but that proved to be challenging because he was so keyed up he could not stand still.
I snapped this one before he crouched down to the all-important work of inspecting the dew on the grass. (And with the overgrown state of our lawn, there is plenty of grass to inspect!)

As soon as S was ready, BJ dashed for the car, eager to get going. I think if he'd been allowed to start running in the general direction of his school as soon as he woke up, he would have done so! And I'm so proud to share the news that he had a great first day! It seems he had absolutely no trouble adjusting to the new room and new teacher. It helps, of course, that almost all his classmates are old friends from his previous room. But given where he was a year ago -- full of anxiety, sometimes even crying at the prospect of going to school -- this easy transition has been astonishing. Yay BJ!

While it will be some time yet before BB follows in her brother's steps to preschool, I've decided that she will have a sort of "back to school" as well. We won't start her at the preschool until at least January, after she's 3 years old, and probably not until the following September. But (inspired at least in part by some of my mommy friends who are homeschooling or considering it) I realized there's no reason we can't do more with the time we have here at the house.

She's been in a very fun stage for the past week or so: her interest in the alphabet and in numbers is starting to intensify. She's been bringing me and S alphabet books and wanting to point out the letters she knows! She knows almost all of the letters by sight and also knows most of the numbers from 0-10, though some of them are still giving her trouble (confusing C and G or 2 and 5, for example). I think it's very important for me not to compare her with her brother -- I didn't want to push her to feel like she had to meet or beat his astonishingly early acquisition of literacy skills. But I think that perhaps I've been overcompensating in the other direction. The fact that I wasn't really aware how far she'd come with recognizing letters is proof of that.

Naturally, simply by being the second child in such a short span, her experience has been very different from Benji's. I sometimes feel guilty about all the hours I was able to spend with him curled up on the couch together reading everything he wanted, whenever he wanted. I recognized and rejoiced in each little step he took along the path towards learning to read. That's just not possible for her! (Neither is it possible for him any longer.) But such guilt is useless -- worse than useless; it's damaging -- so I really try not to go there. Of course we still read to the kids; both of them get lots of books read every day. But it's true that BJ picks many of the books, with her along for the ride. Yes, time just for her is scarce. But it isn't nonexistent. So I'm taking a new resolve not to fritter away the precious time that I do have to focus solely on my little girl.

Last year, when BJ finally settled into his preschool routine and I no longer had to worry whether or not I'd get a call to come pick him up, I had all sorts of elaborate plans for what I'd do with BB during those two mornings a week. Playgroups! Outings! Special Mommy Time! The truth is, most days I was scrambling to get things done around the house, working on my crafts, or running errands -- because all are just SO much easier with only one child to worry about. That remains true, but it's also true that as they have both grown during the past year it has become easier to be out and about and to accomplish things with both of them around. Not easy, mind you. But easier. So it no longer feels like a do-or-die situation if, for example, I don't make it to the grocery store on Tuesday or Thursday mornings.

I've also had a bit of a boot-to-the-head realization about my handcraft business. After working so intensely hard to prepare for Renegade during the summer, I've really slacked off. I haven't created anything new in more than a month. (!!!) I certainly needed the break -- my fingertips were getting calloused and peeling from so much wire work -- but more than that, I saw that the family (especially the kids) needed me to ease up. I'd hoped at one point that I could take the momentum from Renegade and turn that into preparation for a bunch of holiday fairs. I'd opened up my Artfire shop and started to stock it. Then I looked around and saw how stressed-out my husband was getting about his own work obligations. I saw how much better the kids were doing when I was sitting down to play with them instead of always having handwork in my lap. I thought about what I really wanted and needed right now.

And, I admit, I looked at the calendar and realized that in one short year, BJ will be in kindergarten every morning and BB will be starting preschool (or already going) for two days a week.

You don't get this time back. My work can wait, but the kids cannot. That's one of the biggest lessons I've faced so far as a mom. I'm still learning that lesson -- and doing so, truly understanding that this time is precious and will not come again, is my own back-to-school challenge this year.

So, in the light of all that, I am making a conscious decision to scale back my expectations for my business right now. I'm not applying to any craft fairs for the holiday season. I'll keep my Etsy shop stocked and continue putting a few things over at Artfire to see what happens. (I currently have lots of unlisted inventory that needs pictures, so it's not like not making new things means I won't have new things to list!) Next year, so much will change. I'll start to have the time I need to focus on my own work -- instead of feeling like I'm taking that time away from the family. Two mornings a week will definitely make a huge difference!

For now, I'm taking those two mornings a week and dedicating them to time with BB. Sure, we'll end up running to the store for milk now and again, and I'm not ready to create an official homeschool preschool situation. But I'm going to focus on what I think she'd like to do and enjoy the time we have together. Today was a promising start on that resolution -- as S was buckling BJ into the car to leave for preschool, I asked BB what she wanted to do. "I want to PAINT!" she said without hesitation. So, paint we did!

I knew immediately I was making the right decision. She loves to paint, and I don't do this nearly enough for her. Watercolors are OK, and the Crayola magic paintbrush stuff will suffice in a pinch (both are alternatives that I usually suggest when she asks to paint, just because they are less messy) but going at it with tempera, paintbrush, and easel is an entirely different experience for her. It's physical, totally engrossing, and thoroughly fun.

Fun to watch, too -- and giving myself permission to just sit and watch and enjoy watching is a bonus of this new arrangement. (And no small bonus, either. Such things are the overtime pay for a mom, especially one home full-time with the kids. There's another lesson that I'm learning!) I was so tickled by her enthusiasm, punching the brush against the paper and getting up on her tippy-toes so she could reach as high as possible.

Of course I had the camera in hand. Here's a really cute video of her painting and explaining her paintings.


We worked on painting for almost an hour, which is huge for a 2 1/2 year old's attention span! Then we had snack, read 5 books (most of them were Winnie The Pooh knock-offs, which she loves and which I confess are not my favorites, but still -- she got to pick!) and then just played around with Legos and toys before lunch. We also worked a bit on potty training: she's been in underwear for the past two days, most of the time. Yay, BB! A few accidents here and there, but she's definitely making progress.

Here's hoping that our back-to-school beginning continues to go as smoothly as today did!


tierramor said...

Plump and beautiful footsies - my fave!

cath c said...

i just caught up on this post and the two following....i'm so glad school is going well for bj and that you are enjoying bb so much!

"You don't get this time back. My work can wait, but the kids cannot. That's one of the biggest lessons I've faced so far as a mom. I'm still learning that lesson -- and doing so, truly understanding that this time is precious and will not come again, is my own back-to-school challenge this year."

so true, and thanks for the reminder! sometimes i'm so caught up on the computer trying to write or connect with people i forget i've got a great little person right here, all the time, and i should just be available to her moreso than i am when my attention is divided. she has been bringing me books all morning, then toddling off, then returning with another...i think i'll take her for a walk, the sun has come out for the first time in about 3 days.