To my daughter, after your first week of school EVER

Dear AB,

It’s been an important week, your first week of school. Junior Kindergarten. Such a big step, but for you, who were so ready (even though you’re not yet four), the most natural thing in the world.

When you first visited your class in June, you were really proud of how you walked right in, and Mummy went away for the whole hour… “And I was totally fine!” The same was true for your other hour-long visit last Friday, in your real classroom with the senior kindergartners there: you did school like a pro.

Leading up to your first full day, you were nothing but excited. You were counting down: “I can’t believe the day after the day after tomorrow I’ll have my first full day!”, “I can’t believe the day after tomorrow…” and so on.

This past Monday, we had our last official “Mummy Day.” I was entranced listening to you play in your bedroom with a family of hair clips… They are the kind with jaws, so they can talk, hug, exchange fond words. There was a Father clip, two daughters who are tiny clips, and one in two pieces that you dubbed “Little Broken.” We played and had lunch and read stories. We had a lovely, mellow day in which I got all nostalgic (though I kept it mostly to myself).

I’d say you spend at least eighty percent of your time pretending. Sometimes you’re a character (Elsa or a kitty or Hermione or a grownup lady). Sometimes I have to be a dragon for a few seconds so your stuffed unicorn can cure me back to being human. Sometimes you’re busy mitigating the trouble your best imaginary friends (Golla and Sparkles) are getting into. Sometimes it’s your own kids (Asuna, Anuna, Alella, and Sybo) who are up to shenanigans. Sometimes you’re taking business calls on your defunct flip phone. Sometimes you’re singing in your own language. Sometimes I’m your daughter and you’re my mom (and you get to call me “Dinah” in satisfied tones). Sometimes you’re building schools out of MagnaTiles and populating them with your small friend toys (family of fairies, family of monkeys, family of turtles, etc.).

Being bored never even occurs to you. Your imagination keeps you fed. It’s awesome.

On Tuesday, your first full day of JK, I got to accompany you to school, along with both your aunts. You had picked out your outfit in advance, and you were so confident and adorable we could barely stand it.

first day of school

You gave us all hugs, and you let the teacher show you where to line up, and you trooped right in the door with total poise and trust.

first day of school doorway

I’ve seen a lot of small kids at drop-off time, and many, many of them have trouble saying goodbye. I know you’re brave, but I was still impressed – and a little surprised.

Last year, you had quite a few sad drop-offs at day care. And (I hope) I’ll never forget the moment at Family Camp this summer when I was leaving to run an errand… I’d already said goodbye, and as I was getting into the car I waved and called “I love you!” and you called back “I love you!” And then, as you stood there all tiny and strong, that Love jumped up into your throat, and even though you knew I’d be right back, tears sprang to your eyes. You didn’t really cry them, you were bravely watching, but I had to come back for one more hug. Then one of your Family Camp other-mamas swooped you up and I knew you were okay. (But I was teary-eyed. I knew exactly that feeling of when you say goodbye and suddenly Love gets a bit overwhelming.)

In truth, on that first day of school, after you’d hugged Auntie Emi, you wiped one eye, but you were so composed that it might have been a head-cold tear rather than a sad one.

On each of the four days of school, you were happy at drop-off, and happy at the end of the day too. If you’ve had sad moments at school, you’ve never mentioned them (although you have said, on two days, “I missed you today,” but not in a tragic way). I, on the other hand, got all weepy on Wednesday evening, having to admit to myself I was having some withdrawal after so much kid-time this summer – and fully realizing that my baby is in school, and things will never be the same. I miss you already.

There’s no question that you’re tired. There have been lots of meltdowns in the evenings this week, compared to over the summer. Some rebellious behaviours are intensifying as you test boundaries – and as fatigue makes rational decisions more elusive. We try to get you to bed earlier and earlier, but it seems you could always sleep more. I hope we’ll soon find the right groove for you to be rested.

Still, you are eager to go to school. You say, “All I do is sing songs and play and have snacks!” And there are lovely things in your classroom; when we asked you about your second day, you said with delight, “I discovered something that was new to me: a basket with a pegasus inside!” And you’ve made some friends and learned some names. You’re happy. I wish there were a way I could witness you in your new environment.

I wish it could always be this way. You are full to the brim of sheer you-ness. You are fierce. You mean business. You’re imperious, eloquent, wise. You possess a degree of empathy that’s unusual even in older children. You also have buckets of snuggly affection to spend on those you care about. Your dancing is of an earthy lyricism that must be seen to be believed. You love to look at yourself (especially when accessorizing) in the mirror; Daddy and I say nothing, because although we hope you won’t obsess about your appearance, we also know there will come a time when you look at yourself and don’t feel the pure pleasure you do today. You are beautiful in so many ways, and right now, you really know it.

Sometimes I involuntarily imagine the things that will bring you down from this place of innocent clarity. I want to cry when I think of the people and the pressures that will make you doubt yourself, or tell you you’re un-beautiful, or bring shame into your self-concept. The world, for all its progress, can still be a cruel place, especially to women and girls. I know you have to be challenged and hurt to grow strong – but I still cringe at the thought. I hope the confidence you have at this moment will survive to get you through the hard times.

Oh, my little girl. In less than two weeks, you’ll be four years old. I could not possibly describe how much, or how ferociously, or how tenderly I love you. Please just remember it’s true.



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Possibly The Randomest Book You’ll Ever Read

On one of E’s earlier works, Daddy helped him with a short author bio in which it was conveyed that E’s goal is to make 100 books.

He is barrelling toward this goal, let me tell you. He’s kind of obsessed with my stapler.

Here’s a creation from this past week. I love how he’s unencumbered by the fetters of plot, theme, or common threads of any kind, swinging freely between the physical and the metaphysical.

This is the title page. He’s really into stormy weather patterns right now. I’m pretty sure the circular one at the bottom is a typhoon.
Only one of each – no need for overkill.
These names come from his class list, hence the abundance of appropriate vowels.
He makes jump tracks just like this. You’ll notice that spoilers are very important to him – as they are, verily, unto the world.
This looks like he doesn’t understand food groups, but he’s actually been talking quite knowledgeably about them recently. Apparently the colour-code is the critical part.
You have to have a Stuffies page.
And of course you DOUBLE HAVE TO have a Dragons page.
Spoiler alert… this Colours page might just lead to a spinoff book.
I’ve always loved his plane drawings beyond all description.
And the heart-pounding dénouement: CANDIES!



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100 Happy Days + NaBloPoMo – Day 2: Super Mom

I did not have to wait long for the sequel! Dad is not the only Super one, folks.

The Adventures of The Super Mom
Chapter 1: A Breakout. One day, Super Mom was going to a big race. When they were racing suddenly there was a breakout.
Chapter 2: A Big Party. It was Arwen’s Birthday. It was a big success. (“I <3 U,” Wow,” “I <3 U 2.”)
Chapter 3
I had a party too. It wasn’t as big of a success.
The End.



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A Li’l Rant About Tantrums

E is a pretty cool kid. He is also quite challenging at the moment.

So far, we have not had any negative reports from his teachers in terms of his behaviour. Aside from that time in the fall when he didn’t want to participate in gym (it was understandably overwhelming, with 30 kids bouncing and echoing around), he seems to be adjusting well to school. We’ve been assured that he’s not a whiny kid at school, and he plays well with others.

I think sometimes it’s hard for him to be around so many kids at once, for such a long time, every weekday. Both his parents walk the line between introversion and extroversion – needing social time but also alone time, enjoying friends but not being overly fond of crowds or mingling.

I’m wondering if this is why he often… loses his cool, shall we say, when he’s at home. Perhaps he just reaches his limit. I know I do sometimes.

Honestly, he freaks out over very small things. Like his sock is crooked, or a Cheerio falls on the floor, or (this is a classic for him) the cheese doesn’t want to stay in his sandwich. And any injury, no matter how small, is cause for screaming.

He’s been like this since before school started; but his reactions are becoming more annoying and entrenched. Typical responses to minor problems these days include:

  • horrible shrieking
  • clamping hands over ears (especially if one of us speaks sternly to him)
  • delivering a hefty poke or tiny-fisted punch to whatever part of whatever parent is nearest
  • using a super-attitude-y nasty voice (“But, MUMMY, that’s NOT what I MEANT!”)
  • saying, with the drama of a teenager, “I hate you!!” (Lately, he’s taken to adding “right now” to this, because he knows we will call him on it later.)

He knows that none of these things get him what he wants. He knows that we don’t approve of any of them (except maybe the first, but only if it’s warranted, i.e. once out of 1.27 jillion times).

I wish I could say we had consistent ways of dealing with the behaviours, but we don’t. Sometimes we hold forth with angelic patience. Sometimes we try to reason things out (ha). Sometimes we snap at him. Sometimes we scoop him up and stick him in his room (I do this when my ears are full – which they often are after a teaching day). Sometimes we use a really scary voice. Sometimes we use a hug.

Most of the time, I feel pretty certain that it’s just a phase and totally normal. Once in a while, I wonder if something is really wrong with him – if his anxiety is actually much higher than it should be. Or if we did something to cause this. And I always wonder what is the parental reaction that we should be striving for – the one that would defuse the situation before it gets all intense. The one that would work.

Baby AB is also pretty dramatic, but at least she usually takes E’s episodes in stride. She’ll hear him freaking out, and gesture one hand in his direction and say, “Cry… cry.” All in a day’s work.

I would love to hear your insight on this one: if you have (or have had) kids who melt down, have you found a technique works for you/them to de-escalate matters? Do you use tough love or sympathy or both? What have you learned about tantrums? Thank you for your wisdom…



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Preschooler No More

11:36 a.m.

Dear E,

Today is your first full day of kindergarten – JK. I am sitting here fervently wishing I were a fly on the wall of your classroom. Are you having fun? Are you nervous about anything? Did (do) you like your first recess? Are the other kids nice? Have you eaten any of your lunch? Are you remembering to ask for help when you need it? I know that by the time you get home, you will remember approximately three things – if that – and they probably won’t be the things I would ask you about.

I was so proud of how ready you were today.

You have gone from saying “I don’t want to go to school” earlier in the summer to “When do I get to go to school??” just recently. (I think the turning point was when we bought your backpack and lunch bag and indoor shoes.)

You have visited your classroom twice, and met your teachers. Your first time there, at the JK visit in August, you found your name tag, went right in and had only a moment or two of hesitation, holding my hand, before you began exploring the different (lovely!) activities on the tables… You had your friend C with you, a bit older and experienced with school, so I just sat aside and watched you and the other JKs discovering your classroom. I could perfectly imagine you as part of your big class, doin’ the kindergarten thing, just like the JKs I taught two years ago.

Then Friday was an hour-long visit – with no parents. You had been a bit worried about it; the night before you’d said to me, “What if I get lost?” We have talked a lot about school in recent weeks, so you wouldn’t stew with your worries – and so you’d have an idea of what to expect. Daddy says that he dropped you off with no fuss at all, and when he picked you up, you wanted to go to school the very next day (Saturday). You learned (and remembered!) the word bibilothèque. You told anyone who wanted to know, “I went to school! I had my first day, and next time I’m going to ride the bus!”

So, on this cool, sunny morning, Daddy and Auntie Em and Baby AB and I accompanied you to the bus stop. You had a few moments where you weren’t sure you wanted to take the bus after all, but when it arrived, Daddy helped you up (those ENORMOUS steps with your GIGANTIC-looking backpack) and you sat in the first seat. You didn’t cry. You waved to us calmly – we were smiling like mad so you wouldn’t forget how great it is to ride the bus – and then you were gone.


Your posse waded home through a wave of emotion and nostalgia. Daddy fretted about the things you might not be ready for, and whether you would be okay. Now that I’ve spent plenty of time in kindergarten classrooms, I could confidently tell him that you would be fine – you’d probably already had circle time, been to the bathroom with a group or a buddy, played at recess… but of course I was fretting inside too, because that’s part of what moms do.

Good thing I know some things about kindergarten teachers, especially 1) that they’ve pretty much seen everything, and 2) that they are amazing and full of love.

I remember witnessing, two years ago, the parents dropping their kids off for the first full day of JK. Some children were crying and clinging, and some marched right in, eager to get going. Then, once the kids were finally all inside, there were a lot of parents peering in the classroom windows, emotional themselves, trying to see their progeny in the new habitat, inadvertently causing some children to recommence dramatics.

At the time, I didn’t truly understand. Shouldn’t you be thrilled when your child embarks on a new phase, especially if s/he is excited to go to school? (And shouldn’t you hightail it out of there as soon as s/he has successfully made it into the classroom?)

Now I get it: it’s actually harder for parents than it is for kids. I know that yes, we ARE thrilled, and shattered too.

How amazing that you, an incredible creature we’ve so carefully grown and sculpted (or tried to), are now a semi-independent being. How painful that you are now going to go have a whole life apart from ours.

Especially now. When I went to kindergarten, I went for half-days. Even the kids I taught came every other day. You, like most kids in the province do by now, will be going all day, every day. That’s most of your waking time. And I’ve just spent the fourth year of your life on maternity leave, so I’m used to having lots of time with you and witnessing lots of E-awesomeness. (And some other stuff too.) It’s tough thinking about all the cool things you will do… that I will miss. But that’s how it’s supposed to be.


9:26 p.m.

The first big day is done… You did great! (And so did we, resisting the urge to get in the car and follow the bus.) Mr. A, our friend who now works at your school instead of mine, was kind enough to let me know that you’d had a good recess and send me a bit of footage of you with a big smile.

What a relief – and only partially surprising. You are so sensitive sometimes, so melodramatic… and then sometimes you are just strong and take everything in stride. You came home with your new communication bag, and your lunch part-eaten (I’ll bet you dawdled), and you were happy, and even kinda nonchalant about your day. (And I was right – there wasn’t much you felt like telling us. Why should you? You live in the moment – that’s what childhood is for.)

You were pretty worn out, though. Dinner was a series of medium-sized meltdowns – which we were expecting. Right now, you’re probably in the deepest sleep of your life thus far.

Sweetie boy, we are SO PROUD OF YOU. You’re a wonderful person.

Love forever.

baby E
Weren’t you JUST this a minute ago??
e and baby ab
Now you’re the SO big brother.



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In the first week of school this year, I passed a kindergarten colleague in the hall with a student hanging off her arm. As we crossed paths, she said, “I’m too raw of a mommy for this job.”

I totally get it. Her being a “raw mommy” means that she exudes maternalism that the kids adore and glom onto… but it also means she’s spending her inner resources all day long, at a rate of about 5L/second.

I think this is a truth that applies to a lot of teachers – especially in elementary school. There are not many jobs with this level of psychological/spiritual output – each year, and even each day, has an emotional arc that requires pretty intense investment.

My personal catch-phrase about teaching is “The more you care about it, the harder it is,” and I think it’s particularly true for the smallest children. At the kindergarten age, it really feels like, as teachers, we’re helping to raise them.

But it’s very tricky, because whether we have our own children or not, the parental instincts we have cannot be allowed carry us. It is clear from the beginning: we DON’T get physically affectionate with kindergartners. With slightly older students, we might hold their hands and accept their hugs when they’re given, but that’s all – and it’s fine. They’re a pretty independent bunch by Grade 1.

With three- to five-year-olds, it’s a different story. They don’t just want to hug you occasionally or hold your hand. Lots of them want to lean their faces on your knee, stroke your clothes, and sit in your lap. And they have reasons for it. Often, just being physically at school is hard for them. Yesterday morning, I had two brave little girls, both four-year-olds, who got teary-eyed because they missed mom and dad (at 10 a.m.). They’re not habitual criers whatsoever, they were just having a one of those blue mornings. They were both trying really hard to be brave and concentrate on their activities… and it was a serious effort for me not to just scoop them up and hug them. I had to squelch my mom-self  and settle for a small pat on the back, a tentative little shoulder squeeze… and my very nicest words. Poor little sweeties.

And sometimes it’s not even about comforting them, it’s just because they’re so darn cute. Some of them are still only three – really tiny people. Some of them are barely past baby talk; some still have dimples in their hands; basically all of them have cheeks that need to be kissed. I never hold back with my son – if I want to kiss him all over, I go right ahead – so it’s an exercise in restraint not to squeeze these adorable people every day.

I know I’m not supposed to do those things; as a teacher, I would be wrong to touch these kids like their mom would. When I catch myself wishing I could, it’s a total internal conflict. This issue is treated in such a way that it would be easy to feel ashamed and indecent for wanting to cuddle your tiny students… but I remind myself that I’m not. I’m simply maternal… and human.

I do think back wistfully to my stint at Monteverde Friends School in Costa Rica, at the end of teachers’ college. It’s a school that can afford to act like a family: small, private, community-oriented, loving. By the end of my first week there, kids would climb onto my lap and I could give them a snuggle, just as instinct would dictate.

At least here at my school, I have an alternative. Mr. A turned me on to the magical properties of puppets: small kids will watch a puppet even when they’re totally tired of watching the teacher. Hence, he lent me Max the Math Turtle. The kids LOVE him. Not only does he zap the kids’ attention like a magnet, he can also give hugs and kisses, secretly on my behalf. It helps.



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Kudos to the Kindergarten Teachers

I’m friends with lots of kindergarten teachers. Skye is one of them; Mr. A is another one; and there are a bunch more. Thank goodness, because I am joining their ranks (sort of), rotating through the French immersion kinder classes to do math, and having one class all to myself for most of every other Friday. Let me tell you, it is a huge relief to know people whose brains I can pick.

Kindergarten is a whole new world. Other than a tiny piece of kinder planning five years ago (in which I learned of the extreme randomness of small children’s thought processes), this is my first foray into the beginner stratum of public school. And when I say beginner, I mean the kids (and sometimes the parents)… not the teachers. Teaching kindergarten is not for the faint of heart – or the weak of stomach, or the feeble of feet, or the poor of energy. Kindergarten teachers have my everlasting respect.

Friday was my first day this year teaching full-on all day long – two solid (100-minute) blocks of kindergarten, lunch yard duty, then two core French classes. I think it would have been fun, if my head hadn’t been full of congestion and my energy level down in my shoes. As it was, I asked myself (as I have many times over the years) “Why did I have to pick a job this hard?” If teaching is a study in sheer energy output, kindergarten is the ultimate test.

Notwithstanding, I still managed to fall in love with several of the kids – and gained some new appreciation for my junior students (Grades 4-6) who are so self-directed, hilarious in their own right, and whom I also love – for different reasons. I guess that answers my aforementioned question.

Here are some things I’m learning about kindergarten, so far:

  • “Can we play now?” (This as soon as they walk in the door.)
  • Kindergarteners are cute. You want to kiss their little faces… but you’re not allowed to, in case it is construed as a “no” touch.
  • Luckily, they are also affectionate; I’ve received lots of hugs already. When they throw their arms around you, it’s basically impossible not to hug them back.
  • They have almost no sense of time or sequence of events. After being there for an hour, half of them think it’s home time; then they can have their snack, and after 25 minutes of recess, they’ve forgotten all about it and think it’s lunch time.
  • “When can we play?”
  • There are huge discrepancies between the abilities of kindergarten students. Some are almost entirely self-sufficient, and some don’t even know to ask for help putting their shoes on.
  • These kids are raw humans. They say whatever they’re thinking, they cry when they feel like it, they hit when they’re mad, they spazz out when the mood strikes them. There’s little to no social filtering or niceties.
  • By the same token, they know how to do undiluted joy. Seeing their ginormous grins elicited by the feeling of simply running as fast as they can… it’s fantastic.
  • “Is it play time yet?”
  • Like most of us humans, they are sheeplike. For instance, if one of them decides something is funny and starts laughing, soon they’re all cackling like little loons.
  • Singing is amazingly effective in getting their attention. Mr. A has thoroughly harnessed this power: he has songs for lining up, sitting on the carpet, tidying the toys, washing the hands, etc.
  • There is no limit to the amount of silliness they can take in stride. The crazier the faces you make, voices you use, and things you do with your limbs, the better.
  • Now can we play??”
  • They learn a LOT from playing, from social interaction to fine and gross motor skills to basic physics. It’s a good thing, too, because playing is what they would do all day long if you let them.
  • I’ve been (re)assured that curriculum takes a backseat in kindergarten. I’ve seen for myself how much day-to-day life stuff they still need to learn. Skye helped put it in perspective by telling me what she considers her job’s priority: helping these kids like school and want to come back.
  • I have the distinct impression that in a kindergarten classroom, at any given time, chaos is only a hairsbreadth away. So I’m hoping that with practice, as I work my kindergarten muscles (the ones used to keep lids on things), it will get easier.




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