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

Ahhhhh.........

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 bittersweet...my 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.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Moving and Such

This is the part of a big move that I hate. . .the part where the packing is done and the house is empty and big projects are wrapped up, and now it's just the goodbyes.  While I still have things to do, the big things are done and behind us, and the stillness now is making me sad.  I am not sad for myself, to be frank.  While we have many friends here, I know I will see the people I like again, so it is not breaking my heart to leave, for myself.

But my heart is breaking a little.  It's the girls.  And SB is still a bit too young to have those tight attachments, although she has a little posse of girls at her preschool. No, it's Miss M that is making me tear up.  We just wrote three notes (handwriting homework from school), and in each she asked the little girl to visit us in our new city.  Which is unlikely to happen.  And it makes me so very sad that she's been in her school for the last year and a half, and she's made all of these friends, and she is thriving, and she is happy, and now we must go.

The teacher just sent an email to her classmates, telling them they will host a going away party for her at school on her last day, and asking each child to bring in $2 so they can purchase a going away gift for her.  It's so thoughtful, and I'm so touched. . .and just so...sad.  I am bawling as I write this.  I love beginnings, but I hate the endings, and watching Miss M say goodbye to the life she has known for the last few years is way harder than I imagined when I took this job a couple of years ago.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Getting What You Want

I tried to be as strategic as possible in dealing with Dolores Umbridge, and I think it has mostly worked out.  I'm not getting everything I was advocating for, but I think I'm probably getting what I need most, and sometimes being a grownup is like that.  Sometimes people disappoint you, and you just have to be graceful about it, get what you can out of the situation, and move on.  So I'm trying to both be graceful and move on, although I know that if I have calculated wrong and I have not gotten as much as I think I did out of this exchange, there will be possibly major fallout for me a few months from now.  But hopefully I have not calculated wrong.

Changing gears entirely, my other big obsession of late has been the school stuff for the kids.  We are moving to a city that holds a lottery for school.  You always have the right to attend your nearly local school (your so-called "in boundary school") for kindergarten and higher, so for Miss M, we could have simply moved to the neighborhood of the school we wanted.  Except, this city also has many charter schools, for which there is no "in boundary" status.  And, there is only "in boundary" preference for K and up--for PK3, there are some public programs, but not every school has one, and there is no in boundary or other preference (unless an older sibling gets in, in which case the younger sibling gets pulled to the top of the wait list, if there is one, which there is for any place decent).  And, it's almost impossible to get a slot anywhere "good," and the wait lists number in the hundreds for PK3, especially. So, we dutifully selected a dozen schools for each child, and waited, expecting very little.

We were ultimately matched with our #6 choice, and both girls were matched, which frankly was a shock.  It turned out that we had pretty good lottery numbers for both kids (and we have fairly low wait list numbers at the other 5 schools we listed as higher priority).  The school ticked many boxes for us:  it's bilingual, it's small, the test scores are pretty good (especially compared to many other bilingual schools, which generally have a lot of English language learners who score poorly on English language standardized tests), and the commute, while not ideal, is also not too terrible.  When we visited the school, I really liked the vibe. The principal knew all of the kids' names, and interrupted our tour to say hello to them.  The facilities are nice.  The kids were happy, animated, engaged, well behaved, and one little second grader that I spoke to had good Spanish despite not being a native speaker.  The teachers are native Spanish speakers.  My girls' classrooms are big and bright and beautiful, and right across the hall from each other.  It's like a little educational oasis in the middle of the city.

But there's that downside:  it's a small, very urban school.  It's not in the greatest neighborhood in the world.  And what I keep hearing from my colleagues and acquaintances is "you are sending your kids to school WHERE?  The schools in that city are terrible!"  One woman actually said to me "Are you going to live in X [nearby upscale suburban area outside of the city] or Y [another even more suburban neighborhood a further distance from the city, known for its excellent schools], completely ignoring the possibility that I might actually choose to live IN the city.  I had to tell her three times that we were going to be living in the city, and sending our kids to school there.  It was literally like she could not comprehend the information that I was delivering.  And behind the words, behind what people actually say to me, lies what I can tell they are really thinking:  my kids are white and we are doing okay, and the city school kids are brown and poor, and what the hell are you thinking?  Race and class tinge the discussion every time, even if no one mentions them.

If it were just one or two people, I could ignore the noise, but it's basically been every person I've spoken to.  To be honest, none of them seem to be overly well versed on the city schools--they are going off old stereotypes.  I believe this school to be solid.  But it's more than just the cacophony of incredulous voices.  It's that there is a liquor store down the street, with people loitering outside.  It's that the commute will most likely have to be by public transportation, with all that entails.  I was by myself on the subway while we were back, and a woman (either high or mentally ill--I couldn't decide) spent the entire ride screaming at me (I was dressed in a suit), saying silly things, like that I had "been born with a silver spoon in [my] mouth," and that she wasn't "going to steal [my] purse--I don't need your purse lady!"  Etc., etc.  It was starting to get a little aggressive when I got off.  It's nothing that would make me think twice normally, but combined with everything else. . .it made me wonder if I am making too difficult of a decision for my children.  If life in the big city is maybe a bit too much at their young age.  And yes, it's also that my kids will be the minority, by a long shot.  Not like that's odd to them--they are the minority here, too, by far.  But I worry that I am kidding my liberal self that this is really no big deal back in the U.S..  Because I think it's really no big deal.   But what if I'm wrong?  Baltimore was unfolding while we were back, and it gave me pause.

There is one more thing, too.  The house that we are renting happens to be located in boundary for one of the "best" schools in the city.  It's a school that people seem to aspire to.  But, it's basically entirely white, it's not at all diverse socioeconomically, and it's not bilingual, which isn't what I want for my kids.  I want them to know diversity from a young age, and I want them to retain their Spanish.  And, we don't know how long we will live in this house.  If you move out of the boundary, you lose your school spots.  Whereas, if you win a spot via lottery, you can live wherever you want in the city.  Finally, the school doesn't have PK3, so I would have to send SB somewhere else, and drop off at two different schools is something that makes my head explode.  But when people heard that we are in boundary for School A and intentionally chose School B for our children. . .well, it was not pretty.  I felt like a laboratory specimen every time this came up, the likes of which no one had ever seen before.

Anyway, it's no one thing, really, but the sum total of all of this had me doubting myself about our decision.  I feel like a little fish, swimming upstream against the expectations and prejudices of other people.  This school feels like a good fit for my family, the right fit for us given where we are right now, and where we expect to head.  But it feels like at every turn, someone is telling me that I've made a bad choice, that I don't belong there.

Now that we are back here and away from people who are questioning our choices, the self-doubts have subsided a bit.  My friends have been supportive, telling me that I've researched it thoroughly, chosen it for a reason, and that I always have the choice of making different decisions if it doesn't work out.  And they are right.  It's funny. . .I was so worried that we wouldn't get accepted into a bilingual school, and now that it has actually happened, I have way more doubts than I ever would have imagined.  Life is funny.

Monday, May 4, 2015

So Tired

As a warning, this is just going to be a rant, so that I can just get it out of my system so that I can deal with something I don't want to deal with.

I currently work with a bully.  She is an interesting bully, though, because face to face she appears to be super nice and cooperative and collaborative.  But then she does the exact opposite behind your back.  When you confront her on things, she completely denies them and explains them away like you must be CRAZY to even think that she would do such a thing!  Except, she will lie to your face about things that you have in writing that you know she did.  She is totally Dolores Umbridge, actually, right down to the fake sweetness.

And I am currently being Dolores Umbridged.  And it is making me so. . .tired.  I'm sooooo tired of the bullshit.  I know I am out of here soon, and will never have to deal with her again, but I have some final stuff I have to work through with her, and it SUCKS.  I am pushing back as much as I can and trying to advocate for what I think should happen, but I find at every turn that she is denying, denying, denying that there is a problem with anything, and then totally undermining me, and then pretending she isn't doing it.  It is incredibly maddening to be trying to deal with a situation when someone pretends like there is no situation to your face, and then tries to undermine you behind your back.  It's like she's insisting to my face that the emperor's new clothes are beautiful and there is no reason to do anything, and then behind my back she is trying to hire a tailor, and making sure everyone knows that she has found the tailor, and then telling everyone that I did nothing to try to get a tailor, and complaining about how terrible am I for not getting the tailor.  Argh.  The funny part is that we are not peers--she's a few levels up the ladder, so I totally don't get why she is behaving this way.   It's not like we are in competition.

I just wish that people could see her for what she is.  It's the second big thing I've had with her where she has pulled this, and I just don't get why this kind of behavior flies in any workplace.  And I'm not the only one she is doing it to.  It is such a bummer to see legitimately hard-working people crushed by this person, and to see this person nonetheless flourish on the backs of others that she has treated like crap.  Let's hope that hell truly does have a special place for women who don't help other women.