Thursday, July 23, 2015

Slowly Getting There. . .But Getting There Nonetheless

I keep constructing blog posts in my head, but they never quite make it here.  I am so exhausted by the time I make it home, eat dinner, and spend a little time with the girls.  Things are manageable chaos, but chaos.  T leaves for work super early in the morning.  Right now, I get up around 5-5:30, shower (often with SB, who has discovered she likes the shower, and I can't fight with her at 5:00 in the morning), get ready, prepare dinner, eat breakfast, chat with the girls for a bit, and head into the office around 7-7:30.  I generally work like a demon all day, including through lunch (frequently skipping lunch), and haven't been leaving work until after 6pm, and sometimes after 7pm.  By the time I get home, my family has already eaten, and I eat and chat with them.  Rinse, lather repeat.

Work is fine.  I like it okay.  We'll see.  Sometimes it's really interesting, and sometimes people drive me nuts.  It's a job where everyone has their own agenda/remit, and it becomes the war of the just causes.  Really, I'm happy so far.  I'm just having a down day because someone was kind of a jerk to me.  I hate it when someone is a jerk.  Why is that necessary, especially when I am trying to help them?

The girls are doing better.  A few days ago, Miss M told me, quite seriously, that she doesn't want to move again--that if she makes new friends here, she doesn't want to move and leave them again.  It broke my heart.  She really misses her old school and friends, and talks about wanting to go back.  But, she is also quite happy here.  I think she misses having friends and being part of a posse.  Since it's summer and a lot of people are traveling, they haven't yet made friends that they regularly hang out with, and this is hard for her, especially.  We had some VERY challenging behavioral stuff going on for the first 6-7 weeks after the move, but now that the house is almost unpacked and we have something of a routine worked out, things are starting to even out.  Miss M was about SB's age the last time we moved, and I had forgotten how challenging that age (3) can be post-move.  They can't yet express their anxiety over moving (Exhibit A:  Miss M's current expressions of sadness), but it really impacts them.  We were having massive tantrums, hair pulling, hitting, kicking. . .awful stuff.

The bad behavior really had me questioning my ability as a parent. . .our ability as parents.  It was really, really challenging.  I did some reading, looking for what felt like the best approach, and decided that straight up behavior modification was key.  The advice I read suggested addressing JUST your most vexing problem (clearly, hitting/kicking/hair pulling--dear me!).  So, I got our nanny and T to commit to putting SB in short timeouts in her room with the door shut every time it happened.  It took a few days of being really consistent about it, but honestly, she's like a brand new person.  (She hates being alone in a time out.  It's literally the ONLY punishment that matters to her.)  Between settling into a routine and being really consistent with expectations and punishment. . .I feel like a slightly less terrible parent.  She was really starting to internalize her bad behavior ("I'm naughty"; "it's all my fault", etc--I have no idea where the "it's all my fault" came from, incidentally.).  But now, she seems to delight in delivering the news that she was good all day, and I am clinging to that.

T's job has been if not exactly what he hoped for, not entirely terrible either.  It is in his field, and I think it will grow on him, as he gets a better idea of what they want, and as they start to trust him.  It has been a transition, but so has absolutely everything that we've done over the last few months.

The house is ALMOST unpacked and set up.  We have a few more boxes, and two rooms (formal living room and the dining room) which are not set up yet.  But I'm almost ready to declare success.  The house is looking good.

We are getting there.  As soon as we feel really settled in this new city/house/schedule/life, school is going to start, and add a new level of complexity.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Favorite Children's Book That...

Has a good moral, teaches about a new subject matter, AND is fun to read?  What's your suggestion?

Currently, ours is "Rosie Revere, Engineer," by Andrea Beaty.  It has some really clever lines in it that speak to me, too, about dreams and ambitions.  It has a terrific message about trying again after you fail, and features a girl engineer.  And it is fun.  So fun.  My girls ask for it almost nightly.

But we're looking for other great books.  Thoughts?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Settling In

For me, the worst part of moving is what I think of as the "in between" part--the packing up and saying goodbye and moving and unpacking and setting up and starting.  It's all chaotic and kind of unpleasant.  I'm in the tail end of the process now, the unpacking and setting up.  In no particular order, and because I'm feeling lazy:

  • The girls, and particularly Miss M, are really missing their friends.  I think it's also structure and routine.  We are working hard to create new routines, and thankfully we have our nanny with us, so there is that continuity. But I still haven't found the box with art supplies and we haven't made any neighborhood friends, so it's still a bit hard.
  • Our house looks like the inside of the kitchen junk drawer.  We had the worst movers this time--they were dumping boxes upside down and leaving them.  It was a total disaster.  I had to ask them to stop unpacking us, and now we have mountains of boxes and piles of junk everywhere.
  • It's one thing when you have a place to put stuff.  It's another when you are trying to simultaneously paint and unpack boxes and rearrange furniture and decorate.  I hate unpacking.  Really I do.
  • My new job has been insanely busy.  I'm new.  No one should expect me to work this much.  Did I mention I'm new?  What happened to easing in slowly??!  I have missed dinner pretty much every night since I started a few weeks ago, and sometimes I miss bedtime, too.  That sucks.
  • In all seriousness, I like my job thus far.  It is challenging and interesting and I'm learning a ton.  But given how busy it is, the learning curve has also been steeeeep.  
  • It's really fun to be back in the U.S.  But also expensive.  I've been living a puritanical existence these last few years, compared to how much money I've spend this month alone.  Good lord.  I had forgotten that people shopped for sport.  And I'm only buying things I actually need!  
  • Groceries are insanely expensive here.  My grocery bill has doubled or tripled over what I was spending.  To be fair, all I bought in South America was rice, veggies, meat, and cleaning products.  Here, I am buying hummus!  And crackers!  And ice cream bars!  And milk that comes in big jugs!  In large part because I can, and it tastes yummy.  When you can't buy expensive processed food, you save a lot of money.  And calories.  I'm going to have to work on this bit.
  • Some of the house is coming together nicely.  The playroom, the sitting room, the kitchen and breakfast nook are all in good shape, and it's going to be a really great place to live, eventually. You know, when we finish unpacking all of those damn boxes.
Okay, I have to go do something productive.  Like sleep.  All of the chaos is making me EXHAUSTED.  Well that and the intellectual challenge and the small children who need the reassurance of my bed in the middle of the night.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The End of Vacation

We've had a whirlwind three weeks in America.  We started off in Florida; spent a few days in the mid-Atlantic region to pick up our new car, get the keys to the house that we are going to be renting for the next year, and inspect the other school that we were accepted into; drove up to New England in the new car and spent time with my husband's family; traveled to see my family for a few days; traveled back to spend a few more days with T's family; then drove back down the eastern seaboard yesterday and the day before; and spent all day today cleaning/unloading furniture from the Uhaul (it had been in storage in New England).  And, I start work tomorrow.

Florida was a lovely relaxing time, but we planned to spend way too few days there.  We were trying to cram a little family time into our "vacation," before running around to catch up with family and friends.  If I had it to do over again, I would have cut that part, or extended it and made it longer.  Longer wasn't really an option this trip, because of other obligations, but the last three weeks have been so hectic that I can't wait to start working again.  It will feel relaxing!  But the kids had a blast, and that is what really matters.  We gave them a really magical three week vacation full of memories, and that is what I wanted for them.  We had pool days and Disney days and days with friends and lake days and beach days and days with both grandmothers and visits with grandfathers and favorite aunts and cousins and museum trips and zoo trips and a trip to my favorite childhood candy store (it's now Miss M's favorite, too--the giant array of penny candy sealed the deal).  Miss M has really blossomed during this time.  She is having such a blast, and she is such a joy--so happy and full of curiosity about the world, and so eager to share her theories about how something might work or how something might have unfolded.  I love it. 

SB has been her cheerful, if challenging, three year old self this vacation.  She is vibrant and happy, and constantly sings and dances.  The arts-based preschool we had her in while in South America was really good for her.  She is constantly coming up with a dance routine or a new song.  It's really cute.   Less cute is the penchant for hitting that she seems to have picked up for an older boy in her class.  Any time she doesn't get what she wants, she turns into a little caveman.  It's all about the brute force, and her tantrums are epic.  We've tried every punishment under the sun, and the only thing that works is kindly, calmly, picking her up and putting her in a room by herself.  It's no easy feet, with her flailing arms and legs.  She literally pinched me, pulled my hair, slapped me and kicked me while I tried to pick her up the other day.  I was so horrified.  Now that we are back in our own space again, we will definitely be focusing on working with her on her behavior.  I know she understands that it is wrong, because she changes her tune very quickly after being put in another room by herself, and settles down and becomes compliant.  Sigh.  She is such a love, and so very sweet and charming.  But  as my mother says, when she grows those little horns, watch out.

This next thought is probably worthy of another post entirely, but I'm short on time, so I'm going to dump it here.  We had a chance to tour the second school that we got into, after they agreed to extend the deadline by which we had to respond.  I specifically told them that I wanted to visit the classrooms where my children would be next year.  Honestly, I expected to love this place.  It has a lot of hype surrounding it.  When I got there, I didn't love it, though.  I thought it was indeed a nice little school that's trying to do some good things, but. . .that's it.  The school we have already enrolled in had more resources, bigger classrooms, and a nicer physical plant.  And, despite my request to see the classrooms, they told me they were doing work, and I couldn't see them.  Argh.  But in the end, even that did not matter, as I just was not terribly swayed.  Academically, I discovered that there would be mostly a new crop of English speaking kids in Miss M's class (with no prior Spanish), which I thought would hold Miss M back, since her Spanish is way ahead of where the class will be (in the school she's in, pretty much all of the kids have been in for 1-2 years already, and/or come from native speaking homes).  While the new school was a bit more diverse than the school we are currently enrolled in, it was strangely not as diverse as I had thought it would be.  And, I hated the location.  It was much less convenient than our current school.  So, we declined to enroll.  

Finally, I am wrapping up a course of antibiotics.  About a week into our vacation, I got a sinus infection.  I tried to use a neti pot to get rid of it, to no avail.  Antibiotics can really do a number on my digestive system and kick into gear some other problems I have, so I really try to avoid them.  But after two weeks of misery, I finally broke down.  Little by little I am getting better, but I am still a fountain of yellow snot, and my nose is peeling from blowing it so often.  JUST the impression you want to give on your first day in a new job.  And with that, I'd better go to bed.

Sunday, May 31, 2015


The final days before doing an international move are always really painful for me, both emotionally and physically.  I hate endings, so I am always sad about leaving and all of the lasts.  I always have more things to do than I can possibly accomplish.  I never sleep.  It is just seemly endless and unpleasant.  I loathe the final days.  As the plane takes off, though, I can literally feel myself shedding the weight of all of it.

And that's all behind me now, and I'm just so happy.  I'm sitting on the patio of our condo in Florida with a glass of red wine and my laptop.  The sky is clear and a full moon is shining softly down on us, as a warm wind blows through the palm trees next to me.  The quiet hum of the building's air conditioning compressor purrs below me, almost drowning out the sounds of the kids that are still in the pool.  Our girls are asleep after spending literally five straight hours in the pool/pool slide/lazy river.  Tomorrow we are going to the Magic Kingdom.  It's just so heavenly to be able to just chill out.

Our nanny is with us, and it's honestly so much fun to show her our country and to see it through her eyes.  She can't get over how little traffic there is and how much green space there is, and how inexpensive everything is at Walmart.  She's about my age, and she's raised four kids on her own in a big city on next to no money, and she's never been much further than 50 miles outside that city.  I am trying to give her as much free time as I can to just enjoy the experience and spend some time on her own.  It's probably been 20 years since she did anything for herself.  I know she needs the break, and once we start work again, it will be hectic and we're going to need her to do more.  I want her to have a little bit of time for herself to just have a vacation.

In other news, the second school that we got into agreed to extend the registration deadline for us until the end of the week, so we are going to be able to do a tour then and see which school we prefer.  After everything that happened last year to us (which I haven't really blogged about, but needless to say, it was bad, and involved making a decision based on limited information), I realized that even if we don't decide to change schools, I really need to see the second one and feel like I've explored all of my options and made the best choice possible.  I've really been blaming myself for not doing that last year, even though maybe we would have made the same choice.  But I need to know that I am making the right choice based on all of the information available to me.  So, at the end of the week we will go and check it out and see what we think, and I am so thankful to have that opportunity.

It is SO nice to be back in America, the land of rubberized playground surfaces and endless varieties of jarred tomato sauce and clean air and good cheese and inexpensive wine.  America, I've missed you.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Counting Down the Days

It's always weird to celebrate a very American holiday overseas.  Memorial Day is one of those.  I had the day off to take care of some last minute things. So, I shopped for some earrings I wanted  to buy before I left, then had a relaxing lunch with friends, then a final parent-teacher conference, then end-of-day beers with friends, more errands, then dinner with the girls.  We were supposed to do some family photos, too, but the photographer canceled.  We're go to try to do them tomorrow.  I'm crossing my fingers that it all works out, because I'd really like to take those memories with us.

It was a bit last free day here.  The girls were in school.  I'm working the rest of the week, and then we fly out next weekend.  I'm ready to go and sad to leave.

I had a final meeting with Miss M's teacher so that I could talk with her about what we need to work on over the summer.  She basically said routines, habits, and the auditory part of reading/writing.  Miss M is apparently too much of a social butterfly, talking in class, getting up from her chair, etc.  she only makes it halfway through her independent work (ie, 7-10 minutes in) before she gets up or starts talking.  The teacher thinks she needs to work on her concentration and focus.  I think it's actually frustration, because she is doing great in math.  She also apparently sits patiently at the table during meals--just not her reading/writing/language classes.  So we will work on those things over the next few months.

The teacher said at the end that they are really going to miss Miss M, and it totally made me cry, which was kind of embarrassing.  I have such guilt over the move, about her needing to leave her friends.  It's just the way that it is, but still.  Her teacher said that the classroom was a totally different place when we were traveling back to the US a few weeks ago, and they are all going to miss her.  She said they would welcome us back if we ever returned, which was kind.

So here we are, a few days out.  And I still have quite a few things on my to do list!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

School Choice

Miss M's class recently received their report cards. The school had scheduled for the parents to meet with the teacher on a Saturday a few weeks ago, and I thought we were going in to speak with the teacher about the report cards, but it turned out to be a Mother's Day celebration (which was nice, don't get me wrong). But as I'm counting down our final minutes living here, my to-do list is absolutely enormous, and I am a bit pressed for time.  So I wasn't thrilled to discover that I needed to make an appointment on a weekday to see the teacher about the report card, especially when I learned she was only making appointments at 10am or 1:30 pm.  The school is some distance from my office, and mid-day traffic here is horrendous.  I really wanted to speak with her about where Miss M is on a few things, and any suggestions she has for working with her over the summer.  She is still struggling a bit with identifying letters, and she is frustrated by her inability to discern say "p" from "b," and I want to get the teacher's input.  So, I dutifully took yesterday afternoon off, and appeared at the school for my appointment. . .only to discover that the teacher had taken the day off from school.

The front office called her, and she said she had sent me an email. . .on my daughter's school email account.  Which I don't check every day.  She has my phone number, but didn't bother to call her text me.  Argh.  I did manage to get a few errands done, nonetheless, but I was incredibly frustrated.  So now we have the appointment on this coming Monday.  I need to FINISH things, not keep moving them around.

While we are on the topic of school, we received an email this week that has thrown me into a bout of indecision.  It was something that I really didn't expect to happen.  Both girls were accepted into another bilingual program for next year.  We have to decide in the next week what we are going to do.    I'm just not sure what the best option is, and desperately want to tour the new school, but we won't be back for another two weeks, and we have to decide THIS week.  Argh again.

The big things the new school has going for it are:  more racial diversity than our current school (where there are basically no white kids); many more native Spanish speakers; more socioeconomic diversity; active parents.

The things the new school doesn't have going for it:  there is no playground (they walk the kids through a very urban environment to get to a playground during the day--our current school has a small but not fabulous playground); the classrooms are reportedly small (the school we are currently enrolled in has big, beautiful classrooms); the new school has only been around for a few years and they have not published any test scores yet, so they are unproven (not that test scores are the be-all, end-all, but they do provide something of a benchmark); the new school has new/young teachers (this means they are probably enthusiastic, but I really liked the experienced, native speaking teachers that I met at our current school); and finally, the new school is expanding significantly next year, and will have (gulp!) around 200 children age 5 and under enrolled in the school.  This seems like a lot, and they are growing by a fairly large number of students--in fact, the school will be about double the size of our current school.  Oh, and it's a longer, more complicated commute.  

T is not interested in switching schools.  He is concerned about the size of this new school, and the loss of individualized attention.  He is worried our girls will get lost in the mix.  He is also not crazy about the idea of the girls (well really, the unpredictable SB) walking through the city to get to a playground.  I'm not, either.  

My problem is that I just don't know how important the diversity piece is.  I don't know if it matters--not just racial and linguistic diversity, but also socioeconomic.  I like the idea of more native Spanish speakers.  I like the idea of a very racially diverse school, as that inherently feels more inclusive to me--but that doesn't mean it is.  The data seems pretty clear that higher socioeconomic status generally means kids who are better prepared to learn--but not always.  And more active parents tends to mean more opportunities for the kids.  

Topping all of this off is the fact that my own (white, well-educated) peers would almost certainly, and very quickly, choose this new school.  But I feel like so much of that is tied up in issues of race and class, and not necessarily on quality of education.  I am really focused on quality of education, and whether my kids are going to be happy and excited to go to school every day.  And it's particularly impossible to make a decision like that when you can't visit the school in person and see for yourself.  Sigh.