Thursday, October 11, 2007

There's no On-Star for the Olympic Mommy Highway

I believe in preschool, in general. I sent my kids to preschool. In fact, Patience seriously benefited from it, and Persistence is currently enrolled in preschool.

Believe it or not, I've gotten criticized for sending my kids to preschool:

"Oh, it's not really school at that age, how ridiculous!"

Oh yes it is, school is a place you go to learn things. My kids learn things at this place they go, which is literally called A School.

"Kids don't need to learn anything before kindergarten. They just need to have fun."

Yes. And no. I actually think kids benefit from preschool, but I don't think it's for everyone or required. My kids enjoy learning (anything and everything) and the right preschool can be fun. Some parents and kids can accomplish this at home, but others, like me, appreciate a school for this.

"You just want time away from your kids. It's not really to benefit them; it's really to benefit you."

Here's the fallacy of the excluded middle, friends: it's not per se mutually exclusive that both the kids and I benefit. You betcha I enjoy and appreciate the time I have sans kids. I can Get Stuff Done, such as work, errands, chores and more. I have even taken a bit of that time for fun and socialization, such as lunching with the ladies. Meanwhile, my kids have the benefit of learning something other than what I teach from someone other than me, and finding out how to interact with other people, in an organized way.

That last sentence is the second biggest dilemma I have in parenting. (The first I explained in my interview from Slouching Mom.)

I want my kids free of the shackles of society (blah blah blah raised by a Boomer in the free-thinking seventies blah blah blah you can do anything you want, you deserve all happiness, must pursue happiness, all about what you want...and making yourself happy, being free, finding yourself blah blah blah) but living over here left of center as I am, I have figured out that you need Tools and must be able to function within the society if you (a) want to be successful (in any way, not just monetary) and (b) be happy and comfortable.

I want my kids to have Tools and be able to function successfully in the culture where they live.

Without being corrupted by it or a slave to it.

I know.

Eat my cake and have it too.

Geez louise, ambitious much, mom?

So, one way I am trying to straddle the "teach the spirit without breaking it and give my kids tools for success in life without ruining them and turning them into corporate drones" fence is preschool.

I think the right preschool can be a great experience for everyone.

The wrong one can be a disaster.

I had an Extremely Negative School experience and in general presuppose that Schools Suck and typically so do the teachers within them. Sorry, I know, that's not nice, and probably ruffles feathers and hurts feelings. I am the daughter of and sister to teachers. I have tremendous respect for the profession. Just not always for the people who practice it. So, sadly, as a result of being once bitten (about a thousand times) I am twice shy (to say the least).

Therefore, as you can imagine, I was extremely nervous about putting Patience in school. Am. Always will be. Will watch the school like a hawk. Or a Mama Bear.

I needed a school that would (and no, I am not kidding, this is my honest and true Extremely Self-Important High-Maintenance goal list for school):

* foster her independence while teaching her how to interact kindly with others

* encourage her love of learning and teach her all she needs to know while allowing her to pursue her personal interests and things she wants to know

* help her understand and respect that people learn at different paces and have different abilities, encourage respect for that, teach her to work with these different abilities and paces, but also allow her to keep her own pace

* have a high expectation of respect and courtesy and a low tolerance for cruelty while teaching kids that mean happens and how to deal with it constructively

* and so on in that vein. I think you get the picture.

Initially, it seemed that Montessori was the way to go, as my list and their list seemed to pretty well coincide. So, we found this fantabulous school on recommendation from several neighbors in our neighboring North Shore town. We enrolled Patience and everyone was extremely happy.

We decided Montessori was king.

Thus, when we moved, we of course sought out a replacement Montessori school. And learned that in Texas Montessori is something else entirely with little to nothing to do with actual Montessori.

School 1 was Religious Boot Camp for Mindless Church Drones. So were Schools 2, 3 and 4. We skipped these.

School 5 was Academic Boot Camp for High Achievers (aka Mommy Olympic Preparatory Academy). And we chose this school.

Let me back up. Somehow, somewhere along the way our goals for "happy and well-adjusted" got confused with "make her the best and the brightest."

In other words, I accidentally took the wrong on-ramp or something when I moved and found myself on the Mommy Olympic Highway. There I was, an old broken in sedan cruising along with sleek Mercedes and Lexus SUVs.

I thought it was right. Everyone told me I needed to give my child An Edge. Everyone said I needed to get my child going, the earlier you teach the better they learn. She needed to be Learning Important Skills, academic ones, such as phonemics and pre-math. I didn't want to Waste Her Potential, Hold Her Back, not provide what she needed, did I?

So we put her in the Montessori school that promised to Dig Deep and bring our her Ultimate Potential, encourage her Best and Brightest. All at her own Individual Pace, of course.

I wasn't sure, but my husband was. He was sold, hook line and sinker into the philosophy of Academia for Tots.

"She'll get to do finger-painting?" I queried, anxiously, "She loves art, loves painting. And acting, like playacting with the life centers, dolls and kitchens and all that."

"Of course children can play, if they want to," the headmistress said sternly, "But of course we encourage them in learning what they really need to know with our math, science and reading centers."

It didn't help that a relative told me that she didn't really think Patience was stupid just because she wasn't reading yet, at three.

"Just because all of the other children in our family are reading by 2, I don't think Patience is slow," she assured me, protesting too much, "She has other talents, like she seems to sing well. You can do things with music. Of course." She assured me, protesting too much, and trailing off at the end, no doubt picturing for Patience a life of poverty and starvation in a garret somewhere, with dyed hair and tattoos, too many men in Emo outfits, and drugs. As if that would be bad, which, in her mind, in this family, yeah, probably it would be.

I know the flack I took for being a Liberal Arts major, as if that was synonymous with Loser. My husband and I are considered the Slow Ones, in need of Extra Assistance, because we clearly can't operate on our own, being Artistic and thus Not As Bright as the Rest. Clearly, then, our kids, must be a Little Slower, too. (Never mind our own success, achievement, ability to go off and live well far away and so forth.) (But I'm not bitter.) (About being considered the Dumb One.) (At all.) (At least never on Saturdays. When I have a mango mojito and enjoy the mindlessness of my own stupidity.) (LOL.)

I steamed silently, thinking that my daughter was plenty bright and doing fine. But underneath, I worried: was I not doing enough, not teaching and encouraging enough, not pushing her in the directions she needed to go...was I allowing her too much freedom, slacking off, goofing off, did she need more?

Everyone around me seemed to assert yes, emphatically.

So I got off the feeder road and got on the Olympic Mom Highway, enrolled her in this school that promised to make her all she needed to be.

(Are you hearing the ominous music swelling?)

Patience nearly suffered a total and utter breakdown. She came home and cried every day. She acted out, had tantrums, slept too much or too little. I got increasingly worried. I talked to the school.

"She's doing great!" they assured me briskly, "Achieving things so well and so fast we wanted to talk to you about moving her up a level."

"You mean, put her in with the four year olds?" I asked, anxiously.

"Absolutely," they told me, "She can function at that level now. She needs more challenge and stimulus."

Except in my mommy heart I knew she couldn't function at that level. As bright as my girl was, as advanced as her little brain might be, her emotions were behind. She kept up the Good Kid act at school and fell apart every day at home. I thought she needed less challenge and stimulus.

So, I withdrew her from school.

We sat at home, together, for a little while as I pondered what to do with her. She missed school---her old school in Massachusetts---because she really did enjoy the extra challenge, stimulation and socialization of preschool...when it's geared for toddlers rather than a race of superhumans aka very small adults who simply look like children.

I explained my dilemma to a new friend, who encouraged me to come visit her kids' preschool.

"It's very loving, lots of fun, the kids love it," she promised, "They encourage parents to be there and participate, and the staff really just loves kids, just wants kids to be kids."

It sounded like Heaven.

There was luckily a spot available for Patience, and I enrolled her. I explained to the teachers and director that she had been Traumatized and was slow to warm anyway, so we (she and I) might need a little extra help. They gladly agreed. Over the course of our first month there, Patience and I both began to relax and settle in.

At this new school, I rediscovered my confidence that children will learn all they need to, at their own pace, and if you pay attention to their cues, you can see when they need a little more or a little less.

I remembered that "well-adjusted" (high EQ) can serve much better than "best and brightest" (high IQ).

I figured out that really, what mattered most was that Patience knew how to go about, do and be herself, as happily as possible. What she really needs to know is who she is, what she enjoys, who other people are, what they enjoy, how to have fun, how to be herself and get along well with others, how to be curious and learn, how to be balanced, how to feel challenged or scared or worried and make it through anyway, how to fail, how to to be the best her possible, not The Best by some arbitrary standard.

So, we exited the Mommy Olympic Highway, set back to a slower speed on the feeder road, and you know what? It's nice over here. It's the scenic route, and we enjoy that.

It's not hard to get lost, as we did, for a while. No maps, no On-Star in this parenting gig, nothing to suggest when to get on the highway or when to get off...nothing other than my own judgment and instincts, and my children's cues, that is. So you know, maybe, after all, there is a guidance system here: us.

Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
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Suz said...

The part about a high EQ sometimes serving one better than a high IQ? So true. It's what I want so much for the boys, not necessarily to achieve at a high level, but to be happy, well-adjusted child (and adult).

Mary G said...

"my confidence that children will learn all they need to, at their own pace, and if you pay attention to their cues, you can see when they need a little more or a little less."
Julie, Right ON! You have this mothering thing nailed, IMHO.
Of course, you can't change what the kids are, do, need. I had one that needed preschool stimulus (they start at 4 in Ontario) and one that would have suffered in a group at that age. I had one that learned what she wanted to learn about everything on offer, and worried about the marks the day of the exam (if then). I had another who needed to get the best mark that she could fight for, who studied obsessively. I swear, a lot of this is genetic. I have two very successful adult daughters, chalk and cheese, different kinds of success. One is a university professor,a biologist, which impresses the hell out of a lot of people it shouldn't. She loves what she does, which impresses me.
They went to their neighbourhood, run of the mill, schools. I never pushed (although Miss Last Minute could have used some pushing, perhaps). I deliberately and firmly taught them stuff like good manners and how to be successful with adults, as I believe these are really basic tools. So, yes, I believe that what you are mulling over is just what P and P need, because you are considering them first.
How I love the stuff you write.

kim said...

Amen sister! And you are so right, always, always trust yourself and your kids. I worried about the lack of "edge" too until I started thinking about the end game.

Lawyer Mama said...

Wow. If you're the dumb one, I hate to think what your family would think of me and my kids. Um, they do realize that it's very, very rare for a TWO year old to be reading, right?

The new school sounds wonderful. So many of your fears about school are ones that I have too. I didn't have a bad experience, but my brother did and man, my kids are NOT going through that if there's anything I can do about it.

Julie Pippert said...

Suz, amen and I'm holding you to reminding me of this when I lose sight, okay?

Mary G, it's awesome to hear someone I have admiration and respect for tell me I sound like I've got some of my act together. :) I know I shouldn't need that but I don't mind admitting I do, it's a validation and relief.

Kim, you are also in charge of reminding me when I lose sight of this. It's easy to get caught up in the "edge" stuff, but you're right: eyes on the long run.

LM, you know that's the point, nothing dumb about me or Jon (okay sure we make stupid mistakes like anyone would now and again, and we lack talent in certain areas like everyone else). BUT, we made different decisions in life that our families didn't approve of and so instead of it being a Difference, it was Stupid. KWIM?

And yeah, they know it's rare but they expect Genius in offspring. Apparently.

Patience graduated that preschool and I strongly, firmly believe that school is a key to her current success in kindergarten. Persistence is happily enrolled there and I'm sure wishes it were all five days of the week. Make that two of us. ;)

GL to us both for NO BAD TIMES in school.

Although the school is chapping my hide about the days we went on vacation. Bug time.

jeanie said...

What a brilliant post - at first I thought it was about one thing, but you developed it further and further and had me nodding along - I know that song!

Ali said...

I have made myself a little unpopular with the primary school my 12 year old son attends. I kept my daughter and my son out of the gifted and talented classes, which they thought was madness and I was told I was holding them back. What I was doing was protecting their EQ because I believe that has far more importance. IQ can be a debilitating burden if there is no EQ to support it.

The teachers who frowned on my decision were not impressed when my daughter left primary school as dux. How could this be? She had not been exposed to the additional stimulus and yet out achieved those who had. Heck, with her parents' full support, she hadn't even handed in the meaningless homework sheets each week (project work, yes, photocopied homework sheets, no)!

I'm told by my son's teacher (who is supportive of my stand), that it's more than likely my son will also be dux at the end of his primary schooling in 11 weeks time. I wickedly asked her to pass on my apologies for not caring more to the teachers who will be most annoyed by this. :0)


thailandchani said...

Wow.. I love the way this is written. I've really missed your brain. :)

I think you're exactly right. It's a matter of finding the right match for the right person.



Annie said...

I so needed to read this tonight. I have an appointment with my daughter tomorrow to check out a preschool. It's not a fast track place or anything - from what I understand it too is full of love and lets kids be kids - the only spot they have left is in the 3.5 to 4 year old class and your post has given me pause for thought. My daughter needs preschool, and I need her to have preschool - for several reasons, like the ones you mention.

It is about the child, about letting them learn at their own pace, and allowing them to be a kid. I will be making sure that this is absolutely the case in the place I see tomorrow, instead of rushing to sign her up because it is *somewhere*that has an opening.

Thanks for this post!

Marie said...

Ugh, I find myself slipping into panick mode a little when I think about all I want my kids to Achieve and wonder if I'm doing enough. It's a terrible mindset to give in to...comparing them with others, setting unreasonable goals, etc.
I loved your treatment of the subject. I'm so glad you found a preschool that fit Patience so well!
I think you're so wise to be so careful about schools...when your kids spend so many hours there, it matters a lot what they're like.
I've pretty much come to the conclusion that I want to educate my kids myself, because I think that I can do a better job than most schools can, and because I really want to be involved in what they're learning and how. I love your approach to your kids education, too. You've made sure you found a school that can really do the job, and I know your kids will benefit strongly.

Mary-LUE said...

First let me say... Yeah! You're back. I was very happy to see your name in the comment on my last post.

Second, I am so with you on the environment that kids need, especially at preschool age. Marley has benefited to much from the developmentally-based program she is in. It is every one of the things on your list.

I've written about this before but Colin was in an environment which stressed academic achievement. It was a good school with caring teachers, a small environment, etc., but the push for academic excellence took its toll on him. It was one reason I was so determined to find something different for Marley. I can't tell you how fortunate I feel that I found an alternate program in a public school.

Finally, one more time, Yeah! Julie's back!!

bubandpie said...

It's so true. At Bub's school, the emphasis is on social development and learning through play. And they are challenging him all the time to join activities, tolerate changes ... it's absolutely amazing the change in him already.

The right nursery school is a VERY good thing.

atypical said...


flutter said...

if you are dumb, I am comatose.

Julie Pippert said...

Jeanie, you are my new best friend. Thanks!

Ali, ummm...what is dux? All in all, regardless of dux, you sound like my role model. We need to talk. Mainly about my CHOICE as PARENT wrt to my kids and school, the public one.

Chani, thanks and thanks! Good to be back. For a day, anyway.

Annie I STG that is like the highest compiment. Thank you!! GOOD LUCK tomorrow. I hope you know I will try to find time to stalk you for info about how it went.

Marie, I think homeschool rocks. My state (believe it or not) is a big supporter of it. People move here for that. It's big in my neighborhood/town and I wish in a way I was Like That because those kids are awesome. If you feel good about it, GO FOR IT!

M-L, if you didn't (a) live in a place about to fall into the ocean (boy, can I throw stones in a glass house or what LOL) and (b) a place that would LIAO at the idea of me thinking I could afford to live there in any way whatsoever, I'd be tempted to move. Really. And yea, you're back too, Miss Stressed Out. Hope all is okay!!

B&P, the key is social development, isn't it. I love it. So glad you and Bub have found it.

Atypical, HI!!! Thanks!

Flutter, my friend, it's simply an error...mistaking "different" for "stupid." So no worries. You are very, very brilliant. And I'm smarter than the average bear. ;)

Suki said...

WOW! There are actually schools that help develop EQ over IQ(get this - Spell Check recognises IQ but not EQ), and that genuinely work for toddlers to be happy and broken into society as gently as possible rather than shoving them up the so-called "success ladder" and charging insane fees for it?! Lady, I'm moving to wherever you are when I'm old enough to have kids!

I've suffered badly from being underage in school - even now I'm 1-2 years younger than my classmates. The sad part is, no one really realised what was going on, because I was really good at hiding it and playing strong, doing very well and being very interactive.
I'm glad that moms like you absolutely refuse to surrender to that temptation to give your kids that supposed "boost" up the ladder. Congratulations!

PS: Am a big supporter of home schooling, as long as social skills don't take a backseat. Would agree totally with your "have the cake and eat it too" policy.

Family Adventure said...

Hi Julie,

I just found you via Kellan's blog. And I am so glad I did. What a fantastic post! Initially, I thought this would going to be a "pro-Olympic High Way" post, but then you turned it around.
You put my thoughts into writing. Only much more eloquently than I could have done. Thank you for writing this. I wish all anxious parents wanting the best for their kids could read it!
- Heidi

Ali said...

Dux is top of the school, highest academic achiever.


Mama Sarita said...

I so love this post. Lucky for me and diva child I completely stumbled into the preschool closest to me that was play based. It is a brutal get-my-child-ready-to-get-into-the-ivys-now! world here.

Gwen said...

We have acquaintances who hire tutors so that their kids can get into the gifted and talented programs. Huh? I think that completely misses the point. G&T isn't "better;" it's a special ed designation. But we have sort of lost our minds about academics and our children. When I'm not weeping over it, I'm trying very hard not to buy into the craziness.

The thing is, you can have a school that tries very hard to achieve your personal set of standards (I think ours does, for example). But schools are made up of individual teachers and some are better at living your dream than others, if you know what I mean.

Finally, just to be ornery, I find it curious when people don't buy into a school's academic system but still congratulate themselves for their children's brilliance despite that system. If the point isn't academic achievement, then having brilliant children shouldn't matter. I know you disagree with my idea that while we are all unique and special, very few of us can truly be empirically extraordinary, but the struggle for me, still, is to work out how to grow children who have meaningful, contented yet "average" lives.

Julie Pippert said...

Suki, yeah, there are actually schools that adhere to the principle of developing the whole child. There are also ones that promise to graduate your kid top of his Harvard class. The former is my preference and let me tell you, it takes careful screening to find it. Once you do, IME, you start finding a lot of other "middle of the road-scenic route" families like yourself.

Like you, I was youngest in my class and yes, it was tough. I think I am only now really understanding how much so. This is why I never pushed my daughter forward. She's about middle for age, younger than a few, older than some.

And, homeschooling, when well-supported and well done, has plenty of socialization. A large number of my neighbors and friends do it. The kids play with each other in the neighborhood, the school lets homeschool kids come in for music, PE, computer...whatever class support the parent wants. Then there are extracurriculars like soccer, gymnastics, etc.

Heidi, thanks, I am so glad! This was sort of my journey from taking the (for us) wrong route to getting back on track, so that's why it meandered a bit (also, SOP for me LOL).

Ali, thanks for explanation! A new term, woo hoo!

Mama Sarita, you know, I've noticed that happens sort of area-based. You might expect it here, based on the demographics of my town, which is chock full of Super Highly Educated Smartie McGeniuses. I mean, you can't swing a dead raccoon without hitting a PhD in rocket science. But maybe these people feel nothing to prove, KWIM? Because while they do want good schools and academic excellence, they are pretty low-key on the whole. It's a "do your best" and the super competitive sort---and I've met some, they are here---really aren't the majority. I think, based on who I know.

Glad you found a good school for you guys!

Gwen, WTF? Are you SERIOUS? I am *afraid* my kid will get screened in to the G&T. Yes, it is the same program as all special needs for learning. You know how much I angst about that with Patience LOL.

I just keep running with my pack, where it's easier to not get swept up into the craziness.

Your acquaintances would be appalled I am sure to know some parents I know opted to NOT put their kids in G&T, based on what the kids preferred.

La la la la la la I can't hear you in your second para la la la la la.

No, seriously, I know. I know what you mean. You hit, very clearly and succinctly, the reason my radar will never go off of High Alert while my kids are in school.

Now wait wait wait, once again, I do not disagree completely with your extraordinary theory. Plus, I do agree with you goal of growing children who find happiness and meaning in who they are and what they can do, be it large or small.

I'm not sure about your academic, school, brilliance and eschewing point. I think it's because no coffee yet?

I guess, hmm, I don't know.

Can you elaborate on that thought?

kim said...

OK, now reading all the comments I feel like a total hypocrite. My oldest is in the gifted program. Does it count that we struggled with this decision because like you EQ is so much more important than IQ? Does it count that we only agreed to placement because all of his friends were in the program? Oh man I could spend all day confessing the struggle we've had with our idealism and reality on the whole gifted issue. We still haven't really figured this one out.

Julie Pippert said...

Kim, I wouldn't feel like a consciously and mindfully made the best choice to help your son get his best education.

You recognized what he needed and did that.

I think that's the best you can do.

Hypocritical are the people who think G&T is superior and means fast track to Ivy League and who get tutors to help their kids pass the screening test and get in. That totally defeats the entire purpose of the program.

Julie Pippert said...

BTW, the G&T program is, IMO, as Ali put it, there to help kids make their IQ a gift not a burden.

I checked our ISD's site and sure enough, yes, it is a special needs designation:

(Blank) ISD understands that gifted and talented students have special needs. “Students who are intellectually gifted demonstrate many characteristics, including: a precocious ability to think abstractly, an extreme need for constant mental stimulation; an ability to learn and process complex information very rapidly; and a need to explore subjects in depth. Students who demonstrate these characteristics learn differently. Thus, they have unique academic needs.” Marie (blanked for privacy).

(Blank) ISD’s Gifted and Talented Program is designed to meet the unique academic and emotional needs of the gifted students in each of our district’s schools.

As Ali said, high IQ can be a burden without high EQ and special support to learn how to handle it.

If a kid needs G&T, I think of it the same as when I sent Patience to get support with her mirroring.

I think it got this cache with parents because it became a status due to the name: gifted and talented.

Who doesn't want to be gifted and talented?

But I think it's more about learning to manage this "gift" and less about Being the Best and Superior, which is the rep it has too often (sadly).

G&T was not available to me but it was to my sister. I think she ended up better off from it, as a result. She is certainly less traumatized about school (I think) (academically at least).

Sober Briquette said...

I'm not concerned about this tender age. I'll probably wake up with a start in about 3 years...

I fully expect to be a partner with the school, and most likely to have many gaps to fill or tangents to explore on our own.

I'm hoping for "well-rounded" as opposed to intensely focused.

slouching mom said...

Patience reminds me of Jack, who had the IQ thing down but needed more in the way of EQ.

And his Montessori has helped him mature socioemotionally more than I could possibly have imagined.

painted maypole said...

i believe in preschool, but i believe in it as a place to teach (with lots and lots of love) how to listen, follow instructions, interact with others, and how to LOVE school. All the rest... gravy.

Shari Schmidt said...

People need to realize that reading at three doesn't mean the child is brilliant. Kids who can solve problems, relate to others, and think independently do better in life. I know a lot of Type A preschool Moms and I avoid them like the plague. I don't want our girls exposed to that craziness yet.

Emily said...

What struck me was that you found a spot in what I would classify as the very best kind of school. We've had to move a lot, and it makes me anxious b/c I want zachary in preschool. He needs it. He has a lot to learn and he is behind the other kids.

When I say that, you probably picture academic lags. Well, he just turned 3 and the other day he added 3 and 2 together in his head without counting. No academic lags here. But, he REALLY needs a good school environment so he can keep working on the critically important skills: learning to share, learning how to fit in with the others in the way he would like to, learning not to call names, learning when not to follow his peers and when it is OK, that kind of stuff.

So, the moving makes me anxious, because I am very concerned to find the right school -- the school where he is excited to go every day. That's usually the school with the most fun. And, lo and behold, whenever we move, I find the BEST school has places. Now, the school with the worksheets and the tracing and the neat little art projects that the kids clearly did not do themselves is always booked up years in advance. But, the school that makes him say "Am I going to school today?" That one always has a slot.

Lucky us.