There is just so much to look forward to…

Recently, videos with audio about “only having little kids for four years” have been making the rounds. As someone who loves the baby/toddler/preschool years, it definitely tugs at my heartstrings.

But.

I realize those years aren’t everyone’s jam. Even if they are- the last two years have definitely been outside anything remotely resembling a typical experience of those years and the last thing anyone needs at this point is more guilt/anxiety piling on. No one should be feeling deficient if they haven’t loved every second of an exceptionally difficult time.

Also- they may only be little for four years, but they’re still ours and there are many years following those four. I wrote the following for submissions late last year, it never went anywhere, but it seems perfect for this moment….

Over a year ago I had a rare day where my eldest had a day off from school, but my youngest still had preschool. We were both excited to have some one on one time and decided coffee and hot cocoa at our favorite coffee place was in order once we dropped off his little sister.

On our way to our table, I saw an acquaintance and stopped to say a quick hello and I introduced my eight year old. This friend had only seen me at the coffee house with my three year old and hadn’t realized I had an older child as well. She was there with her husband enjoying a kid-free breakfast date. It was the third week of December, we chatted for a second about the craziness of the holiday season and the additional challenges posed by the very strange year, then my son and I and I said a quick, “enjoy your breakfast!’ and went to our table.

We got settled, debated the merits of different baked goods, made our decisions, then were quickly absorbed in enjoying our treats. We were also enjoying our conversation. My son was excitedly telling me about a kid’s history book he had finished and we started talking about if we would have liked living in Tudor England. (The lack of coffee in that place and time had me down as a HARD no, in case anyone is wondering…) Inwardly I marveled at how different a coffee outing looks with this child than it did several years ago. My purse only had my wallet, keys, and our masks in it. A variety of little toys to keep him busy, along with a phone with a few favorite episodes in the event of total meltdown, are no longer required. Now I’m with a (not so) small human who is gaining more knowledge by the moment and eager to discuss and share his thoughts.

The baby and toddler years are my time to shine. It has been my favorite phase so far. I would often sideeye parents who talked the golden years of parenting being when you have mid-older elementary children. At the time I could not believe anything could ever replace or compare to having a tiny body snuggled up to you, or a sticky little hand in yours. As time has moved on I’m realizing more and more, it is not a comparison- it is a continuation. We sat there for almost an hour talking about his book, his friends, his plan for the rest of the holiday break. I realized that all of that baby and toddler time had brought us here and rather than feeling wistful like I usually would- it felt like an amazing gift. It was quite the realization over coffee and an amazing scone.

Towards the end of our outing, my friend got up to leave with her husband and stopped by our table. I expected to exchange quick holiday wishes and hopes for a better New Year, but she surprised me. My friend smiled and mentioned she had been feeling a bit wistful with her children all in full time school. In her smile and her eyes I saw a kindred spirit, another mom who had adored the baby and toddler years and was sad they were definitely at an end. I smiled a smile that I’m sure mirrored her own, and was about to say something about how fast it goes or other cliched phrase, feeling that pull towards those days of little ones even as I was truly enjoying and marveling over this outing with my big kid. Before I can say anything else, my friend added,

“I hope you don’t think I was eavesdropping, but I so enjoyed listening to you two talking. It was so much fun to hear your son talk about his book and it makes me realize even though I miss having little ones, there is just so much to look forward to.”

Then we exchanged wishes for a good holiday and Happy New Year, finished our breakfast and headed about our to-do list and errands. I thought about what my friend had said for the rest of the day and about the realizations I had as well. Then things got busy and it drifted to the back of my mind.

This past fall, as my now- four year old started reception; full-time school where we live, I was more and more likely to lament the fact that we are really and truly out of the baby/ tiny kid phase at our house. I think wistfully of chubby arms, gummy smiles, and unsteady steps more than I care to admit. I hadn’t thought about this coffee date and my friend’s comments a half a year ago until the other day and it stopped me in my tracks…

This may be a time of big changes and transitions. It may be the time where I have to say goodbye to the baby and toddler years forever.

But.

There really is just so much to look forward to.

If you also saw a only little for four years video and it made you pause, yes, we only have little ones for four years, but there’s a lot of wonderful to come after that.

A Word for Teachers…

With.

For.

It’s amazing how seven letters in two different combinations can convey meanings that are worlds apart. These two words can have a massive impact in our mindset in the current situation, especially when it comes to education.

For example, fill in the blank in this sentence with each word and see how it changes:

My child’s teacher works ____________ me to educate and prepare him/her for the future.

Wow, right?

To me, the difference between these two little words is a not- insignificant factor in the current debates about the 2020-21 school year. When things started to go sideways back in March, I wrote about how teachers were doing their absolute best to make things work on the fly. The vast majority of educators are still doing their best to prepare to deliver meaningful, impactful lessons by whatever means are available.

Summer work is not foreign to teachers; if you want to see someone laugh hysterically until tears stream down their face, tell a teacher it must be so nice to lay around and not do any work all summer. This year, most educators would most likely tell you they’ve worked harder and spent more time on school preparations than they have in any other summer of their professional lives.

If you’re going to use a four letter word when thinking about the start of the school year, let it be with.

Teachers are still lacking in all of the information and resources needed as the start of school in the US looms closer every day. School districts are getting conflicting guidance and being constantly threatened with penalties when they can’t achieve the impossible (there are only so many ways to arrange a classroom, and no one can magically poof thousands of extra square feet into existence). They just want every student in their charge to be successful and to do their jobs well.

They want everyone to be safe.

Teachers need to stay healthy, they need to feel safe to do their jobs effectively, and they need to feel like their families are as safe as possible in this bizarre and scary time.

Just like all of us.

A lot of the debates I see raging on Facebook parenting boards are a symptom of how our society has been viewing children and education for quite some time. I have a lot of thoughts about how the horrendous cost of childcare, and insanely insufficient parental leave results in some parents viewing school as a service that is bought and paid for. I also have very definite opinions on the fact that our society has become one where parents are dependent on school (especially elementary) to account for a significant portion, if not all, of their childcare due to lack of support. I’m not going to shout from that soapbox now, as I feel there’s so much to be said that can/has/will be said by others with much more expertise on the topic.

All parents are going to have to make really difficult choices in the coming weeks. Information will be considered, lists will be made, options will be weighed again- often in the middle of a sleepless night. We continue to find ourselves in the land of trying to settle on the best worst choice.

It is easier if we’re all in it together.

Will all of our decisions look the same?

Nope.

But. If we can just keep that one little word- with– in front of us as we go into the coming weeks, it might make the impossible a bit easier. Approaching this as partners, rather than expecting someone to do something for us will get us further.

Our schools and teachers are ready to work with us to figure out how we’re going to make this all happen. Even when governments aren’t working with them on basics such as funding to put new regulations in place. Seriously, think for a second about what happens when you tell your kid to take one pump of hand sanitizer. Now multiply it 20, then multiply that by 5 times a day. Even the economy size bottles aren’t going to last long, and it’s not cheap. That’s before factoring in bigger ticket items like plexiglass, extra personnel, transportation concerns,… the list just keeps going.

Let’s prepare to work with all school personnel to make whatever variation of school is going to start in the coming weeks work. It is going to be more stress in a time where stress has felt unrelenting.

Will it always be pretty? No. Are there going to be glitches and days where everyone wants to just wave the white flag? Almost certainly. Is the school year going to look like anyone’s first choice for the ideal way to educate children? Bahahahaha- of course not! It’s 2020, first choice hasn’t been part of our vocabulary for months now, silly rabbit.

If we work with our teachers, we will still get maintain our first priority- educating our children and preparing them for the future. We can minimize the impact of this insane time in their school career by approaching it as a partnership. By working with our schools and not expecting them to work for us, we stand a better chance of making this work the best way we can.

With. Just focus on with- four letters make all the difference in the mindset we approach this with.

If you need to scream some other four letter words in the closet, into your pillow, alone in the car while dealing with this, that’s okay. I’ll be there with you, a lot of educators will too- In fact, they could probably teach us some amazing new ones.

And please, wear a mask.