September 2, 2011
By Ekta R. Garg
We have survived the first two weeks of school! In our move from Houston to Salt Lake City, I had several items on my “Things to Worry About” list. Starting in a new school with new teachers and new classmates ranked high (almost as high as Three getting fully potty trained by the time she started school.)
As with everything else, we started having conversations months before moving about the new school. The kids memorized the name and my husband and I answered as many questions as we could about the school before actually moving here. We highlighted all the positive aspects of being in a new environment (new friends! You’ll be in a “big-girl school!” You’ll get to wear cool uniforms!) But through it all, I wondered whether the kids would be okay.
Parents of kids of any age—sound familiar?
Five is required to wear uniforms, but Three is not so on the Friday before school started I left Three at home with Grandpa and took Five to buy uniforms. We both got excited when we saw her in the formal jumper and blouse with matching sailor tie. Say what you will about uniforms taking the excitement out of elementary and high school fashion—kids look their best and somehow seem more focused on learning when they don’t have to worry about their clothes.
Five’s excitement flew and stayed high all the way through Monday morning. Three seemed excited on Monday morning but threw up (before breakfast) whatever liquids she had in her system.
Worry, is that you sitting on my shoulder?
I really think Three just felt nervous about being in a new place and—surprise, surprise—sleepy. After a whole summer of leisurely waking up and taking their time in the morning, the kids received a jolt of reality as I coaxed and encouraged and used the tone of my voice to convey the need for speed. We’d begun waking them up earlier in the mornings in the days leading up to school starting, but there’s nothing quite like the actual start of the school year, is there?
So Three woke up, brushed her teeth, and as she waited for her older sister to finish brushing, she gave me the Look. You know, the one that says, “I’m about to vomit. Help me NOW!” I power-walked Three into our bathroom and watched calmly as liquids came out. She immediately declared she had to pee, and I helped her negotiate using the bathroom.
She stated firmly that she wouldn’t eat breakfast and lay on the sofa instead. But when I asked her—several times—whether she wanted to go to school, she kept answering in the affirmative. Apparently she’d made up her mind. If her big sister was going to school, then so was she. No matter what. In the hour before we left for school, Three must have peed at least five times. Her words communicated excitement, but the expression on her face told a different story. And yet her determination carried her through the morning.
When I picked her up (Three goes to half-day preschool; Five is in full-day kindergarten,) Three’s demeanor and facial expressions had perked up considerably. She looked more optimistic about this New School and what it had in store. She sat and amiably observed our route home, and after a few quiet moments she said, “I’m hungry, Mama!”
Now, almost two weeks later, when I pick Three up she chatters nonstop from the time she sits in her car seat to the time we get to our front door. Our conversation yesterday detailed Farmer Frank (I don’t know who he is, but it seems he has many responsibilities including parking his tractor in the barn and making sure all the animals are fed and comfortable.) Three also told me about a boy in her class who didn’t treat her nicely, and I encouraged her to be firm in telling him to be nice. If he wasn’t, we agreed, she would tell her teachers.
Five, too, has run into a boy in her class who tried to bully her. She came home so upset one day last week, she expressed her frustration by being sassy. After trying to scold her without any result, I realized something else was going on. I told her kindly that her behavior didn’t seem normal; usually she talked with more respect. Was something bothering her? Did someone say something in school?
The whole story came out. And I immediately encouraged Five to go to her teachers. The next morning I reminded her to talk to her teachers first thing, before they got into the routine of the day.
When I picked Five up that day, she told me that she and her teachers and the boy in question “all had a little talk. That’s all.” But it did the trick; when I asked Five about the boy a couple of days later, she said that, yes, he was being nice to her, even though he forgot sometimes. For the most part, though, he was nice, “and even kind of funny.”
It’s only been two weeks, but already I see confidence in both girls. They have found their comfortable spaces in the new school. Five talks about learning the Scientific Method; Three discusses the particulars of cutting with scissors and the immense responsibility of choosing what Play Doh color to choose for that day’s projects. And through it all I see the positive changes of being in an environment that academically and mentally challenges both of them.
Our move to Salt Lake has initiated many new life changes. The most obvious, of course, are a new job and home. Then we have Three’s success in potty training. With the start of school, Five has homework responsibilities for the first time as well as Three going to school all five days a week (instead of only three, as she was doing in Houston.)
And now I see other, more subtle changes. Three’s speech patterns, advancing at a rapid rate even before we moved, have grown more complicated and mature. Yesterday she sat in the car, and after a moment she said (and this is a direct quote): “Mama, would you mind turning on the AC, please?” It may sound like a simple request, but it still astounds me that she can ask for these simple things.
She also has shown a great deal of initiative. Earlier this week when I dropped both girls off, I put the car in park and waited for a teacher to help them out of their car seats. The teacher hesitated, thinking the girls could work their seatbelt buckles.
“They don’t know how to open their seat belts by themselves,” I told the teacher.
“Oh, they don’t?”
“Oh, I thought they did…,” she trailed off.
I didn’t address either of the girls during this quick exchange, but when I picked Three up a few hours later she insisted on trying to buckle her seatbelt by herself. I waited and let her try it, and every single time after that since she’s gotten in the car she has wanted to put on her own seatbelt. And I let her no matter how late we could possibly get by me waiting an extra five minutes. I really think the impetus for the sudden interest in her seat belt (something she happily let a grown-up buckle before that day) came from the teacher’s casual remark. And I’m grateful for that three-year-old determination once again.
It may sound silly, but both girls even look taller to me in the last two weeks. I’m exultant and relieved that they enjoy school so much and look forward to every day of it. Positive changes such as these make me excited about any more changes yet to come this year.