Thursday, November 29, 2012

On Being a Student Again, and Other Things

As it turns out, it proved to be impossible for me to both write fiction and learn Spanish in the span of a single month.  It wasn't a time thing--I managed to carve out writing time from my day.  Rather, t was a brain capacity issue.  I find Spanish seeping into my mind at all hours of the day and night, and the creative stuff was clashing with it and interfering with my learning.  So, I gave myself permission to stop NaNoWriMo.  I'm pretty happy with what I put together during the time I was doing it, and I'll pick it back up in a few months when I'm not investing quite so much time in learning Spanish.  The most valuable thing I got out of NaNoWriMo was not the actual product, but rather the much-needed reminder that if you put one foot in front of another, you do indeed reach your goal, however slowly you may walk.

I am LOVING learning Spanish.  Truthfully, I don't know how much I am actually learning, and how much I am merely remembering.  I had a phenomenal high school Spanish teacher, and bit by bit it has all been coming back to me.  I took it for a couple of years in college, too, but it's my high school teacher that I hear whispering "wrong syll-AB-le" in my ear.  It is such a joy to learn this language, and to have this time to do it.  It's been a long time since I've learned something simply for the purpose of learning it, rather than for credit.  There is a certain freedom to learning simply for the sake of learning that I relish.  Of course, I'm not learning simply to learn--I need to be able to conduct business in Spanish.  But still--I'm learning whatever I want, and not merely what some teacher wants me to learn.  I'm learning with a larger goal, proficiency, rather than for a test.  It's different.  It is FUN.

And frankly, it's been easy to build on that early foundation.  I never guessed that this would be the case.  I expected it would be so much more difficult, given that it's been a good two decades since I set foot in a Spanish class.  I've sporadically used it on vacation over the years, but nothing like this.  It is really amazing to have words popping into my brain all of the time, and remembering their meaning.  It's strange, actually, but in a really good way.  It didn't all come back at once.  It's more like, the more that I read and study, the more that I remember and know.

The only difficulty is that I would love more time to study, but since my work schedule is relatively relaxed right now, I am trying to spend more time with the kids.  I thought I might study at night after their bedtime, but find that by then I am too burned out to absorb much.  I thought I might get up early in the mornings, like 4:30 or 5am, and study before my morning class, but SB has been staying up a bit late, and that's been rough on my intended morning routine.

SB is a bit cranky of late (which is to say, occasionally she cries--she is still the smiliest, happiest baby that I have ever met).  She is teething and growing and generally uncomfortable, constantly tugging at her ears (it's teeth and not an ear infection) until we dose her up with baby crack.  She is still just the most awesome, lovely, huggy, happy baby ever.  But more on her in a soon-to-be-written post.  Suffice it to say, I love having an 8 month old--it is a wonderful, happy age, and watching her and Miss M interact and laugh and begin to play together is just AMAZING.

Miss M is also doing well.  Preschool is going fairly well.  I don't love it, but it seems good enough for the brief time we are here.  Miss M seems to actually listen to her teachers.  Every time I go to get her she is sitting still, paying attention, in a chair or wherever else she is supposed to be (unless she is supposed to be running around playing, in which case she happily complies).   The other day, I asked her teachers if she listens to them, and they looked at me in surprise and said "yes, until Mommy gets here!"  She was running out the door at the time, without her coat on of course.  Argh.  Three is both a glorious age, and a difficult one.  We are trying to be kind and consistent, but there are definitely moments when I wonder where our lovely, pleasant, polite little angel went, and wonder how she became such a sassy, cantankerous bossypants.

We've been able to spend two weekends with family since we've moved here, which has been good for my girls and my family.  I think, truth be told, that my family finds the full-on onslaught of a toddler and an infant to be a bit. . .chaotic.  I wish I had a camera in my hand to memorialize the moment when my oldest decided she did not want to eat something, and spit it into my hand at the dinner table because she refused to wait one...more...second for anyone to get a napkin in front of her mouth.  My stepfather's face was simply priceless, a study in horror and disgust.  He loves the girls, but I think he's a bit mystified by them, too.  Needless to say, he comes from a generation that was not actively engaged in child-rearing.  He's been remarkably patient with it all, though.  It's been a joy to watch my mom do ordinary things with my girls, like bake Christmas cookies with Miss M.  These are the moments that I treasure, the ones we simply don't have when we are abroad.  The beauty is in these simple joys.

We are settling into our life here, catching up with old friends and making new ones.  We venture around the city on outings every chance we get, exploring new parks and museums.  It was T's birthday this week, and we dragged the kids across the city on a weeknight (albeit at only 5pm) to visit a restaurant that he loves, for milkshakes and burgers and breakfast-for-dinner and homemade pop-tarts.  It's a happy, family-friendly place with old-school yet trendy decor and a big ole bucket full of toys for the kids (in addition to high chairs AND booster seats and crayons and coloring paper and an awesome kids menu that includes pancakes for dinner).   As the staff ogled our children as we headed to our booth, T happened to mention that we've been living abroad and he's been craving one of their adult milkshakes  (because nothing makes a birthday milkshake better than booze!) for the last two years.  They kindly sent his favorite one over, on the house.  It was a big, kind, only-in-America gesture that made us love the place even more.  We find these little, perfect moments around every corner here.  Every day brings a new little blessing:  a card in the mail for Miss M from a friend in Africa; an offer from a new playmate for a Play-doh playdate;  running into an old friend on a pre-playground Starbucks run.  This is a time of renewal for us, a time to reconnect with our friends and our family and our country, to learn a new language, to get ready for the next big adventure abroad.  I am happy here, now, in this space.  It's weird to think our time here is so short, and that in just over six months, we'll leave again for our next destination.  I think that might be what makes this time so valuable, though--we know it's fleeting, and we are making the most of every moment.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Adult Education

I can't remember if I mentioned it before, but in order to effectively do the job that I accepted in South America next summer, I will need to speak fluent Spanish.  My Spanish is currently, uh, a little rusty.   It is fair to say that my Spanish use has been purely recreational in the past.  When I signed on for this job, I was excited by the prospect that I would get some Spanish tutoring to help me get up to speed (and learn a more professional vocabulary that I used in say, the clubs in Barcelona).

It is completely fun to be studying and learning again.  It's been YEARS since I was a student.  On the other hand, the methodology my tutor is using is bothering me, so much so that I just tried to buy my high school Spanish book online, because the structure made so much more sense to me.  I'm not sure what I imagined it would be like to work on my Spanish, but I didn't think I'd spend an hour spelling words out loud like we were at a deranged Spanish spelling bee.  (Gabriel, He-Ah-bey-ere-ee-eh-elle, Gabriel).  Boooo-ring!  I need to give it a bit of time to see if it gets better, but I might need to switch instructors and go with a different process.

Day two of preschool seemed to go well.  I don't know that this is the ideal preschool for us.  This morning, when I asked the teacher how Miss M did yesterday (there was only one other student in the classroom at the time), she sort of craned her head to look at her and then clearly couldn't remember anything about her.  There are only like eight kids in the class, so it really should not have been hard.  When I specifically asked her whether she'd napped and if she'd eaten lunch, she couldn't remember.  "I think she was okay?" she said, but it was clear that was a guess.  I suppose that means that there were no major issues, because she probably would have remembered those.  I think it's likely that it's more of a daycare and less of a preschool, but I'm trying not to be all Tiger Mom about it.  It's preschool, and she's not even three, and I'm sending her more for the social aspects than anything else.  We're only here for seven months, and she still has two years of preschool after this, because her birthday falls in January.  I keep reminding myself that this place does not have to be the be-all, end-all, and the point is for her to have fun and enjoy herself.

We got there about an hour earlier today than yesterday, as I had an early meeting this morning, and it was clearly the hot drop-off time.  The classroom was full of kids having full-blown meltdowns about being left at daycare.  And my child?  Yes, she would be the one who could barely pay attention to me long enough for me to say goodbye.  The teacher tried to distract one of the distraught children by telling her she could paint, and that was all Miss M needed to hear.  She wanted to paint--who cared that mommy was leaving?!  She did not look back at me even once as I told her I was leaving!  I'm glad she has that confidence.  She was really excited to see me at the end of the day again, and was utterly exhausted by the time I picked her up.  I think she might benefit from shorter days, or perhaps longer naps.  She's a regular two-hour napper, but I suspect that she either isn't sleeping, or wakes too quickly due to the noise of the other children.  She also is getting up an hour earlier than normal.  I put her to bed an hour earlier tonight, too, hoping that she'll get a good night's sleep and wake well-rested in the morning.

I like to write in the morning, before anyone else is awake.  It's so nice to be in a silent house with a hot cup of coffee and some quiet time for myself.  This morning, however, I fell back asleep for an hour after my alarm went off, and had to race to get us to school and work on time, so there was no time for writing.  I, too, was exhausted upon arriving home, but I made myself hit my writing target for the day. I can see that more than anything, NaNoWriMo is going to be an exercise in discipline.  I don't find the idea generation or the writing to be particularly hard or time consuming--it's just making myself sit down and do it.  Well, you know what they say--90% of success is just showing up.   It's reaffirming for me that anything is possible, if only you take it one step at a time.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The First Day of Preschool

I got up early this morning, before my alarm even went off.  The baby woke up full of sunshine and joy and wanted to nurse.  She fell back asleep, so I got up and wrote for a while.  All too soon, it was time to wake up Miss M, who was still snoozing away.  I crawled into bed with her and slowly woke her up for her first day of school.

She agreed to get out of bed and watch cartoons, but was slow to wake.  When I came back from my shower, she was eating a whole grain Eggo waffle while watching cartoons.  T dressed her in the clothes we had laid out the night before:  skinny jeans and a trendy striped Gap sweater, with a pair of slip-on Merrill's, and capped with an adorable red wool Gap coat.  When I finished getting ready, she was finally raring to go off to school, and we all loaded in the car.

At every stoplight, she wanted to know why we were stopping.  She wanted to go to school!  When we got there, T gave her a hug, and I took some "first day of school" pictures of her and daddy.  He stayed in the car with SB while I brought her in.  I tried to take some pictures of her in front of the school, but most are just shots of her back as she is walking in, because she was ready to go.

I signed her in and took her to her classroom, and as we walked there, she told me that she "loves this place."  I have to say, it was really nice.  We hadn't visited before, given that we applied from Europe.  In her classroom, kids were already playing, and she had her coat off and melded in with the rest of the group before I knew it.  I spoke with the teacher for a brief minute and put her things in her cubby, and by the time I turned around, she was surrounded by a bevy of new friends, playing away.  I told her that I was leaving and that I would be back later, and she said goodbye while barely looking my way.  This, from the child who has never been to daycare, never even been babysat by someone who was not  very, very well-known to her.  I teared up a little to see what a big girl she is.

When I picked her up this afternoon, she seemed a little sad as I walked through the door.  She rushed over to me with open arms.  "Mommy," she said, "you came back!"  I think she had started to be afraid we would not return for her, which broke my heart.  She perked up immediately, so much so that when we reached the front door to leave, she started getting upset that she had to leave, and wanted to stay.  I had to promise that she could come back tomorrow.  I think she needed me to come visit, and then wanted me to go away again!

On  the way home, she chattered away about her day.  She claims she had cookies and bread for lunch, and juice and milk in real cups, which she said she spilled.  She said a girl cried, and they played on the playground, and she didn't get to paint.  She was sunny and full of joy about all of it, and seems unscathed.  I am so relieved.

I picked her up a little early, so I didn't get a chance to talk with the teacher to see how she did, and how she ate, and whether (and what time) she napped.  I hope to get in there early tomorrow to try to talk with her, to get her perspective.  Things were so hectic this morning that I didn't get a chance to warn them that she doesn't eat much, or that she only likes to drink milk, or that she isn't potty trained but I think we are close.  I suppose those aren't necessary things, really--her backpack was full of diapers for her cubby, and everything else was obvious (or she'd make it known).  I probably need to let go a little bit, anyway.

Oh, and my first day back at work was fine, although it was hard to sit still through boring meetings.  And I easily met my target word count for NaNoWriMo, and it's not the worst thing I have ever written.  I think this is going to be a fun month.