Word Winding

attempting to spin cacophony into sanity

The time between

I am an elephant. A cranky elephant. A cranky, creaky, elderly elephant. A cranky, creaky, elderly elephant who needs to sleep more hours than there are hours. And eat more food than exists.

Which is to say, there is likely still at least a month and a half to go until our third baby makes an appearance.

I am ready to nest. And yet who would attempt to nest now, when nesting means wrestling space for clothes and diapers in drawers and closets already full of four people’s things? “Nesting” the third time around looks a lot more like intensive purging and a lot less like tenderly folding tiny onesies.

Today I entertained the notion of never teaching again after this birth (but not with any real seriousness). In almost the same thought-bubble I considered suggesting Thor quit one of his bread-and-butter gigs, because third-hand smoke is a *thing* (which it is, but thankfully I can count on one hand the times my pregnant nose has even noticed that he was in a facility where smoking is permitted). Later, I enthusiastically plotted the new little kid classes I’m putting together for this coming summer.

A smart fortune cookie would say “you are in no condition to make life decisions.” The word on the back would be “dàn jiǔ” (eggnog).

One of our cats is missing. The shy one. Pajama. The one we took in as a feral teenage waif of a kitten. I spent a whole summer taming her, almost a decade ago now. She barely ever leaves our yard, and she is terrified of strangers.

  
I am hopeful she will return. The only other time one of our animals has disappeared was the last time I was pregnant — also during the winter. Our cuddle-bug Cricket vanished two weeks before we moved. Fortunately our new house was quite close to our old one so we could still patrol the same neighborhood. He was gone a whole month. Thor found him walking down the sidewalk only a few blocks away. He was skinny as all get out, writhing with joy to be home again. Blessedly safe and sound.

So we find ourselves turning the page of the year as one would flick a waiting room magazine. Soon our beautiful baby will make his or her debut. Hopefully sooner than that, if we are lucky, our little tuxedo cat will have made her way back.

Of course, we are hardly just waiting. We are doing all of the living we always do; flipping pancakes, quelling squabbles, making music, collecting stray shoes from the yard before they decompose or acquire residents, brainstorming for our family/businesses/selves, sneaking eggnog from the fridge. On top of it all, we are posting flyers, scanning shelter listings, and taking walks in the dark making real cat-calls that sound something like a drowning bumblebee with an urgent secret. We are meeting with midwives, gearing up for the routine glucose tolerance test, going to yoga, and clearing the aforementioned space for nesting to eventually occur. We are having serious conversations with children about guns, and dinosaurs, and maybe not coming into our bed quite as early in the wee small hours of the morning so mommy can have enough room for her beloved body pillow and therefore just possibly get enough sleep to stay sane.

But we go through it all cloaked in the stuff that makes daybreak so beautiful and at the same time so damn tediously suspenseful that you seriously regret leaving your bed just to see it. I remember my dreams well these days (because I am so often wrenched from them by the incessant need to use the loo) and I can say with certainly that my every hour, waking or sleeping, is draped in dawn’s mauvy gauze.
 

cloaks of a different sort (handmade by Granny)

 
I wish I could tell you that by the third child I know to cherish this last bit of breathing space before the hurricane of newbornhood. I mean, I do “know” it. But actually doing the cherishing is a challenge when your skin, your brain, your bladder all resemble nothing so much as a water balloon filled by a child too young to know not to fill with the maximum amount possible.

Still, there are moments quintessential to this in-between period. Time spent watching my lurching belly. Time doing my witchy thing, wrapping my unborn babe in love and protection, summoning my cat home with an open beacon of a heart. Time making sure my older babies are properly treasured, my marriage nurtured, my body kept healthy and strong — with a side of eggnog and a nap if I can get one.

Because this time around, I know I am preparing the right way. Not by reading every prenatal book ever written, like my first pregnancy, or by planning endlessly for the practical aspects of having two children, like my second, and all the while, both times, knowing there was something more important and yet less tangible I should be doing, but unable to reach it through my pregnant haze.

This time I am focusing on my emotional state, my spiritual exploration, and above all my connection with each member of my growing family. In this glittering stillness between inhale and exhale, I am growing like a weed. A very rotund weed. And I feel certain there is no better way for me to honor this time between.

Hygge and Marriage

Weddings grow families. This simple fact was woven throughout the sweet ceremony my dad and his wife Florence had this past weekend to formalize and celebrate their long-term relationship.

Surprisingly enough, theirs was not the only wedding on the week’s agenda: a couple days ago my stepbrother Waldo was wed in South America and this weekend my sister Gemini will tie the knot in Asia! And my family is roughly quadrupling in size… Which combined with the multiple continents thing must make us something of an international sensation.

Unsurprisingly, I have had marriage on the mind as of late. I have also had “hygge” on the mind ever since reading The Danish Way of Parenting earlier this year, a book I definitely recommend. Hygge is difficult to define succinctly but easy enough to comprehend once you’ve been given a description or two. (The best definition I’ve found is this one.) Essentially, it is a cozy, everyday delight in togetherness. Hygge is highly prioritized in Danish culture and is theorized to be one reason they are the happiest nation on earth.

We’ve experienced a lot of family gatherings this year — my mom’s side assembled for my grandmother’s memorial back in May, we attended the annual reunion my father in law’s side has every July, my dad’s side had the first of what will hopefully be many reunions in August, and this weekend some of dad’s and Florence’s children and siblings came together for the wedding.

During all of this extended family time I was delighted to notice lots of hygge. I hadn’t really realized it before, but my little nuclear family is surrounded by hygge experts. In addition to all of the above, my mother in law’s side and my first stepfamily are also experienced in the art of hygge (and both are overdue for reunions of their own). Perhaps this combined heritage is why Thor and I recharge best in a little familial cocoon at home doing nothing in particular?

During the ceremony my dad talked about their reasons for choosing marriage over simply continuing to enjoy life together without that particular label. Chief among reasons was this: the formal extension of family. As a couple, marriage was a nice symbol of their connection, but beyond that, within the larger context of their families, they each wanted to formally induct the other into the sweet, sarcastic, weird, wonderful bunch of people they grew up with or raised and clearly treasure.

My dad also asked the assembled, his family by blood and his new family by marriage, to encircle him and Florence, to support them when needed and help them remember their origins and their best selves and thereby strengthen them individually and together.

It made me consider that hygge may be as important as romantic love in the making and keeping of a marriage. Whether that hygge is with a family of birth or one of choice, time spent with those who have loved us unconditionally for as long as they’ve known us may be what keeps us sane, helps us delight more fully in our blessings, and allows us to better weather the inevitable jolts along the journey.

With that in mind, best wishes of much hygge to all, especially the (many) newlyweds!

————-

And now, for your enjoyment, here are Owlet and Platypup reenacting their wedding contributions. (Their new cousin was part of the live act, so imagine a third adorable imp in the first two videos.)

First, a song:


Skiddamarinky dinky dink
Skiddamarinky do
I love you
I love you in the morning and in the afternoon
I love you in the evening underneath the moon

Next, a poem by Ogden Nash:


To keep your marriage brimming
With love in the loving cup
Whenever you’re wrong, admit it
Whenever you’re right, shut up.

And finally, a Lovely Love Story by Edward Monkton:

Oasis-Hopping in the Melodrama

This past month has been a deluge of preschooler melodrama. Platypup, maybe from the new autumn schedule with less time at home or by observing other kids’ behavior at school or just because it’s what three and a half year olds do, has been driving Thor and I slowly insane with his increased wining and aggression and rudeness. It may be settling down a bit these past couple days. Or I may just be leveling up to the new normal.

And yet, like koi in a murky pond, there are these moments, these irreplaceable delightful little gems that are more than making up for it:

The night of the eclipse, we left our house at bedtime to see if we could spot the return of the moon from beneath the earth’s shadow, which, according to Thor’s mildly malfunctioning but still fairly trustworthy constellation app, had definitely made it over the horizon enough to be visible above single story rooftops. In bare feet and pajamas the kids traipsed along the twilit block, followed not just by Thor and I but also by Pickle, the noisiest of our cats. After perhaps a half hour of fairly pleasant but fruitless loitering, we decided to head back home without seeing anything. We must have been quite a sight with our stereotypical 2.5 kids and operatic cat in tow. Once at home, we discovered the moon had risen enough for its rusty specter to peek over the backyard fence, conveniently and irresistibly visible from the hot tub. Plans for bedtime abandoned, we clambered in for our own private eclipse-viewing pool party.

   
 – – – –

Lying in bed last week, Thor’s hand curved around my ballooning abdomen, patience is finally rewarded with tiny thwumps while Owlet and Platypup riot on the other half of the bed, apparently pretending to be wrestling kittens. Quintessential third baby moment.

– – – –

After a month’s lapse from structured musical activities (for pregnancy-sanity reasons this school year I am taking a break from teaching my little kid music class and elementary-school-aged beginner orchestra class) Owlet and Platypup resumed music play, first with renewed interest in the piano separately from both and then with an epic show for an enthusiastic audience of one (who also doubled as the announcer). After I hawked her upcoming appearance, Owlet would play the first song in her violin Suzuki book, I would applaud, and then I would herald Platypup as “the dragon who is going to jump and roar for us!” Repeat with each Suzuki song in order, punctuated by three roaring dragon jumps each time. Eventually there was improvised, dancing violin to accompany the dragon. After a month off from playing violin at all, and a few months at least since the last time several of the more advanced songs were played, I was astounded by Owlet’s rock-solid memory and tendency to sing the tune to find the fingering in trickier spots as well as Platypup’s ability to take turns with enthusiasm.

– – – –

Owlet was arguing with Platypup about pronunciation (I no longer remember the word) and so I listed a few examples of words with multiple pronunciations and then pulled out Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition of “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” They both snuggled in next to me, listened attentively to every word, and laughed uproariously at some of the goofier parts.

– – – –

Owlet straddles her bike with pregnant me hunched beside her gripping the back of the seat. She shoves off with her feet while I push, tries to find the pedals fast enough to gain momentum as I lumber along, and then I let go and jog beside her while she zooms a few pedal-strides before making friends with a neighbor’s shrub. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat.

– – – –

Platypup this morning, with an entire story completely out of the blue: “Once upon a time there lived a family of carrots. They went into a pirate ship and one said, ‘we are pirates!’ And one said, ‘we are fired!’ And one said, ‘yes, yes, we are fired!’ And then they were dead. And then they looked confused.”

Announcing… Ninja!

Thor and I had always planned to have two kids. And when I say always, I truly mean from the first moment we discussed the possibility of ever reaching that very far-off seeming point. Two. For sure. Two and only two.

And then Platypup was born… And within days I knew I wasn’t done.

Thor was not convinced, possibly because his hormones were not in a blender on high with the top off. So I figured we should wait to officially debate the issue until Platypup turned three. It seemed as though we would have a better sense by then of what it felt like to leave the baby/toddler phase behind, catch up on sleep, and decide whether to sail onward into middle childhood or give round three a try.

Well, this past May our Platypup turned three, and, like clockwork…  

 Halfway between Thor’s birthday and Father’s Day we learned the good news. Above is that quintessential “what am I squinting at?” ultrasound photo used to estimate a due date. Turns out our little Ninja is due in February — clearly already determined to distinguish his/herself from the rest of the family, who are all lumped together in Gemini territory.

Us parents are excited. The kiddos are over the moon. This is going to be awesome. Bring on Baby No. 3!

P. S.  This is totally how we dress all the time. The proximity to our Talk Like a Pirate Day party (Sept 19th, one of our family’s sacred holidays) is just coincidental.

   Aaarrr! Now that I’m not nauseous all th’ bloody day, I’ll have yer guts fer garters iffen ye don’t rustle up some grub!

  Avast! Hold on just a bloody minute, if’n we be havin’ another set o’ hands on deck, ’twill it mean our kitchen’ll ne’er again be swabbed’n stay swabbed?

 Yaaaar! I’ll soon ‘ave two wee bilge rats teh do me bidding!

 Ho ho, I won’t be th’ lowly cabin lad anymore!

Valley Fire

Two weeks before the fires, we were there.

We drove on twisting roads through forests, past farms and vineyards and tiny towns. Homes for the humans and their animals, and for the wild ones roaming free.

Those things are gone.

The best caramel swirl ice cream I have ever experienced, in a little shop with a charming set of hand drums cobbled together somehow and attached to a single stand.

Those things are gone.

We bathed in beautiful springs sheltered by gigantic fig trees, splurged and slept in a fairy cabin like it was our honeymoon and not “just” our eighth anniversary. Yoga in a temple the spiral dance could call home. Full moon circle under rippling cloudy skies.

The springs remain. The skies remain. The native plants and fungi in their fire wisdom are still anchored deep, holding the land with healing fingers.

Everything else is gone.

Bitty Bouncy Bunny Bronwyn

A little over a week ago we took our rabbit speed-dating.

Autumn had been gone for a week. Leopold was still noticeably muted in behavior aside from an increased eagerness for petting and cuddles. Normally one big frolicking stomach, he would eventually finish a carrot but without much visible joy.

We packed him into a carrier and took him with us to one of our nearby shelters. I love the look on all the shelter volunteers’ faces when they realize the people with the carrier are here to get another pet rather than surrender the one they’ve brought with them!

They set us up right away in a (clean) single-occupancy bathroom, brought in an x-pen (think portable animal corral), and asked us who we’d like to meet first. Rabbits on average prefer opposite sex partners, even when both are spayed/neutered, so we decided to start with the adult females before moving on to the males (two males are more likely than two females to bond).

The first bunny was super sweet with people — she even liked to be held, which is rare for rabbits, who usually range from tolerating to hating being picked up even if they are hugely affectionate sitting on or right next to a person. But her only answer to Leopold’s inquisitive nose poking between wires of the fence was to try to bite it. Repeatedly. Next!

The second was much more promising. They both displayed non-aggressive behavior for long enough (45 minutes, perhaps?) that it was time to see how they would do in the same space. We moved back the barrier bisecting the bathroom and… Immediate fireworks. Not the good kind. We quickly separated them with the x-pen and decided not to rule her out completely but to try the others to see if there was a better match to be had.

By this point, Leopold was clearly wearing out. The car ride alone was a lot for one day, not to mention the unfriendly reception from the only members of his species he’d seen in a week on top of the loss of his partner. The cumulative effect had him retreating to his carrier, completely uninterested in meeting anyone else. So that’s where he was when the third rabbit entered.

The third was a lively little thing who jumped into Owlet’s lap for snuggles moments after being set down without even pausing to sniff hello first. Then she explored her half of the room, sometimes in quick bounds, sometimes with a funny little walk where her hind legs alternated in a way I hadn’t seen either of my rabbits ever do before. She continued to punctuate exploring with sitting in Owlet’s lap for awhile. Leopold maintained fatigued disinterest. I decided this should probably be his last visit for the day.

Finally, after we turned his carrier around to face the new bunny through the fence, he came forward to say hello. He was visibly more apprehensive than he had been with the first two, but she was friendly and gentle. When they startled each other from time to time it was out of nervousness rather than aggression.

After a long series of only positive interactions we finally put them together, tightening the x-pen around them so they wouldn’t just go lie down on opposite sides of the room. No trouble ensued. They weren’t exactly grooming one another yet, but had clearly already formed a friendly acquaintanceship. The volunteer brought fresh veggies for them to share and dropped them into the middle of the pen. Tentatively the rabbits moved closer together under the lure of tasty treats.

Over an hour had passed without rough behavior of any kind, and I felt pretty confident about taking them home together. I filled out the necessary paperwork and after some discussion with the volunteer we decided to load them into the same carrier to facilitate bonding through the stress of the car ride.

When we got them home we set up our x-pen in the backyard so they would be in neutral territory, and they did really well! Fiona immediately named the new rabbit Bronwyn, and Thor, Platypup, Granny, and I all agreed it was a good choice. Our cat Cricket spent a lot of time watching them curiously.

  
    
  

We separated them that night by setting up the pen inside part of Leopold’s home enclosure, put them in neutral territory on the lawn again the next day, and separated again the second night. The following day we folded back the x-pen, and voila! Pair, bonded.

This is that first morning in Leopold’s territory together, the pen and carrier still at the ready in case separation and/or neutral territory was called for — clearly it was not!

  
Much cuteness ensued. Both bunnies are really affectionate with people, and Owlet has been loving it. Below is the first photo I took that really shows their size difference — Leopold is a Rex and big for a bunny, about the size and almost the weight of our cats. And Bronwyn, well, she is what they call a Netherland Dwarf.

 
   
It is so heartwarming to see Leopold fall in love again, complete with all the snuggles and grooming and those bizarre double kicks bunnies do when they are so happy they might explode with joy. 

 

Welcome to the menagerie, Bronwyn!

The second first day (in a row)

Platypup’s firsts are invariably so different from Owlet’s. Partially this is because for us parents, everywhere the first child ventures is uncharted territory. Second children feel less stressful overall (though they certainly have their moments, especially when they deviate from the map you made based on your first child’s path and you’re all “wait a second, honey… I think this says ‘here be dragons!'”) but mostly this is because in addition to two parents, Platypup has Owlet. Think the world’s best combo of friend, comfort object, and parent-in-training. So where, for example, her initial experience with day camp last summer was a huge adjustment for the whole family and we stayed over an hour or so that first day before she could stomach us leaving, he was ready to wave us off in minutes.

Big sister’s here. See ya!

He was a little apprehensive this morning for his first day of preschool (and also sad because Granny was heading home after a fun-filled visit) so I gave him lots of snuggles and a pocket stone in case he needed something to help him remember we loved him and would be back to pick him up soon. But we weren’t there more than a few minutes again before he was settled in and happy to stay.

   
(Just arriving)

 (Done with photos, guys. Geez. Always making a big production out of everything.)

I keep checking just in case it only seems that he rolls easily through territory I distinctly marked as bumpy the last time around. But he is very clear about the things that do distress him: not being able to do the top button on his shirt, for example, or the presence of inedible things on his plate (seeds, shrimp tails, bones, bay leaves, all must be evicted promptly). Or his sister going somewhere exciting like kindergarten without him.

I worry that maybe we are, in fact, horrible parents who aren’t making a big enough deal of these milestone occasions with our second born. And then I have to remind myself, no, we are just meeting each child where they are. If he needed more from us to ease his transition to preschool, we would be giving it without hesitation.

  
(Seriously, this is moments after arrival.)

Of course, it helps that his school is such an awesome place to play, who wouldn’t want to be there?

Fledgling

It was Owlet’s first day of kindergarten today, and she was first out of bed in the morning.

Well, kind of. Actually, Platypup was technically first up — at dawn he crept into the room where his visiting Granny was sleeping and rather startled her, but she snuggled him back to sleep.

Owlet usually comes into our bed for morning cuddles, but today she headed straight out to the living room, perhaps assuming that because Platypup’s bed was empty he must already be there. I was already awake, dozing a little but mostly plotting and fretting and hoping, so I followed a moment later and found her curling up under a blanket on the couch, a sweet dozy little bundle of a girl. I joined her for awhile, both of us soaking in the nourishment of the mother-daughter bond on a monumentous (slightly scary) day.

Thor appeared soon after, pancake batter in his wake. I kept Owlet company while she dressed. To battle her nerves she chose a couple special objects to bring with her — a small stone and a blue feather — which I filled for her with all the love and security and groundedness I could muster.

Once breakfast hit the table, kindergarten apprehension was mired in a pool of maple syrup and the cheerful clatter of five busy forks. It emerged soon afterward, however, in waves of worry that were met each time by a reassuring adult but never entirely quelled. We might not have made it out of the house without difficulty if not for Platypup. When it was almost time to leave, Platypup flopped on Granny’s bed with a slightly melodramatic air. He said he was sad Owlet was going without him. “I’m gonna cwy,” he announced over and over, flopping around and beginning to tear up.

Owlet came to him almost at once, murmuring the reassuring words of a born nurturer and stroking his back and head, looking intently into his eyes and giving him sweet hugs. (This is the point where my own eyes started to fill.) After a few false starts, more touching goodbyes, and a last-minute geranium blossom to join the stone and feather, she, Thor, and I were off!

Concern for her little brother carried Owlet as far as the car, but once we were underway she grew quiet and pensive again. We parked, played a little shadow tag on the short walk to lighten the mood, and entered the school.

   

Thor and I stayed for the first 45 minutes or so by teacher invitation — it is a small K through 6th grade class, and everyone seemed to understand without being told that Owlet would need a little time to warm up. After some initial introductions, the class headed to the library to pick out a couple of books for the week. Reading always invigorates our little bookworm, and though she didn’t like me saying Thor and I would be leaving after library time, the joy of new books mitigated her discomfort somewhat.

We returned to the classroom, books in hand, watched as the teacher cleverly paired older students with younger ones and explained the next activity (something about verbs), and then we said our quick goodbyes. I peeked at Owlet as we crossed the threshold. To my surprise, she was already looking at the teacher rather than us, which I took to be a very good sign.

We returned home to a Platypup thoroughly revived by the thought of adventures with Granny all day. Between errands and teaching, the hours passed, and before long Thor and I were basking in the glow of an entirely changed Owlet, who bubbled with stories under the kind eye of a teacher she clearly adored as she brandished her handiwork:

   
 
The top photo shows the Little Dipper and several constellations Owlet made up and gave letter names to. (Generous soul that she is, she brought home a couple marshmallows to share with Granny and Platypup.) The artwork at the bottom involved pencil, salt, and watercolor; there is apparently a starfish in pale purple in the middle.

One day does not a school year make, of course, but I’d say we are off to a beautiful start!

Fledgling

It was Owlet’s first day of kindergarten today, and she was first out of bed in the morning.

Well, kind of. Actually, Platypup was technically first up — at dawn he crept into the room where his visiting Granny was sleeping and rather startled her, but she snuggled him back to sleep.

Owlet usually comes into our bed for morning cuddles, but today she headed straight out to the living room, perhaps assuming that because Platypup’s bed was empty he must already be there. I was already awake, dozing a little but mostly plotting and fretting and hoping, so I followed a moment later and found her curling up under a blanket on the couch, a sweet dozy little bundle of a girl. I joined her for awhile, both of us soaking in the nourishment of the mother-daughter bond on a monumentous (slightly scary) day.

Thor appeared soon after, pancake batter in his wake. I kept Owlet company while she dressed. To battle her nerves she chose a couple special objects to bring with her — a small stone and a blue feather — which I filled for her with all the love and security and groundedness I could muster.

Once breakfast hit the table, kindergarten apprehension was mired in a pool of maple syrup and the cheerful clatter of five busy forks. It emerged soon afterward, however, in waves of worry that were met each time by a reassuring adult but never entirely quelled. We might not have made it out of the house without difficulty if not for Platypup. When it was almost time to leave, Platypup flopped on Granny’s bed with a slightly melodramatic air. He said he was sad Owlet was going without him. “I’m gonna cwy,” he announced over and over, flopping around and beginning to tear up.

Owlet came to him almost at once, murmuring the reassuring words of a born nurturer and stroking his back and head, looking intently into his eyes and giving him sweet hugs. (This is the point where my own eyes started to fill.) After a few false starts, more touching goodbyes, and a last-minute geranium blossom to join the stone and feather, she, Thor, and I were off!

Concern for her little brother carried Owlet as far as the car, but once we were underway she grew quiet and pensive again. We parked, played a little shadow tag on the short walk to lighten the mood, and entered the school.

   

Thor and I stayed for the first 45 minutes or so by teacher invitation — it is a small K through 6th grade class, and everyone seemed to understand without being told that Owlet would need a little time to warm up. After some initial introductions, the class headed to the library to pick out a couple of books for the week. Reading always invigorates our little bookworm, and though she didn’t like me saying Thor and I would be leaving after library time, the joy of new books mitigated her discomfort somewhat.

We returned to the classroom, books in hand, watched as the teacher cleverly paired older students with younger ones and explained the next activity (something about verbs), and then we said our quick goodbyes. I peeked at Owlet as we crossed the threshold. To my surprise, she was already looking at the teacher rather than us, which I took to be a very good sign.

We returned home to a Platypup thoroughly revived by the thought of adventures with Granny all day. Between errands and teaching, the hours passed, and before long Thor and I were basking in the glow of an entirely changed Owlet, who bubbled with stories under the kind eye of a teacher she clearly adored as she brandished her handiwork:

   
 
The top photo shows the Little Dipper and several constellations Owlet made up and gave letter names to. (Generous soul that she is, she brought home a couple marshmallows to share with Granny and Platypup.) The artwork at the bottom involved pencil, salt, and watercolor; there is apparently a starfish in pale purple in the middle.

One day does not a school year make, of course, but I’d say we are off to a beautiful start!

Finding Our Scholastic Balance

It’s fall, and for kids Owlet’s age, that means starting school. Or, more precisely, it means endless questions from both strangers and the near’n dear about whether/where you are attending kindergarten.

We have only been able to offer lengthy, rambling answers to this question… Because we really didn’t know yet. This makes us sound terribly unprepared, but the truth is, I’ve been actively investigating local education options in our town since I was pregnant with Owlet, and in a more general capacity have been considering the question on and off since I switched from a Montessori school to a public school in third grade.

I know what I want: I want Montessori. I want Reggio Emilia. I want unschooling. I want Teacher Tom. I want challenging, engaging curriculum that meets my kid wherever they are, be it ahead of or behind their grade level. Above all, I want part-time school, because with Thor’s and my flexible daytime schedule and the majority of our working hours being afternoons (me) and evenings (him), that would really make the most sense for us.

The difficulty is when you get to the front of the line and attempt to order such an education, well, the gal behind the counter looks at you funny and says “we don’t do special orders, ma’am.” And let’s not even talk about the black hole of despair that is the charter school waiting list experience… Even when you are not positively certain you would want to send your child there anyway.

I’ve become resigned to the fact that doing the right thing as a parent is way trickier than doing the right thing as an individual. As a parent, I don’t generally feel 100% doubt free… So I’m learning to look for what I’ve come to think of as “balanced doubts” — minor doubts that sort of cancel one another out, because one tries to pull you a little north while the other tugs south. With school, I simultaneously worry about not enough free play and not enough academic stimulation. The right situation would leave me not hugely concerned about either one.

Here were our various experiences up till last week:

  • accepted at new charter Montessori school about to open this fall whose lowest grade level would be first grade but who would let kindergarteners apply a year early to enable parents to better compare them with other schools… super promising, except they didn’t manage to start this year after all due to issues with last-minute town requirements, and may or may not manage to ever open. Le sigh.
  • marooned on waiting lists at two local charters that had enough Montessori in their blood to be worth considering.
  • marooned on waiting lists at expensive private Montessori schools that looked awesome aside from the tuition thing.
  • had our application mysteriously never arrive at or get lost by a semi-homeschool charter with an optional classroom day (for kids K-6 in a modern taken on the one-room schoolhouse) — major bummer when we decided this was what we wanted to do and were told they had no record of us and had just filled up a couple weeks ago but we would be first on their waiting list. (The form Owlet filled out back in January as part of our ill-fated application is below, for your amusement.)

    

   

Needless to say, we were rather discouraged. Not that we were even sure of what would be best for Owlet, but finding ourselves without any options to choose from other than full homeschooling or regular public school (neither of which felt right)… It was a tad unsettling. And full of doubt, none of it properly balanced.

But then I thought of this one preschool, a place three different people whose judgement I trust had recommended in the past. I called. I fell a little in love with the head teacher right there over the phone. We visited. There is a small, pleasant indoor space with books and toys but more importantly there are a zillion outdoor places for a child to get lost in play: huge outdoor kitchen, sand pits, art, dolls, cars of all sizes, a zip line, swings, tree houses, hay bales, a tightrope, an adorable little playhouse, fields and bushes and trees. The kids roam freely and the head teacher’s philosophy is (1) play is most important for this age range (2-5yrs), (2) kids get dirty when they play, so please dress them with that assumption, (3) kids should be allowed to eat whenever hungry, and (4) if she wishes to have a group activity or circle time it is her job to make it interesting enough to attract them — and the kids are always welcome to decline to join the group. There are cats and a dog and chickens. Plus dozens of fruit trees. It was kind of like our home on steroids. I had to drag Owlet away with promises to return.

So we were feeling pretty positive, and the tuition was reasonable enough that we felt able to send both kids twice a week (saving us from a myriad of terrible mornings with a disgruntled left-behind Platypup). We were a teeny tiny bit hesitant to have no formal Kindergarten experience for our precocious Owlet, but knew she would be ok without it. She reads at an upper elementary school level and in true unschooling fashion learns a heckuva lot just by talking to the people around her. In other words, we had an unbalanced doubt, but only a mini one. Totally manageable.

And then, just today, the semi-homeschool charter dropped us a line and said we were off the waiting list and into school right away if we’d like. And that wee little nagging shouldn’t-she-be-in-Kindergarten piece of us parents roared with joy. We visited. We liked the teacher. We came home with a boxload of materials. In the first couple hours, Owlet read all the books they sent home and finished the first week and a half’s worth of math, decided on her own when she was done, and then after dinner chose to do a couple pages of the letter-writing workbook.

Yes please, waiter, we’ll have both, and thank you so much for finding the second page of the menu. We will take one day of academics where Owlet will be the youngest (and, of course, bring the leftovers home to enjoy throughout the week, at times that suit our wacky schedules) AND we’ll take two days of free, rambunctious, outdoor play where Owlet will be the oldest.

Boom. Doubts balanced.

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