Wednesday, July 23, 2008

7/23/08 Park Day and school thoughts

We're still all recovering, but everyone was well enough to make it to a park playdate today. First I chatted with 2004 moms I knew, then ran into another mom I know from Gabriel's piano lessons, struck up numerous conversations with moms she knew, then as I was about to leave, ran into another mom I know from the 2002 group. Talk about networking!

This was for more than just fun though. Katrina has been unbearably edgy, demanding, tantruming at the slightest provocation, and generally being a big pain in the *ss. I'm sorry, I'm tired of sugar-coating, that's really the only way to sum it up. I had to get her out. But I called it right, and she did have a good time at the park.

A nasty blowout she had there (and on my shirt) explains part of her ill temper -- she's still not 100%. I can forgive her that (grumble).

It was really nice being in the park again, doing mom things, chatting with real full-time moms. They seemed happier to me than working moms, but I remember well feeling when I was a full-timer that the working moms I knew were happier. It made me think that I'll look back on these days as being free and happy and idyllic, even on a day that I have a sickish, grumpy toddler. Will I regret not having more days when the big highlight is a park playdate? I thought at one point I was done with full-time momming. I thought I was done with working full-time, too. Even if I wanted to, I can't go back to days like this every day with all three of them, since school looms ahead. But will I regret not doing more of this with Katrina?

One mom at the park has a son who goes to Gabriel's school, and he just finished first grade. She said that if I thought kindergarten was a shock, just wait -- first grade is worse! Oh no!! Her son had a teacher who assigned homework nightly, not a once-a-week package as Gabriel's kindergarten teacher did. Nightly homework leaves no margin for error, there's no skipping one night and making up for it the next night. Or, as Gabriel often did, doing the entire week's homework on Monday night. Yikes.

Am I doing the right thing having my kids in a traditional school? I'm finding myself thinking more and more in terms of well-roundedness, less focus on academics, more on broad thinking. Academics and testing will come later. Kevin's daughters are entering high school and 7th grade, and had no trouble adjusting to "regular" school, and his older daughter says her junior-high teachers appreciated her ability to think out of the box. But I don't want to short-change them either; if any kid was built for straight academics (which our school isn't; it does attempt to be balanced), Gabriel is. But does that mean he should be getting other things now? It's interesting that the uber-academics agree with the granola-ites that early childhood learning is vital, but what that learning should be is vastly different.

I remember in high school that it seemed unthinkable to take a year off between high school and college to travel or work. Now I look back and see experiences like that in youth as invaluable. Can I extrapolate from that the same sorts of broad experiences have the same life-altering effect if they happen in elementary school?

Then again, how much well-roundedness needs to come from early schooling? I got some of those sorts of experiences in other ways, such as our family's cross-country camping trip when I was 10. Some of my most character-developing experiences came later, as an adult (travelling by motorcycle, for instance). As a teenager, I regretted not being pushed more in high school, I needed it and would have done much better; doing well in school was important to me, but I didn't know how to do it. I don't think that mattered much in elementary school.

I'm pretty sure my solid academic base started around junior high, when I was old enough for things to build on themselves. Mrs. Turner, my rigorous 6th-grade math teacher, changed my life. But would I have done better in school, and life, if I'd had a more "whole learning" elementary education before that? Will my children? This is an impossible question to answer, but you still have to take a guess and sign them up for a school!

Hmmph...I think all I've done is confuse myself. At best, I've gone full circle. The whole-learning kids will easily catch up in academic discipline, and the "regular" school kids can get valuable life experiences all their lives. Is it possible that wherever on the academic--whole-learning continuum a child's early schooling falls isn't all that definitive in the end anyway?

Practicality and uncertainty will keep us at our same school for now. Our own kids' personalities don't make it obvious what to do either. Gabriel's so ordered and focused, he's going to do well or badly no matter what -- he moves the world around him, it doesn't move him. Julian's so putzy that he could fall apart without structure, or he could rebel against it. Katrina...lordy. I can't think that far ahead. I just want to get through today with her.

I took this photo because it was the first real smile I saw from her all day, while watching "Ladybug's Picnic," a Sesame Street YouTube video on Dad's iPhone.

And now she's happily giggling to a lift-the-flap book that Dad is reading her after a successful bath. Please oh please let this fuss-storm have passed, it's really been a bad one. But a good day anyway.


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