yellow day

September 22nd, 2010

Discipline in Kaitlyn’s classroom involves a stoplight color system: Have a good day and you’re green, misbehave and you’re yellow, misbehave more and you’re red. Just a few days in her new classroom and I got a phone call from her teacher: Kaitlyn had a yellow day. Two in a row. After “flicking” another student with her finger. Two days in a row. And topping it off by sticking out her tongue to a little boy. We had a long talk with Kaitlyn and seemed to have put a quick end to the little missteps.

Till today.

I picked Kaitlyn up at her bus stop and she climbed in the car to go to tutoring. She said she had a great day. Then she said there was something she needed to tell me. She’d had a yellow day.

She told me a little boy had pulled up her dress. And that was why she got in trouble. No way, I said. There is more to this story. Way more even. “What did you do?” I asked. Kaitlyn insisted I guess. Hit him? No. Kick him? No. Flick him? No. Pinch? No. Spit on him? No. Stick out your tongue? No. I felt like I’d exhausted all my choices. “You’re forgetting one!” she said. I insisted she confess. “I pulled his pants down.” How could I have left that off my list of guesses?

Why didn’t she just get the teacher? There’s, of course, a good reason. The class was in line to go in from recess and she didn’t want to loose her place in line.

Everyone I tell this to laughs and says they understand her response and don’t see it as really that bad. After all, isn’t it good to stand up for yourself? And I do rather agree. Except that pulling down some kid’s pants isn’t met with enthusiasm by her teacher.

It’s hard to talk to your daughter about the severity of her crime when you aren’t so sure it really is one, either.

one of the hardest days I’ve had to face

September 7th, 2010

Dropping Kaitlyn off her first day of school was nothing compared to this morning. Her first day of school, she was three years old. We’d just moved to France and we’d stopped by the school to make sure they had all the papers they needed from us and to figure out when she would start. Kaitlyn sat down and refused to get up.

Fast forward four years.

Kaitlyn’s attendance at her school in France did not mean she got an education. I had my suspicions the first two years when the teacher’s assistant never bothered to learn how to spell Kaitlyn’s name. Which, really, is just plain rude. But I thought it’s just pre-kindergarden, it’s not that big a deal. It’s a language thing. I shouldn’t have let it go. Then when she got to the level of learning to read (in French), I was so caught up in making sure she knew how to speak French… shuttling her to extra French lessons several times a week… I didn’t pay enough attention to her English lessons. I also assumed that the English teacher would be giving them lessons at the same level as their American counterparts would be receiving back at home. Well, we all know what happens when you assume, don’t we?

If I could go back and deliver any message to Kaitlyn’s English teacher from the last four years, it would be this: Change your lesson plan. It is not on par with the grades here. And if a child is lagging behind, tell her parents. Don’t mention it in passing the days before they repatriate. It’s too late then. Way too late. (Yes, this is what happened to us.)

That’s how we got to today. The day I took Kaitlyn to school to move to her new classroom. In the first grade.

Last Friday, her teacher and principal met with Bill and I. They outlined for us how terribly behind she is. How much extra help they could offer her, but how much time that meant she wouldn’t be in her classroom learning the stuff the other second graders were learning. She’d basically be a second grader doing first grade work. That was when the principal said what Bill and I had been quietly debating all summer: she would perhaps be better off in the first grade.
I cried. Kaitlyn’s teacher cried. To Bill’s credit, he did not and has not since then said “I told you so.” (I probably would not have been able to resist.) But in the end, I had to agree. In the short and the long run, it’s best for Kaitlyn to take a step back in order to be able to run the distance. So to speak.

This morning Kaitlyn didn’t take the school bus. I drove her to school. The principal greeted us. Her new teacher smiled at me. Her old teacher came and walked Kaitlyn and I down the hallway. She pointed out Kaitlyn’s new classroom. She took Kaitlyn into her old classroom where she presented her with all the stuff she won’t need anymore. It reminded me of a funeral where the military presents the widow with the flag that had been draped on her husband’s coffin. (Ok, so I’m a little dramatic. But it’s what I thought of.) Then Kaitlyn went to her new classroom. She poured her supplies into her new supply box. Her new teacher said she’d get her seat when class started. I walked her down to the gym where all the kids gather each morning. They line up by class. I knew that Kaitlyn would sit with her new class and everyone in her old class and everyone she knows from the neighborhood would see her sitting there. And the thought of those other kids pointing and whispering or, God forbid, making fun of her… I had to fight the urge to burst into tears. Then her new teacher came in and introduced her to a Cate in her class… the girls sat down and started talking. Smiling. No obvious problems. So the teacher waved at me and I left.

I made it all the way home before crying again. I know what we did was the best thing to do. I regret what we did in France but I can’t change that now. Now all I can do is hope that the cruelty of children doesn’t play out in the next few hours and days for Kaitlyn.

enough of this self pity!

September 1st, 2010

I’ve been wallowing in everything that’s not going exactly right and moping around and eating raw cookie dough to compensate for it and feeling generally miserable (probably because of the cookie dough). It’s time for this little pity party to end.

See, I got to thinking. There is actually a lot to be happy about. Maybe not hoot and holler and do cartwheels in the street happy. But happy. And to make myself stop moping and eating raw cookie dough and feeling generally miserable, I am going to make myself list out what’s fine. Or maybe even good.

I’ll start with the phone call I just took. Our furniture is in! They can even deliver it on Saturday! Yippee! No more old uncomfortable couch! No more fighting for a spot on said couch! And maybe getting the couch in the basement will spark Bill to take the plunge and buy the stuff he needs to set up his movie viewing down there. I am so excited, I’m sitting here smiling like a goofball.

We won’t be able to sit on our new furniture and watch tv unless Bill can get that fixed. But is not being able to watch tv really that horrible? This week while he’s been gone, I haven’t had to fight with Kaitlyn over watching tv during dinner. She’s actually had to talk to me. And it’s actually been pleasant. Yes. I miss the stupid tv. But I can still watch the one in my room. And since I tend to fall asleep watching anyway, this works out pretty well.

Kaitlyn is not behind in math. She is not struggling with math. She is bringing home papers with perfect and near perfect scores. She is embracing the challenge of the timed test (which always left me in tears the night before struggling to study for it) and this week improved her score by 50%. Holy. Cow. That is amazing. And that was before we even started the nightly flash cards.

Kaitlyn is not frustrated with school. Even though she is behind in reading, she is not letting that get to her. This morning when the school bus driver skipped us and I pointed out that the bus would not be picking her up, Kaitlyn said “but can’t I go to school?” And she meant it. She wanted to go. And driving her was ok. I got to see her go in and smile and feel so comfortable at the school she’s only known for two weeks now. She walked in like she’s been attending for two years.

Frustrated by some of Kaitlyn’s less than pleasant tendencies, I read a book on parenting. Among it’s suggestions: raise the bar. Expect more and you’ll get more. So I did. And it’s true. Last night she made me set an alarm clock in her room for her to use to wake up. And this morning, she got up, hit the Scooby Doo head so he’d stop barking and she got out of bed. So, she laid back down after going to the bathroom. She didn’t go back to sleep and getting her out from the simply-lounging-listening-to-the-radio position was far easier than the sound asleep position I generally battle. She’s generally more pleasant and more prone to actually do what she’s asked to. Without the eye rolling and moaning that used to go with it. And boy has that all made a huge difference with Bill gone this week. Huge.

I haven’t lost any weight since starting to go to exercise classes (ahem… raw cookie dough) but I am going. And feeling better. And enjoying the classes (mostly). And meeting people. And making friends.

When I vent to my blog, I tend to forget people actually read it. Although that is the point. In the last couple of days I was reminded of that when friends sent me notes of encouragement they thought I could use after they read it. They have no idea what that means to me. (Not that they read it but that they care enough to reach out and make sure I’m really ok. Maybe they’ll know now if they keep reading.) It was so good to be reminded that the strange life that is that of an ex-pat doesn’t just flash back to normal when you repatriate. And that others have gone through it and that same support I found in France, I can find here. A lesson I thought I’d learned there was that if you need help, ask for it. I’d started to forget it. Or at least discard its importance. I even consciously thought about this the other day. Still, it took friends reaching out to snap me out of the “I can do it all myself” two-year-old-ish approach to life.

We’re all healthy. (Colds don’t count.) We have friends. We’re close enough to see family more often now. And I’m not stuck at work covering Hurricane Earl.

uh… forget anything?

September 1st, 2010

I have to be honest. The school year has not gotten off to a great start. I want it to have. I like to pretend that it has. Especially around Kaitlyn. I don’t want my little black cloud to float over her head, too. But, there it is.

Really, this morning was sort of the icing on the cake of a crappy week. And it’s only Wednesday. Leading up to hump day, we had: waking up at 4am Monday when Bill did so he could catch a flight that he missed (he caught a later one), going to turbo kick with a headache only to sweat it out in a room with a broken a/c, the tv in the family room stopped working yesterday. That’s not to mention last night’s homework. It took us two hours and we still didn’t get to it all. (I made Kaitlyn finish the last bit this morning. I am mean.)

Then came this morning. It was raining, so I drove Kaitlyn to the bus stop. Since the bus comes not especially near our house. When the bus was leaving the neighborhood just before us, the kids all huddled at their stop. And the bus zipped past our neighborhood. Again. The driver has made this mistake before. Last time the kids were on the bus and I can only assume they pointed out their desire to go home. Today there was no one there to point out her goof up. So she just skipped us. Never realized her mistake. Never came back to get the kids. Sitting in the car fuming, I called the school district’s main office. The woman took my name and number and said she’d “try to find the transportation director.” He is yet to call me back. Another parent who called actually got to talk to someone in that department and was told the driver said she just forgot and hopes not to do it again. I’ll just say, I’m glad she’s not a doctor.

I realize there are far bigger problems in the world. I’ve faced them. But right now, this week, with Bill gone, this was just almost more than I could take. Maybe a better response from the school district (like any response) would have helped.

Now I’m going to go to the Y to lift weights and hope that the a/c is fixed.

game on!

August 25th, 2010

I have no idea what came over me today. Instead of returning Kaitlyn’s overdue library books and admiring plants at the nursery you pass on the way there… I sat at home and made a board game to help Kaitlyn with her studying.

First, let me say that I deserve no credit for having a clever idea. I read about it in a magazine that’s usually filled with crafts I’ll never make and cakes that Chef Duff would find challenging.

I made four stacks of cards. Yellow are spelling words; blue are reading words; green have math problems; red are the sillies. Because I figure I’ll be lucky if she even tries the game, there has to be something fun in it. So I made a stack of cards that have instructions like “hop on one foot 20 times” or “do 12 sit ups” or “wiggle your ears.” I also drew out a board with colored squares and a few roll again blocks or jump to such-and-such a category spots.

The one thing I knew would be a problem but I have no solution for is this. Who is she supposed to play with? Even I can spell the words on her list and do the math problems without using my fingers even. Not that she can quiz me on my spelling since she can’t read the words to me. After a while, she gave up on even trying and just told me that I’d have to guess the word. With no clues. While I wrote the cards and know her spelling list and could probably manage to guess, I lobbed out wild tries just so it would be her turn again.

We actually played two rounds of the game. I think she might play it again. I think it might work. A little bit. At this point, it can’t hurt!

tough question

August 25th, 2010

This morning over her bowl of Cheerios, Kaitlyn asked me what she’d done to make her daddy so upset with her last night. She didn’t understand what had happened or where her mistake was. Her hurt was as clear as the blue sky outside.

I had to explain to her that he is upset because she is behind her classmates in school. And that while it isn’t a competition, she is expected to be able to do more than she can right now. And that we aren’t mad at her. And that we’re here to help her. I hope she understands.

sometimes, reality bites

August 24th, 2010

“I guess this is the depressing part of repatriation.” That is how Bill summarized Back to School night at Kaitlyn’s school.

It wasn’t because of his wife’s Marsha Brady-like fascination with signing up for every activity. (Which I didn’t do, by the way. I just entertained the idea long enough for my senses to take over again and make my hand drop the pen.)

It wasn’t the half hour spent crammed into a tiny chair at “Camp Learn-A-Lot.” That’s what Kaitlyn’s teacher is calling her class this year. Every class has a theme. I didn’t bother to check out the others on my way through the hallway.

The hallway.

That was the problem for Bill.

Hanging outside each classroom: the requisite variations on “what I did this summer” projects done by kids in the first four days of school.

Bill had gone to the first session with Kaitlyn’s teacher while she stuck with me around the sign up sheets.

When the principal announced it was time to wrap up session one and head to session two, Kaitlyn led me to her classroom. That’s where we found Bill standing in the hallway. Stunned. I mean, he looked stunned. A mixture of anger and frustration and sadness. Not realizing she was pointing to the very thing stirring up this cocktail of troubles inside her dad, Kaitlyn proudly pointed to her construction paper “sleeping bag.” Decorated on the outside with, I suppose, things she likes. I remember seeing a peace sign before she opened it up to reveal the utter nonsense written, no, scribbled inside. All the other sleeping bags were filled with neatly written sentences. That made sense. Shakespeare isn’t among her classmates. But all Bill could see was that his little girl had completely missed the mark on the assignment. Because she obviously simply couldn’t do it. “I wrote all the words I could think of!” she proudly declared. This did not help.

Bill tried to talk to me right there about his frustration, but to me that seemed like the wrong place for the discussion and I suggested we talk about it at home. So he and Kaitlyn headed off while I attended session #2 with the teacher. Little did I know that while I was stuffed into Kaitlyn’s Kaitlyn sized chair listening to the speech about second grade, Bill was home stewing over what he’d seen.

This is not to say that I wasn’t upset. Quite the contrary. I nearly burst into tears sitting there. And not because of the chair. As I walked up at the end to introduce myself to the smiling Mrs Philips, I had to take a moment to compose myself and work to keep my voice from cracking. And it may have, I don’ t really know for sure. Talking to the teacher made me feel better. But I still wanted to cry when I got to my car. It’s an incredibly difficult thing to learn that your child is struggling and is so far behind where you think she should be. (And where the education system thinks she should be, too.) It’s hard to separate the achievement from the ability. The actions from the intelligence. And it’s hard to separate what you as a parent should have done from your own feelings of self worth. And, man, that sucks.

getting involved… slowly

August 23rd, 2010

Went to my first PTO meeting. I figure I should get involved in Kaitlyn’s school. Partially because she so desperately wanted me to volunteer last year and I was just plain too chicken to commit to trying to understand her teacher and her classmates. And partially because I figure since I’m not working, I should do it. So the moms who are trying to juggle work and life don’t also have tons of school duties piled on, just because they aren’t new.

The meeting started with everyone introducing herself. (There were two men there: one dad and the principal) And 97% of the group was the mom of a kindergartener. It sort of troubles me that the parents of older children who’ve been at the school a couple of years don’t feel the need to participate. Hopefully they were just busy with sports or something. But I get the feeling that this is how the meetings go. New people show up at first. Then fewer and fewer. Until the organizers of different events are just begging for volunteers any way they can, since none are at the meetings offering up help. Not that I actually volunteered to do anything. The sign ups for helping out in the classrooms are tomorrow night at Back to School night. I’m holding out for that. I figure helping bake cookies or buy crepe paper for a couple of classroom parties is a good way to ease into the whole volunteering at the school thing.

The meeting included a treasurer’s report. Which, frankly, I didn’t quite follow. I’ll blame the poor quality of her print out. The school counselor talked about her role with the students. We heard about a school art project/sale that they desperately need someone to take charge of. There will be a culture-fest during which I do not plan to do anything French. (I was sitting there thinking that after nearly 4 years in the country, I have sadly little to offer up. Unless I can find a raclette machine. I could make raclette. And paper fish for the kids to stick on each other’s backs.) Then a woman with an undefined role tried to give a demonstration of a new volunteer organizing website they want to use. And she wasted, er, spent easily ten or fifteen minutes trying to get this site to call up what she wanted to on the computer screen for us to see. I nearly stood up and yelled “Just describe it! We’ve got imaginations!” I kept my mouth shut. So by the time they got to the part where one gives input and ideas, well, we were out of time. Suggestion for next meeting: start with that. It seems the most important.

I suppose I will keep going. And eventually I won’t be able to bite my tongue and I’ll end up in charge of something. That’s usually what I do.

Wish me luck getting to the sign up sheets early enough tomorrow to get to volunteer for something good!

unfounded fears?

August 23rd, 2010

During her extra-long-super-extended summer Kaitlyn admitted to a couple of fears about starting a new school… in a new country.

First, she said she was afraid she wouldn’t make friends. This is a child who will talk to anyone. And does. She is only shy around adults. And even then it’s temporary. I do think that making friends is harder than she’d probably hoped it would be. Saturday, the PTO held an annual ice cream party on the playground. Kaitlyn was so worked up about going. So excited about showing off her new school to Mom and Dad. And once we got there, she clung to us. Said kids were being mean. Said she didn’t have any friends. I don’t know any of her classmates. For all I know, she really was the only kid from her class who was there. Still, I imagine that making new friends isn’t going to be as difficult as she feared. Or as she tried making it out to be Saturday. Give it time. I mean, she still can’t tell me the names of the children who sit next to her in class. It will take time.

Second, she was terrified of the lunches. Everyone had told her that the lunches would be gross. Horrible. Especially in comparison to what she’d become used to. Think about it: she used to eat four course meals served to her at the table. It’s been a long time since I’ve eaten a public school lunch but I’m pretty sure I can imagine what it’s like: a long line to get a meal that’s in a little tin like you get on an airplane and about as good.

Her first day, I packed Kaitlyn’s lunch. Mac and cheese. Tomatoes. Yogurt drink. Sugar cookies and a cute little note. At the bus stop, an older boy said “Are you crazy? It’s chicken nugget day!” (Far cry from what her fellow students could have said to her last year. “Are you crazy? It’s roasted veal stew day!”) When she got home that day, I was not thrilled to see she hadn’t touched her mac and cheese. She’d been too nervous to eat breakfast. How did she not crumble into a hungry mass of tears by the afternoon? After a while, I spotted some weird stains on her shirt. Didn’t look like paint. Dark red, but not blood. That? Oh, that’s barbeque sauce. From the chicken nuggets. Kaitlyn had decided to buy her lunch that day. And supplement it with the tomatoes and yogurt she’d brought. She bought her lunch the next day (pizza. She didn’t notice it was whole wheat) and today (ravioli with meat sauce). I asked her if the food is good and she said it certainly is and that it must be because her school has hired French chefs to cook American food. I don’t know if she really likes the food, or if she just likes using her little plastic debit card to pay for it.

not off to a great start

August 19th, 2010

Kaitlyn came home from her first full day of second grade extremely grumpy.

The moment she stepped off the bus, she smiled and said “Mommy! I had a great day!” And it went downhill from there. Quickly.

First, she explained to me how lunch works. You pick a hot or a cold lunch. I said, “so the hot lunch is the lunch you buy there?” No. She swears it isn’t. I don’t know what she thinks the hot lunch means. Does she think they have a row of microwaves for kids to use? I can’t get her to answer me. She just yells at me that I don’t understand and slams her little hand on the table. Bottom line is, all she’s eaten all day is tomatoes, a yogurt drink and a cookie. She didn’t touch the macaroni and cheese I packed for her. This is not good. This is a problem. Someone should have helped her. I’m not there. I’ve never been to her elementary school. But I cannot imagine that she’s got this quite right. Yes, she’s used to being served her lunch like she’s at a restaurant. But she’s a kid. She’s adaptable. Isn’t she?

Then I took out the one sheet of paper in her folder. It was a page titled “get to know new friends in second grade.” There were a few rows of boxes and each box had a description like “has a pet dog” or “is an only child” or “wearing something blue today.” A couple boxes have names scribbled in them. A couple seem to have the word “no” in them. She asked me to read it to her. I said we could read it together. This initiated a complete meltdown. She hollered that I don’t understand that this wasn’t a reading assignment and that I must be crazy and she stomped off.. stomping all the way up the stairs and through the hallway. And I must be the one who is crazy? Once she calmed down, I asked her to explain to me how this worked in class. How did she know whose name to put in the box? How did she know what each box said? Because certainly “has a dog” is something a second grader would be expected to be able to read. I still have absolutely NO IDEA how this exercise worked in class. NONE. Mostly, I know that I am apparently crazy for even asking.

I was so looking forward to Kaitlyn going to school in the US. So looking forward to understanding her work and being able to relate to the classroom experience. But so far, I haven’t understood a thing. The one thing I do understand is I’m already afraid she is in over her head. And it’s only second grade.