Early Education is a BIG Choice
Preschools are becoming more prevalent in the United States because mothers and fathers are no longer staying at home with their children until kindergarten. Some families make this decision based off the need to work. Others make the decision based on brain research and the benefits that are linked to early exposure to preschool environments. Regardless of the reason parents are looking at preschools in their areas and trying to find the best place for their child. A family may visit and tour a handful of preschools without ever calling into question the philosophical attributes of the school. These schools at first glance may all look and feel very similar which makes choosing one over the other difficult and confusing at times. It prevents a logical decision about the philosophical needs of the individual family from being made and evokes a decision drawn primarily from emotion. Normally there is a very organized individual assisting in the tour, pointing out the positive attributes and phenomenal things that the school has to offer. The good news is that these positive attributes and phenomenal things do usually exist in the spaces being shown. The bad news is that often times the day-to-day execution is falling short of its own potential. Without knowing the underbelly of the early education industry it is almost impossible for anyone to decipher what is missing from their touring experience. I have a graduate degree in Human Development and Child Psychology with a focus on Early Childhood Education and received my teaching certification. As the daughter of a preschool teacher, I grew up with exposure to the inner workings of young academia. What this makes me is opinionated, frustrated and concerned. I am informed and experienced and I want to help you.
I am a mother, not an expert. There are times when I feel like an expert and presume I have reached some peak of knowledge about who I am as a mother and a person. Shortly after this realization, I tend to fall from that peak and get a nice dose of reality. I became a family advocate and early education placement specialist when I made the decision to pull my child out of a school that would have provided free tuition and placed her in a preschool that cost my family almost $20,000. This decision almost cost me my marriage and my sanity but I was unwilling to jeopardize the development and academic experience of my child for even a day longer. I am lucky to be in a financial place to make a decision like this; I am privileged to have choices and I know that many people in this country do not. This realization infuriated me. It made me question the reality that tens of thousands of children in this country are in preschools whose philosophies do not correspond to that child's home or long term needs for that child and family. To be clear, neither the family nor the school is to blame for being mismatched- it is a symptom of the way we are thinking about early education in this country and not a failure of any one person or school.
Advocating for mothers can look like standing with a lost child and keeping them calm. Imagine if you knew that your child losing their way in a mall didn't mean fear and anxiety but rather communal support and understanding. Turning your head for a moment does not make you a bad mom, it makes you a woman, a looker, a dreamer, a window shopper, a feminist, a lover and a person. Turning your head shouldn't come with guilt, it should come with support in knowing that we all need a moment to look sometimes.
Let It Be
The last week or so there has been a Beatles song which has been a mental mantra for me and it continues to remind me of one simple thought: “And when the broken-hearted people Living in the world agree There will be an answer Let it be”. The last few weeks I have felt the weight of the world and because of that I had to pause on writing, on helping, on reaching out and supporting others. One of the hardest lessons to learn as a person, a woman, a mother, a friend and a partner is that when my own bucket is empty I cannot truly fill anyone else’s until I have replenished my own. The moments we are in right now are those that family members before us have endured and survived through. Each of us is the living proof that human life prevails, that we find a way to survive, to continue filling this planet with laughter and joy and beauty. Even in the face of extreme evil.
There is a natural life cycle in everything around us, in the air, earth, water and humanity around us. Sometimes we want to deny this cycle because part of life is death and part of beauty is destruction which means that to feel the joy we inevitably feel the pain. This is a hard pill to swallow for many of us, it is a hard pill to swallow for me because it means I have to look at what is happening right now and accept it as part of what is. People are sick and scared and anxiety is overcoming the globe. There are multiple truths being spoken and reality is more of a concept that a foundation these days. There is an endless amount of news and social media updating with facts that come from unknown or unreliable sources and it makes it hard to know what is real.
I want to remind everyone to find beauty in every day, find gratitude in each part of our cycle and try to focus on what is a foundation for you because that is all we can do. I will leave you with this mantra which has been helping me find calm in this unbearable storm, “Let it be, let it be, let it be, yeah, let it be There will be an answer Let it be”.
Stay safe, stay strong, stay true to who you need to be right now and as for everything else, let it be.
Children are like plants, a metaphor all of us have heard before. Yes, they need nurturing and sustenance and love to grow and become strong and develop roots. One piece that is missing and that makes this metaphor almost too altruistic is that while every child needs soil and water and foundation and support, every child’s unique incredibility demands that those elements are different. Each and every child needs different soil, different water, different love. Because of this there is no book that can tell us how this parenting thing is done. There is no coffee table manual that will allow us to “grow the perfect rose”.
I have been struggling with my parenting lately, I have been lamenting about every mistake I may have made, about every decision hat was mine which trickled down and had an effect on my children. As parents we are the top, the boss woman, the head honcho and although we are mostly playing life day by day as best we can our children see us as these immortal, all knowing, beaming and majestic people who give them everything, show them everything and help them become everything they can be. So in this moment, when you read this, know that to your children this IS what you are. You are what they need, you know what they need and you can provide what they need.
I had a dream last night and when I awoke this morning I look over at my husband and told him that I spent the entire dream evening with different child psychologists and I have the answer. He looked at me and said “okay, what is it” expecting a half comedic reply but it was lacking comedy entirely. I said to him she is a plant and we have to submerge her roots in water right now. I don’t know what the water is a metaphor for, and I know that her roots are her being, who she is and was as a young child and is becoming as a pre-tween. I have lamented for months trying to determine what it is that is missing, what I am not seeing that she needs and now I see it and while I have no idea what IT is, I know that it is my job to find it, and to make sure I help her understand that while I was unable to help her obtain this thing right away that my promise to her is that I will always look. I will always fight for her and I will never stop because she is my baby rose bud and I am breath-taken by her beauty and by the incredible mind that is blooming in her and for the deep empathetic being that she is.
We do not raise, nurture and plant a tree in hopes of it always staying a sprout, we want, more than anything to watch that small tendril grow and push up through the soil, and fill the sky with its beauty and wonder. My children are no different, I want nothing more for them than to push up, feel secured and reach for anything and everything they want in this world. So for every parent out there who feels like they have read the books and water the plant and replenished the soil remember that it takes time, it takes patience and it takes a faith in yourself and in the incredible thing you are growing.
Your child’s school is an extension of you and your home. Be sure that you are choosing a school that will not just water for the sake of watering and that will not just follow some manual that has impossible directions to follow because it does not speak about your child. Make sure that your child’s school gives them what they need to be who they were meant to be.
A Smile a Day...
My family and I were on a post Christmas flight to Florida and the holiday stress was still tangible in the air. My husband and I decided to anonymously gift a small monetary amount so that after people ordered food or a beverage they were told someone on the flight prepaid their meal for them. When we made this offer we were greeted by the flight attendants with extreme gratitude. The flight attendant informed me that in the 35 years she has been working for the airlines she has never experienced anyone doing anything like this. It felt so good to do something that would hopefully help the stress of travel for a handful of strangers on our flight. At the same time I was overcome with sadness that in 35 years this flight attendant had never seen an act of kindness like this.
My grandmother has a Hanukah tradition that she has shared with me and I want to share with all of you who celebrate any joyous holiday occasion. If you can, hold onto the hand of or embrace someone you love while doing this so that you have the feeling of love and comfort and stability in mind. Think about one thing that you wish for yourself and one thing that you wish for the world. This simple act might just be the key to seeing things as they are, as they could be and as we wish them to be rather than focusing on what isn’t possible, what hasn’t happened or what we feel is out of our control.
My wish for myself is to keep doing what I am doing every day and to love it deeply and with every piece of me. My wish for the world is that people think of others, reflect on others and hold space for adding magic, kindness and generosity to the world whenever they can, want to or are able. Joy is contagious but so is fear and anger and sadness so we truly can change the world with something as simple as a smile. In giving we hold the power to spread cheer. Giving can be monetary, emotional, physical or mental. It can be as big as a house or as small as a smile. It is not the thing itself but the act that carries weight. Remember that when you feel hopeless or helpless or lost, you can look in the mirror and remember to smile, see yourself as you wish to be in the moment rather than you are. Some people might say this is a fake it until you make it mentality but I see this as a self help tool, as a way to remind ourselves of who we can be when the weight of the world is too much to carry. Take this message as you will and may you have the happiest of New Years, here is to 2020!
The holidays bring about ample opportunity to feel all the feelings. People are often stampeded by emotional forces that bring waves of anger, frustration, love, courage, stress, joy, overwhelm, exhaustion and regrettable behavior. For me this season is a blend of joyous wonder because I am living in my home town after years of being away. At the same time I have experienced loss around me that I wasn’t expecting. I have watched people I know, care about and love around me lose family members in an abrupt and sudden way and when this happens it puts so many things in perspective.
I have been mulling over the all too familiar feeling of regret that I both experience and witness from others when someone passes. It is not an unfamiliar tale to hear people lament that they just wished the effort had been made to see someone they just lost one last time, wishing they had taken the time to call or visit or write at the very least. I genuinely believe that at the very base of each and every one of us is a desire to be everything to everyone who needs us to be there for them.
Generally this idea is incredible, if we all just lived for one another and put in a little extra effort for those around us who we deeply care for then we could all just feel supported all the time. I hate to be the grinch but this isn’t possible. We live hundreds if not thousands of miles apart from our family members, from our friends and from those we love and cherish deeply. We no longer have an emotional circle that expands a few city blocks or miles at the most. Now we must allow our hearts and minds to grasp the idea that our best friend lives 1124 miles from us. That our parents are a full days travel away and that our cousins and college besties are over seas. Because of this and in light of this we are doing the best we can. In a world that is expanding, literally and figuratively, at a very slow but noticeably persistent rate what hasn’t changed is our own ability to spread ourselves only as thin as we can while still holding onto ourselves in the process.
It is the advice of any flight attendant to “tightly secure your own oxygen mask before that of others”; including our own children. The regulations of life and happiness and sanity and survival are no different. If we give ourselves away to everyone we love as much as we want to and feel the need to I fear that we will find ourselves even more anxious, distressed, burnt out, tired and stressed out than we as a society already are today.
There is an intrinsic guilt that comes along with life and all the choices we have to make. If we traveled to see all those we loved whenever we felt compelled one might comment that we are not prioritizing our home life or our career. If we worked as much as our job might demand and possibly as much as we desire people might say we have no interest in our family. If we stay home and pour ourselves endlessly into our children and partners people might observe that we are recluse and bound to the home. So there is no perfect answer and there is no choice that does not come with a cost.
I close my eyes, I take a deep breath. I hear my daughter spinning salad, I hear my husband grinding pepper, I hear my youngest cooing on the kitchen floor. I feel sadness in my heart because my aunt has died and I never got to say goodbye. I feel comfort in knowing that I knew her and I remember her as the Barbara Streisand of our family and I feel at peace with the promise that while distance and time kept us apart, my heart and my mind can and could be with her and with anyone at any point in time no matter how far the distance is.
Gratitude is my message for this month. Gratitude is my offering to each and every one of you reading this because gratitude allows us to walk through life without regret and upon my last breath my largest wish is to look back and know that I may have made decisions with consequences but I regret nothing. This article is dedicated to my tanta, a woman who could fill a room with laughter and a smile purely because it was her.
Forget the tricks, lets go for treats.
Parenting alone is one of the largest jobs if not the largest job we will ever do as people who choose to have children. It starts much before we actually become parents for many of us and extends for years beyond when we think it perhaps would have ended. With the Halloween aftermath surrounding me I am reminded that children are quite motivated by rewards, especially those that are sweet and double down in the sugar department. Often times as parents we give our children short term rewards in order to maintain their focus on longterm goals. It is a tried and true method to offer a child the reward of a fresh baked cookie if they finish their dinner or the ability to watch a special show if they finish all their homework or chores. As adults we realize that often times the work can feel like a weight and validating a child in the feeling that the weight of life is counterbalanced with joy is a wonderful tool to give them which they can unfold at every crossroads of life. So now, moms and dads. Lets do a little self reflection…we understand the concept that short term goals help with managing long term goals. We also know that reminding ones self about the benefits gained from all the hard work done help us to stay on track and enable continual successes.
I realized that as parents we look at our new born children, our precious, blank canvases that are genuinely as close to perfection as we can imagine and we want them to have a life filled with laughter, love, successes of their own, joy and adventure. We parent each and every day with these goals in mind. We remind them to brush their teeth a thousand times to prevent future pain, we feed them healthy meals every day to prepare them for the world they are growing into and to give them an awareness of their health and longevity. We read to them every night so that they can understand the wide breadth of rules in our English language in hopes that they can succeed in school. We spend countless hours dedicated to the longest goals we have ever set for ourselves and yet where are our short term rewards? We have moments with them that melt our heats, yes but I think we need more than that. I think that we as parents are allowed to reward ourselves daily, weekly, monthly for a job well done. For the work we are doing and the focus we are maintaining. So I give you permission to award yourself after a long day and truly enjoy it, tell yourself you deserve it and remind yourself that you are in a marathon and unless you give yourself the nourishment, you will not be able to sustain the run. So find that bag of Halloween candy that you looked at and immediately assessed as “naughty” and pick out your favorite piece every day and eat it like you deserve it because you know what? YOU DO!
A time of tragedy reminds me to redefine what is possible.
Last week a family I have known for years lost their eldest son in a tragic accident. They lost their first born baby on the day of his 10th trip around the son. The pain must be insurmountable. The grief unimaginable and the faith in this world must slip away almost instantly. I got the phone call about 4 hours after this beautiful young life had been taken and every moment since I have tried to reflect on and empathize with what this family is going through and yet the truth is I can't. It is not possible. For those of you that have experienced this loss and I pray that is none of you, you are the only ones who know this pain and sadness.
I have always wondered how a mother (identifying as a mother myself) wakes up the next morning without her child and faces the day without being filled with rage and anger that is unstoppable. It has broken my heart to witness from afar, that process and it has amazed me how strong this mother is, being in the face of absolute horror. While I know that she is shattered inside I also see a human strength that is comparable to nothing I have ever seen or witnessed before. We as parents are prepared to be strong for our children in order to shied them from fear or danger in our world. What we are also prepared for is how to honor our children should they leave us too soon but I believe that none of us believe we hold this strength because of the pain it also invokes.
I have been praying, meditating, fixating, pondering and processing for over four days now and I have come to a place of wanting to honor this young man whose life was stolen from him by looking at my life and my gift to be a parent differently than I have ever seen it before. Yes the days can be long, sure the nights of sleeplessness are draining and of course there are moments when things just feel too easy to put on hold. Here is the promise I made in honor of every child who has been taken too soon. I will honor the moments I have, time is linear and it does not go any direction other than forward. When it ends it is over and that is where I will finally rest. Until then I will do what I can to take advantage of every moment and to honor the space and time around me that is being a parent.
We as parents are stronger than we know, we have powers that are in us just waiting to be used. Those powers involve speaking with our children honestly about hard topics, advocating for our children when they need our help, fighting for what we know is right in this world so our children have a safe place to become parents themselves and sanity when even the most tragic events test us beyond what should be possible. You have a choice every day mom and dad, you have a choice to feel stuck or to move forward and make a life that fulfills you. It is not easy, but it is a choice.
What should the grief of widowed parents look like? We think we know because we have seen a movie or a documentary and the images perfectly describe an emotionally devastated adult ...or do they? What if losing a child looks like the strongest mother in the world being asked to carry even more weight? What if we find power within us that we never knew we had so that we can honor every human being, child and adult who was not given the opportunity to move forward one more day.
I want to dedicate this months newsletter to the Janusz Family. I have included a link to their fundraising campaign and if you feel willing or able to give in the memory of Aiden I would be immensely grateful. If you are not able to give at this time please say a small prayer, mantra or word for Aiden, a 10 year old gone decades too soon.
You know those days when you feel like you are super mom/dad. When the world is just throwing you fast balls and you are knocking them out of the park and then your dog pees on the neighbors carpet, your 10 month old eats dog food and you realize after the fact that you served moldy marinara sauce with ravioli for dinner? Okay well here is the thing, we all mess up. We all get it wrong, we all have moments of “who put me in charge”. So here is the good news, you are no longer perfect, you no longer have to strive to be and you never will be again. The stress is melting away right? No, it is not….there is some invisible perfection stream that pours through us as parents and just when we accept that we might be average or even A- at best that stream of perfection comes rolling in and we suddenly feel like we need to strive for anything but where we are.
My husband travels out of town a lot and that leaves me to a house full of chaos for more time than I would like to admit. I have tried for years to hold it all together, to not skip a beat and to always reveal only my good, organized self. In the last year I have realized that modeling an image of perfection is a dangerous parenting model. It displays an image of false identity, impossible goals and self degradation. There is a difference between trying your best, being disappointed when you cannot achieve to your ability, striving to be better and that of pretending like everything is effortless, easy and calm when really it is a shit storm of emotions. Our children look to us for their confidence, their self worth and their management tools which they use throughout their entire life. It is up to us to show them that failure is learning, that imperfection is beautiful and that even the best fall down sometimes (yes I stole song lyrics but they were just so spot on).
Almost every “oh shit” moment is a fantastic story a year down the road. Almost every parenting oops allows us to prevent even bigger mistakes and almost every feeling of self doubt allows us to be sure that we are still human, that we are reflecting on our surroundings and that we are doing the best we can, even when it might not be good enough for everyone around us. I saw a quote today that said something to the effect of “if you are going to judge the way I live I will expect you to pay some of my bills”. The general takeaway here that I want to convey is that if other people assume we will live our lives in order to ensure their own personal fulfillment than other people are not fulfilling themselves. Yes, we should be courteous and thoughtful and do for others as well as ourselves. This does not mean that when your 2 year old vomits on a 2 hour flight non-stop and people are looking at you as though you have failed at parenting in every way that you actually have. There are moments we cannot control, there are moments that will define us and there are moments that will teach us about the world but none of these moments are a failure of who we are. They are a moment in time. They are a memory, a story, a teaching tool. So I hereby grant you imperfection, it is the greatest gift a parent can get. Take it, go out in the world and shine your imperfection brightly, you earned it!
I am a mother, not a wizard. I share what is hard, what is scary and what is real. The rest I leave to you.