School’s out

Maria did it up right on her last day of school – she rode her scooter in her white sundress and pink chain necklace, and stopped by Stauf’s for a blueberry scone for breakfast.

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It was definitely a bittersweet day for Ri. She loved her teacher this year, Mrs. Palmer. Mrs. Palmer is a hip, conscious, progressive, intelligent, technology savvy, non-conformist teacher. Her classroom doesn’t have the traditional tables and chairs; it has bean bags and funky chairs and rugs. She teaches a large portion of her class by computer – all of her second graders, including Ri, created and maintained their own blog during the year. She was great for Maria.

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Mrs. Palmer made a tile plaque for each child as an end-of-the-year present. She told me she cried as she read it to Ri. I cried when I read it, too. So thoughtful and further evidence that she is wonderful. She really captured Ri’s qualities, especially that she finds such joy in the ordinary which will make her life experiences all the more extraordinary.

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And then there was Mario’s graduation. Ri gave up a birthday party to go to it (“How can I miss Mario’s big day, mom?!”). Mario already felt “above” his friends when he marched into school. After all, he’d been out of preschool for a whole week since David began babysitting; all of his friends were still “stuck there” as Mario told us over and over.

His teachers made him a graduation cap that he was quick to scrutinize and determine was too big (it fit just right to me). They tightened it but then it was too small. I finally had to make two more adjustments before he was content (his teachers won’t miss that, I am sure).

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He walked in the muscle room with his class and waited for his name to be called. He received a certificate from his teachers and was polite and darling on the stand (I was hoping he’d break out in Gangum Style!).

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Patty and Joe came down for his graduation, and while he was waiting for his name to be called he kept begging to go home with them for the weekend. Do you think he got that wish?

Of course he did. And then he became a super-happy graduate!

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Kindergarten or Bust

And that’s how Mario left his class remembering him: dancing Gangum Style. He got inspired to dance by one of his classmates who told me what he’d miss most about Mario was how funny he was when he danced Gangum Style. Another kid in the class said she’d miss how Mario yelled “whoop whoop” in the middle of class. I have a feeling Mario may be heading to the principal’s office a few times once he hits kindergarten.

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He wanted me to bring cupcakes on his last day – half chocolate and half vanilla. He stood next to them and ordered his classmates to get a paper towel and sit at their seats. He then picked up one at a time and asked the class who liked Madagascar or Avengers or Spongebob – all the different character rings that came on the cupcakes. He’d drop one off and then tell the class to settle down and wait their turn. He loves being in charge and he loves all eyes on him.

I asked if he’d be sad leaving his class and never returning. His response was unequivocal and quick: “No, I’m in kindergarten now.” He’s made it to the big show and he is not looking back.

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Sweet Mario

There is a little girl in Mario’s class who is causing Mario much heartburn. 

Her name is Lily. 

And she is mean. 

I can’t believe I am saying that about a four-year old but I got a first-hand viewing when I dropped off Mario yesterday.  She was playing at the table that Mario loves (it lights up and you build on it).  Mario whispered to me “Lily is the new girl.  I want to play with her.”  How sweet, I thought.  When he approached her, she growled like a grizzly “Get away from me, Mario!”  He turned to me and frowned. 

My Caring Mario

I left after giving him advice to play with other friends.  At dinner last night, he brought Lily’s behavior up again.  “She is so mean to everyone, especially me. She poked me with a straw.”  We discussed how she may be sad because it was her first week at school and maybe that is why she is being mean (I should clarify that before such discussion, Jon was tempted to give a different piece of advice but he refrained!).  We talked about some books that we had read that showed a bully who became nice once someone paid attention to her.  I explained to Mario that maybe he just needs to continue to try to be nice to her. 

As we discussed how our days went at dinner tonight, Mario brought up Lily again.  “She hit Grant in the head and he hit his head against the table today.  That wasn’t nice of her.”  I asked if he told his teacher and he said that he did but Lily still acted mean.  I told him to steer clear of her for a while and then maybe she will want to play eventually (Maria chimed in with “Just go play with your girlfriend Jillian!”).  He shook his head in discouragement, and told us how he told Lily’s dad how mean she was being to him and all of his friends.  I asked Mario what her dad said and Mario told me he just walked away from him (maybe where she gets it!). 

I made sure that we read the Recess Queen again tonight.  Mario immediately compared Lily to Mean Jean, the main character of the book.  When Mean Jean learns to play with everyone at the end of the book, Mario observed “maybe Lily will learn how to do that, too.”  It is strange how obsessed he seems with this little girl but I think it is a good thing.  I think he truly cares about her and wants to see her happy and playing at school.  Either that, or he is ready to cuss her out and he is just prepping me so I understand when he does it!  No, not my boy….

Sharing Breakthrough

 

Maria taking care of her brother

Maria has always had a generous heart.  When she was as young as two, she loved to take presents to her daycare teachers and bring in treats for all of her friends to eat along side of her.  I remember one time at Christmas when I had made stockings full of goodies.  One of the goodies was cookies – Maria’s favorite.  When I gave the stockings to her to present to her teachers, she looked at the cookies.  She looked up at me and asked “are any for me?” I told her that all of the cookies were made for her teachers.  She swallowed deeply and said no more.  She took the stockings into them and gave them a huge hug putting aside the cookies she was missing out on in favor of the thrill of giving. 

Then there is Mario….  Jon and I stood aghast the day we took Mario into school with his Timbit donuts and he refused to share any with his friends or his teachers.  And he not only refused, he was rather mean about it shoving people away from him and holding the donuts so close to him that you would have thought they were gold.  We explained to him how important it was to share because it made others happy, and in turn, made you happy.  He looked at us like we were insane.  Maria tried to explain the importance of sharing, too, by taking a different approach.  She went after his interests by telling him if he did not share, they others would not share with him.  Still nothing. 

The face of a non-sharer

But today, we had a major breakthrough.  A succession of acts of sharing.  First, we headed into daycare this morning with ten Timbits and a sleeve of crackers (yeah, please avoid the commentary on the breakfast selection).  When Mario strolled into class, his class mates swarmed around him and his Timbit box begging for a donut.  Mario stood paralyzed.  The teacher asked the piranhas to step back so Mario could breathe.  Then Mario announced that he would pass out donuts and crackers to his friends.  He handed out Timbits first and then crackers to the remaining friends.  I praised his generosity and he beamed a smile my way. 

After we ate dinner tonight, we made some more of our Zoku pops.  As the kids licked them, I realized I had forgotten to return a red box movie from two nights ago so I made them throw on their coats and head to the car.  On the way out, Maria lost half of her popsicle.  She wailed and pointed to the ground.  She continued to cry all the way to the car and I continued to try to console her.  As she stood in the car, Mario got in his seat and lifted his arm up with popsicle in hand.  ‘Maria, you can have my popsicle.”  I felt like the heavens opened up.  The world shifted on its axis.  Maria and I both looked at each other in awe.  She accepted his offer gladly since he had barely licked his at the time.  I buckled him in his seat and whispered in his ear how proud I was of him. 

Sibling love

 That same beaming smile washed over his face.

 

Mario’s play debut

Mario starred in his first play tonight along with the rest of his preschool class….

Mario waiting for his cue from Ms. Ashley

It’s preschool so no one is supposed to stand out but I must be the bragging mom and state that Mario scored a few one-liners and sang in front of the audience without batting an eye.  He is definitely a show boat.  Every year, Mario’s school holds a fall festival where they bring in a petting zoo, bouncy house, tumbling, etc.  This year, they decided that each preschool room would do a 15 minute play.  Mario’s room decided to do a play about the book Abiyoyo.  A wonderful South African folk tale about a little boy and his father and a giant monster.  Mario loves the book and used to always come home singing “Abiyoyo Abiyoyo.”  Mario’s teacher, Mr. Park, painted their faces and draped them in tissue paper and brown paper grocery bags.  The kids were so excited.  Mario took me to see the “production” room where they would rehearse (he also knew the brownies were in that room).  He adjusted his tissue paper around his arms a hundred times and looked at his eye mask ten times in the mirror (he is not vain at all!). 

Then the time came.  The kids all trotted out while the parents sat on little benches waiting to see their little babes perform.  We all had our video cameras rolling and our phone cameras clicking.  Ms. Ashley read the story while the kids acted it out.  It all went fairly smoothly for the first five minutes but then there was a scene where a huge paper boulder had to be picked up by Abiyoyo.  Abiyoyo (two kids sharing a costume) threw it and it hit another kid.  That kid threw it at another kid and so on and so forth.  It was hard to get much control after that.  I was surprised by Mario, however, who would usually get in on any type of throwing, kicking, violent action possible.  He just stood by Ms. Ashley reading the book and adding his two cents whenever he felt the need.  At the end, he sang “Abiyoyo” “to the crowd of parents and took a giant bow.  What a character.  He definitely has a personality on him. 

Mario and his buddy being goofy

I am glad we stayed for the evening.  Ever since Maria started at Grandview schools, we have been barely involved with Mario’s daycare.  It used to be our everything when Maria and then Maria and Mario were there.  We knew all the teachers, knew all of the schedules, brought in goodies.  Now we are lucky to remember all of Mario’s teachers.  Tonight reminded me of how grateful I am for Mario’s school teachers and administrators.  They are a fun and smart group of people who genuinely care about the kids.  However, I do wish they’d ask before they cover Mario’s face in black face paint!

Subway Adventure

Maria on her third b-day enjoying cupcakes at daycare.

Maria got out of school early yesterday (at 11:30). Jon and I are still not used to this kindergarten deal where kids get out of school early, don’t have school during the middle of the week, get two weeks off for vacation.  Don’t these schools know that we rely on them to be babysitters for our children while we work our 9-5 jobs?  We are still in denial that she is going to be off all summer.  We keep waiting and hoping that some pixie dust will create a summer babysitter for Maria – we are the worst procrastinators.  Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about Mario because he is still in a daycare that takes care of us working parents by staying open until 6 pm.  

Jon and I realized on Thursday afternoon that Maria was off early.  Typical last-minute realization.  Therefore, we decided to do split shifts: I picked her up from school and he watched her later in the day.   Before school I had told her that I would take her to lunch so she could daydream all day about where she wanted to go.  When I picked her up, she ran over to me and squeezed me hard.  Pure excitement.  There is nothing better in life than an ecstatic squeeze and smile from your kid.  To be loved….

Maria getting ready for a "nutritious" lunch at school with her friends!

We walked to the car and she told me that she had chosen Chipotle.  Within a minute of getting in the car, it turned to Noodles.  Then Wendy’s.  We finally agreed on Subway because she wanted a salad and sandwich.  Alright, I thought, something half-way healthy – she has been eating the school lunches, which consist of fried cheese on a stick, french toastix, and cheeseburgers.

As we walked into the store, I described some sandwiches.  They have ham and turkey and roast beef and chicken…

“Mom, I want a meatball sub with extra cheese.”  My girl.

She also wanted a “salad” which consisted of lettuce, cheese, and croutons.  I made her add some tomatoes and peppers but she picked right through them later.  Then she picked up a bag of Doritos (“I promise I will just eat a couple”) and a chocolate milk.  What a smorgasboard.  We would have been better off at Five Guys Burgers and Fries.  We sat at the bar and began eating our meal.  Like her mama, she can take down some food.  Her meatball sandwich was gone in 5 minutes and we both moved onto the salad.  I must admit the Doritos were a good choice – I have not had those in a long time and they hit the spot. 

My girl taking down a cupcake!

Finally, we topped the meal off with a chocolate chip cookie and cupcake.  So much for Jared’s shtick about losing weight through Subway!

Graduation

My oldest child graduated. 

Maria celebrating her "diploma"

No, not from high school or college.  From pre-school.  Yes, you heard it right.  Pre-school. Other mothers are shaking their heads thinking about the time that Georgie or Mandy graduated from pre-school and how silly they felt making such a big deal over it but how they could not stop themselves either.  Women who are not mothers are shaking their heads and laughing hysterically at the insanity of hosting a graduation for a pre-schooler. 

I remember reading a passage out of Laurie Moore’s novel where the lead woman character was discussing her

Maria and one of her teachers

 wedding day.  She surmised that it is not the actual marriage that is so important – it is the memories and milestones you take from the event that mark your life and allow you to remember important times.  That is how I feel about Ri’s graduation.  It is not so much the graduation certificate but the memories of the event itself with Grandma and Grandpas there; Mario running around wanting to snatch a cookie; Maria excited and anxious to get her certificate and hug her teachers.   

Maria was radiant wearing her shimmery green dress and egyptian silver sandals.  She smiled and waved to us as she stood waiting for her graduation certificate.  All I could think about was “Is she really going to get taller, grow hair under her arms, get breasts, and eventually become an adult like me?  It seems impossible. Kindergarten is going to be a whirlwind for her at first – she tends to have a lot of her dad in her and one area that she really has him in her is when it comes to meeting new people.  She likes her small “posse” of friends and becomes very shy when others enter the mix.  If not shy, she becomes stand-offish and even rude.  So, kindergarten should be interesting.  She does have one friend from pre-school in her class so that will help.

Go Maria!

I gotta face the fact that she is starting school and with school comes cliques and heartbreaks and hurt feelings.  As my friend says to me when her daughter tells her that someone hurt her feelings at school “I just want to go up to that kid and tell her that if she hurts my little girl’s feelings, I am going to have to hurt her!”   But with school comes friendships and sisterhood and learning and interests, also.  Here’s to kindergarten and Maria finding a lot more in the latter category than in the former.  Go Maria!    

Awful Daycare Days

Mario in his "old" toddler room

I took Mario to school this morning and this is what I got to hear:

“No, mommy, please don’t leave me here.”

“Mommy, let’s go home.”

“Mommy, please stay with me.”

Needless to say, when I walked out to my car, I was soaked from the tears streaming down my face.  Yes, that coming from a woman who prides herself on being strong and independent and fierce and tough.  One cry from my baby boy and I am shot.

Why can’t transitions from one classroom to another be less difficult?  Why can’t I have the kid that is always happy and content no matter where he is in the world?  I have a niece who seems to be like that.  She is always so excited to go to school. She loves her friends and her teachers.  She sits around on Sunday and talks about how excited she is for Monday morning.  Is there an “I love school” gene that I can extract from her to place into Maria and Mario? 

People tell me that the kids have too much fun at home and that is why they don’t like school.  Maybe they have a point since I am always doing things with them when I am home (they benefit from the guilty mom working outside of the home mom syndrome).  Maybe a little of their angst and crying is actually manipulation since they both know it breaks my heart to see them cry and I will usually give in on anything once they start it up.  No, it si more likely that they need to be with their mom more than they are and I am turning them into little monsters with ADHD and depression.  

Maria and her preschool friend

I have gone through this before with Maria.  She hated preschool when she first started and now she loves her girlfriends. She would probably still pick to be with me over going to school but once she is there, she has a good time.  Mario will get to that point to – I think…  He is an outgoing, fun-loving little guy and should be making lots of friends with his antics and collegiality.  But in the meantime, it breaks my heart to see him so sad when I leave. 

I did research on this issue (of course!) and almost every site mentioned that allowing your child to take a favorite toy or comfort item with them to school may assist with the transition.  They also mentioned having a “buddy” in the room from their old room may help.  I have been sending Mario in with his “blue blankie” and his “bink” everyday but I guess I do put them away immediately because I don’t want him walking around like Linus from Snoopy.  Maybe I could give him a picture of his mama and papa to put in his pocket and look at when he gets lonely.  It seems a little weird and egotistical though. Wait, I got it!! — I could just load his candy-loving self down with bags and bags of M&Ms everyday so he could concentrate on chowing those down until I returned.  He may get a tummy ache or a headache but then he could just sleep til I got there.  Yeah, I think I am onto something.   No, I think I am merely losing my mind with grief over my boy.  

In the end, he will survive.  He will grow up and be sitting at the kitchen table, age 16, and I will mention how I used to fret and worry about taking him to preschool each day and how he would cry for me and beg me to stay and wail until I gave him one more hug and kiss.  I will lean over to kiss his cheek and tell him I love him and he will push me away and snicker “Mom, those days are so, so gone.”   Yeah, that is when I will actually miss them.

Mario - already the teenager - sitting at the pool by himself eating Doritos

Growing Up

My babies are growing up.  I remember when Maria was just a tiny 8 pound baby serious and somber. I remember when Mario was an 8 pound baby smiling and squirming everywhere.  And now here they are ages 5 and almost three.  Maria heading to kindergarten and Mario heading to preschool. 

Mario's picture on his door

Mario’s last “full” day in the toddler room was today; his teachers (who I adore) blew up a picture of him in his helmet to hang up on the door.  It included well wishes from them and the other toddlers.  Maria took one look at it and cooed at him “ahh, Mario, we love you – you are so cuuute!”  Amanda, the teacher who has been with him the longest, cried as we talked about his transition.  I am fairly calm about it at this stage but next week will likely throw me for a loop, especially if it is hard from him to transition.  I persevered through nearly three months of incessant crying each day I dropped him off until he finally got to the point of waving goodbye to me with a smile on his face.  I hope the same scenario will not occur again.  Maria is bummed he will not be in her room (even though she is only in her class another four weeks).  She wants to nurture him for as long as possible before she heads out to big K. 

Maria cuddling her borther after a swim

I will always remember an email that my dad sent to me a while back. I still have the email in my office to lift my spirits in time of need (and god knows there have been too many times lately!).  In part, he told me that he was incredibly happy that I was his oldest child because I was so good with my little sis and brother.  I feel the same way with Maria.  She is the best older sister a boy could have – funny, protective, daring, adventurous, warm, and generous. 

I think Mario will enjoy preschool – he adores learning and one of the preschool teachers is a science nut, which is right up Mario’s alley.  I think he will also continue his crazy antics and have all of his new friends in stitches within a couple of hours on his first day.  He is a born comedian. 

I think Maria will enjoy Kindergarten but I fear it may take her a little more time to get used to the new school, new friends, new teachers.  It took her some time to get used to the new friends at her current school.  She is very shy when she first meets kids her age and can be a little intimidating in her look (a total Jon characteristic!).  She gets nervous and withdrawn.  But, once she feels comfortable, she is just as crazy as her brother.  She is still into boys and boyfriends and dating.  It makes no sense to me.  Age 5.  How?  I struggle with whether to just forbid the talk in the house or to allow her to “let it out” with the hopes that she loses all interest by the age of 7.  Anyone had this issue and resolve it well?  Help a struggling mom out!

Maria "taking care of" her brother

There was a time years ago when I was complaining to a friend about how tired I was and irritable I was due to the lack of sleep from being up with a cranky, colicky Maria night after night.  My friend looked at me directly in the eyes and retorted “You will look back at these days and wonder how they darted by so fast.”  At the time, I wanted to smack her. Now, I see exactly what she meant.  I still remember those days of being so tired and irritable, and I am glad that I am not getting up every two hours with a crying baby.  But, they do seem like they were just here yesterday and old time has flown by past me shaking its head and sassing “told ya.”  Because of that, I am more conscious of my time with these babies.  I know the days of Mario lightly touching my cheek and whispering “I love you to the moon” are not going to last forever.  I understand that Maria’s wish to hang out with me every second of the day will not survive ten more years.  I want to embrace it while I can and hold it close to me.

M&M heading to school this summer

The Muscle

When Maria was at her old school, she had a girlfriend named Belle.  Belle and Maria met when they were infants together in the Infant Room and they moved from room to room together as they got older.  Belle was always, from infant through preschool years, as tiny as a sprite.  Maria, on the other hand, was always, from infant through preschool years, as thick and strong as a professional bodyguard.  She protected Belle as if it was her full-time profession.  If any kid approached Belle, they better be ready to let Maria know what they needed. Maria would make the call of whether the kid got what they needed or had to move on.  And Belle was absolutely fine with this arrangement.  If a kid picked on Belle, she knew Maria had her back and would either have strong words with the kid or toss the kid on his backside. 

Maria and Belle at Valentine's Day, 2007

When Belle had a birthday party at age 3, Maria happily came over to her house.  As we were watching them play, and we noticed Maria strong arming one of the kids so Belle could get a toy of her choice, Belle’s dad stated “That is Maria.  She is “The Muscle.” At first, I was offended.  All of these other little, tiny, frail children in the room with my strong, thick, athletic darling, and she gets called “The Muscle.” But after no time at all, I took it as a compliment.  She protects; she comforts; she is loyal.  

Maria has since left Belle and moved onto a new daycare where there is no “Belle” to protect.  However, she has moved on to a closer blood line.  Her brother.  You could describe him as a little sprite, also.  Or an “imp” as his grandma calls him.  No matter how you describe him, he could definitely use some “Muscle” and luckily, Maria is willing to provide it. 

When the daycare had a family fun night, they got a bouncy tent and the kids jumped in it five at a time.  Maria and Mario waited patiently for their turn, and when they got in, three other kids a little older than Maria got in with them.  One of the kids, a bigger boy, accidentally jumped into Mario as he lost his balance.  Maria immediately swung up her arm and stopped him from knocking Mario over and then shouted at him “This is my brother! Get away!”  She pulled Mario over to the corner of the tent so they could jump in peace. 

Maria watching over her brother early on

When I went to pick up Maria and Mario this evening, Maria was outside on the playground with her class.  They had just taken out bikes and scooters to ride around the playground.  Mario ran outside after seeing this and started crying because he did not have a bike to ride.  I explained to him that it was Maria’s class’ turn to ride bikes and that we could ride one when we got home.  He had nothing to do with me and continued to sulk and cross his tiny arms.  Maria watched all of this and I could see her observing with great intent all of the kids on bicycles on the playground.  After about three minutes, Mario went over to the jungle gym and began climbing.  Just then, Katherine got off her bike.  You would have thought Maria had a firecracker in her pants.  She darted over to that bike and jumped on it yelling “Mario, I got you a bike!”  Mario squealed with joy.  He began to jump on it when another little girl from Maria’s class, Sydney, tried to grab it.  The Muscle was ready for this development, and pushed Sydney’s hand away firmly stating “No, Sydney, this is a bike for my brother.”  Mario stayed in place waiting to see if he could take off.  Maria then called out “Go, Mario, ride that bike!” and so he did.  I caught wind of this whole scenario and told Maria that Sydney should get the bike because it was her class’ turn.  Maria looked at me and convincingly stated “I gave my turn to Mario so he should be able to ride it.”  When I finally made him dismantle, she was still protesting that he should be able to continue to ride it because “he is my brother and he wants to ride.”  Loyal to the end. 

Best buddies

Mario is a lucky sucker to have his “Muscle” around nearly all the time, and the Muscle has had an influence on him.  Although he does not pack it the way Maria does, he is tiny and mighty.  When I or my husband firmly tell Maria to do something or raise our voice at her, he darts in from the adjoining room, jabs us in the leg, and commands “That is my sister!”  Maria is not only the Muscle but also seems to be the Teacher.