I didn’t realize how much pressure Kindergarten was placing on my daughter until last night. She was sitting at the table, complaining about the stack of homework in front of her and said, “I wish I was a baby again, like S! Her life is sooo easy!!”

My heart sank when I realized that she’s starting to resent her nightly homework load. And she’s only 5 years old, barely more than a baby herself.

Things have changed dramatically in the past 30 years. When I was 5, I began my school career in Mrs. Claver’s half-day Kindergarten class. From 8:30-11:30 each morning, we colored pictures and played. Letters were introduced as people — “Mrs. A” looked like a friendly middle-aged female letter with a handbag and flowered hat. We answered the roll call with silly phrases, shouting “Michael Jackson!” or “Boy George!” to indicate that we were present, as we sat cross-legged in a circle on the rug.

The only time I recall feeling anything close to “pressure” was once near the end of the school year, when each student was “tested” on whether they could perform simple tasks like tying a shoe. I got nervous when Mrs. Claver asked me to zip up my jacket, and the zipper got stuck. I had a vague feeling that I had failed the test in some way; it was the first time I felt anxiety in school.

Fast forward 30 years, to September 2012: my daughter N started Kindergarten at the age of 4, with a full school day from 8:40am-2:40pm. During orientation, N’s teacher explained the drill: all students would be expected to read at a “D” level by the end of the school year. They would learn addition, subtraction and the foundations of math (counting by 5s and 10s to 100, for example). They would learn to re-tell stories. And once they mastered writing letters, they would write “reading responses” and draft “how-to” books. They would have special classes — on Monday, supplemental math lessons; on Tuesday, gym; Wednesday, computers; Thursday, music; and on Friday, art.

And once a day, if there was time, the kids would be allowed 15 minutes of free “choice time,” where they could select an activity and play.

And then there’s the homework.

I don’t recall ever having homework until I was in a much higher grade in school. By contrast, every night N comes home with 3 or 4 worksheets; PLUS a writing assignment (e.g., a “reading response,” three original sentences using “word wall” words, etc.); PLUS her reading homework (4 books on her reading level). AND we keep a nightly reading log of the book that we read together at bedtime.

Each afternoon when we come home from school, N gets 20-30 minutes of down time before she starts her homework. She usually works for 40-50 minutes (with minimal breaks) until close to dinner time. After dinner, it’s not long before bedtime; maybe we have time for a bath or a quick “dance party” with S.

For most of the school year, N did very well with her homework load. She developed good study habits and was able to focus most of the time. But lately, ever since the weather turned slightly warmer and the days have started getting longer, N has had a much harder time focusing. She’ll sit at the table and play with her pencils, pretending they’re on a “Sharp Team,” for long periods of time. I feel bad about stopping her; isn’t this what a 5-year-old is supposed to be doing??

Also lately, she gets very emotional and reactive to my attempts to enforce a schedule. She’s strongly resisting the pressure that’s being placed on her — which, admittedly, is more pressure on a daily basis than my silly one-off zipper test.

At our spring parent-teacher conference, Mrs. B. (N’s teacher) gave N a good review. I used the opportunity to explain to Mrs. B. that I felt N was missing out on imaginative play because of the heavy homework load. N has a terrific imagination, and she tries to do “pretend play” much more than her tight daily schedule allows. It’s my feeling that kids her age should be allowed lots of time for creative play, to develop the parts of their brains that will later be used for problem-solving and critical thinking. There’s a narrow window of time during which kids’ brains have this terrific potential, and it seems that school is stifling rather than nurturing it.

So I informed Mrs. B. that I planned to start giving N greater flexibility with her homework, and more time to play. If she was engrossed in imaginative play, and I didn’t want to interrupt her, I would place a note in N’s homework folder indicating that she didn’t complete all her assignments and that we would schedule another time to finish the work on a different day. I told her it wouldn’t be more than once a week.

Mrs. B. responded, “Okay. Let her play now, because the workload will only increase in 1st grade.”


According to news reports, my daughter’s experience is typical among NYC Kindergarteners. In a January 27th, 2013 article (“Playtime’s Over, Kindergarteners“), the New York Post writes: “Way beyond the ABCs, crayons and building blocks, the city Department of Education now wants 4- and 5-year-olds to write “informative/explanatory reports” and demonstrate “algebraic thinking.”

“This is causing a lot of anxiety,” one teacher said. “Kindergarten should be happy and playful. It should be art and dancing and singing and learning how to take turns. Instead, it’s frustrating and disheartening.”

Other reports confirm that Kindergarten is only the beginning, and that this heavy-handed educational approach will only continue as the kids get older.

Further, educational standards are getting more rigorous all the time. The New York Times recently profiled the new testing standards that are being implemented this year for 3rd through 8th graders in New York, as the city and state continue aligning their curriculum to the federal Common Core (Students Face Tougher Tests That Outpace Lesson Plans). Kids in NY are expected to get much lower scores this year because they haven’t been taught the lessons they’ll be tested on.

The Times writes: “The sink-or-swim approach is of particular concern to students (and their parents) in the fourth and seventh grades, whose scores could determine where they go to middle or high school in 2014. ‘It really makes me nervous,’ said Patrick Timoney, a seventh grader at Intermediate School 2, on Staten Island. ‘It’s a big deal and if you don’t get a good grade, it’s not the best.'”

It seems that the anxiety continues right on through the grades.

As an advocate for my daughter to get the best education possible, I (like many parents) am concerned about the atmosphere of anxiety that today’s schools seem to be creating. I’m certainly not against high standards or testing to meet those standards, but when those standards and not the love of learning become the sole focus of a student’s educational experience — then what lessons are we really teaching our kids?

Posted on by A Mom In Brooklyn | 4 Comments

Hi Honey, I’m Home!! What the…??

When I’m drinking a glass of wine at home on a Friday night, I sometimes like to read old anti-feminist texts from the 1940s, 50s and 60s. While I don’t consider myself a “feminist,” I do get a kick out of reading some pretty amazing — and frightening — old passages about “the woman’s role” in the family and in society. I can’t believe the ideas were contemporary for my Granny, and even for my mom.

Life can be wonderful

Here’s a gem: one well-known book in its day, Modern Woman: The Lost Sex, published in 1947, “attempted to explore the causes of…women’s confusion and despair…which [the authors] identified as women’s rejection of their essentially domestic role, and their desire to compete with man in the public arenas of business and politics.” Also, the book “denounced feminists for being aggressive, maladjusted and unable to accept women’s fundamental role as wife and mother.” Yikes! Maybe the authors should have joined in a glass of wine to take the edge off.

One of my particular favorites, The Fascinating Womanhood — which I discovered in 8th grade and read cover to cover — was published in 1963, the same year as Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. However, The Fascinating Womanhood couldn’t have had a more divergent view of what it meant to be a woman. My enduring memory of this book is its recommendation that a woman adopt certain personality traits in order to keep her man interested and happy. She should strive to be cute and childlike and express admiration for him, similar to a literary protagonist named Dora; but at other times she should embody the mature, angelic nature of another character named Agnes. Basically, the book instructs women to transform themselves into fictional representations — and not even of themselves, but of these “ideal” women.


What hogwash! (Unfortunately, no one told me that it was hogwash when I was 13 years old and seeking out tips on how to attract the opposite sex. Let’s just say that time and life disabused me of whatever notions I took away from this book, which remains in print today and claims to have sold over two million copies.)

I find it amusing to read passages from these old books — until I remember that real women lived  these lives not so long ago, trapped unhappily in a limited world with very few choices for personal fulfillment.

It’s incredible to juxtapose these passages with those from The Feminine Mystique. Tonight, re-reading Anna Quindlen’s introduction of the book, I paused when I came to: “Friedan described a generation of educated housewives maniacally arranging the silverware and dressing to welcome their husbands home from work.”

Now, I have never maniacally arranged silverware in my life. And I definitely do not dress up to welcome my husband home from work, a point which couldn’t have been clearer on Friday evening.

After working my part-time day (9-2), then picking up the girls and managing our afternoon/evening at home, I was eagerly awaiting G’s return home from work. Fridays are typically the toughest day of the week, as N has hit her stress-tolerance level and she’s tired to boot. This particular Friday night was worse than usual — defiance, talking back, and a near-hysterical tantrum to top it all off. (Another blog post for another night!!)

So by the time G walked through the door, he barely had time to take off his coat or say hello before I was agitatedly asking him (in a very un-Dora and un-Agnes-like way), “Can you put S to bed?”

Let’s just say that the reaction from Dad wasn’t very “Leave It to Beaver.” He didn’t respond well to my less-than-effusive greeting, but he did take S upstairs to bed.

Later we agreed that we’re both tense at the end of the day, and especially at the end of the week. Our brains are fried and our reactions are not exactly calculated for the other person’s comfort. Our interactions are real and honest. At the end of the conversation, we agreed to cut each other some slack at that moment in the day, not expect any grand gestures and just allow the other person to be tired and cranky, if that’s how they feel.

Tonight when I re-read all these texts from previous generations, I was so very glad that my husband and I have the open, honest and equitable relationship that we do, as do many couples of our generation. It doesn’t mean that we never have marital problems or that we always agree — but at least we can talk to each other in a way that leaves us both feeling like the other person heard what we were saying, and that we have each other’s mutual respect.

And maybe that’s a big part of what the whole feminist thing was about.

Good job, ladies.

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Raising Two Kids in this Crazy, Modern World

In anticipation of my blog’s upcoming third birthday (yea!), and in recognition of the way cooler WordPress themes that are available now, I’ve given my blog a fresh new look. (Whaddya think??)

But it’s not just the appearance I’m retooling. I’d like to think that, in addition to being three years older than I was when I started blogging, I’m also three years wiser as a parent. (My kids are 5 and almost-2, so three years is a big relative chunk of time!)

As I present my refashioned blog to my faithful readers (much appreciation & love!!), I’m also introducing myself and my family to a new audience (thank you, Twitter!).

Let me start by saying that I do not have a fascinating story.

I do not have:

  • Eight or more children
  • A mansion for a home
  • My own reality TV show
  • Relatives who are more insane than usual
  • A wicked bad Brooklyn accent

If I did have my own reality show, you’d see me wearing jeans and a ponytail every day, sometimes showered, sometimes not. My home would not be spotless — there would be dirty dishes, piles of laundry, Play-Doh smashed into the rug and many toys conveniently underfoot so that the cameraman would probably trip on them.

Someone would probably be having a dramatic crying fit or a burst of anger — usually one of the girls, but sometimes me.

And there would be rum.

And maybe I would have discussions about topics I find interesting. Like:

  • How are parents of our generation facing the challenges of raising kids in this crazy, modern world?
  • How have things changed since our parents’ and grandparents’ time? And even our own childhoods?
  • What are we doing — as parents and as a society — to prepare our children for the world they will inherit?
  • Is our educational system really broken? Is it working? What are the flaws, and where are the successes?
  • How are families handling today’s economy, in which two parents working is the new norm? And how does that fact change the nature of parenting itself?
  • Are there values (e.g., hard work, persistence, delayed gratification) that previous generations of parents knew and practiced, but that we have forgotten and would do well to remember?
  • How do I raise a confident, self-assured, resilient child — especially a girl — in today’s society?

As the working mom of two beautiful little daughters, I’m constantly thinking about these topics.

(Well, maybe not “constantly.” It’s more like “sporadically,” when I’m not fixing a meal, cleaning up after a meal, cleaning up after the girls, working at my job, dropping off the girls, picking up the girls, taking the girls to the park, falling on the couch exhausted, etc.)

So this blog is my version of a reality TV show: a sometimes embarrassingly-honest record of what it takes to survive, and hopefully to thrive, as a family in the modern world.

Except that it’s better than a reality TV show, because you can join the discussion. And I very much hope that you will!

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The 12 Days of Christmas…MESS!!

In honor of the daily Christmas MESS that I am perpetually cleaning up during the holiday season, I wrote this little ditty. Hope you enjoy!

On the first day of Christmas, my children gave to me —

All the ornaments off the Christmas tree.


On the second day of Christmas, my children gave to me —

Two temper tantrums

And all the ornaments off the Christmas tree.


On the third day of Christmas, my children gave to me —

Three unstuck gift tags

Two temper tantrums

And all the ornaments off the Christmas tree.


On the fourth day of Christmas, my children gave to me —

Four untied gift bows

Three unstuck gift tags

Two temper tantrums

And all the ornaments off the Christmas tree.


On the fifth day of Christmas, my children gave to me —

Five empty wrapping paper tubes!

Four untied gift bows

Three unstuck gift tags

Two temper tantrums

And all the ornaments off the Christmas tree.


On the sixth day of Christmas, my children gave to me —

Sugar on the counter (yes, I’ve stopped counting)

Five empty wrapping paper tubes!

Four untied gift bows

Three unstuck gift tags

Two temper tantrums

And all the ornaments off the Christmas tree.


On the seventh day of Christmas, my children gave to me —

Glitter on the table (yes, I’ve started drinking)

Sugar on the counter

Five empty wrapping paper tubes!

Four untied gift bows

Three unstuck gift tags

Two temper tantrums

And all the ornaments off the Christmas tree.


On the eighth day of Christmas, my children gave to me —

Christmas cards off the shelf

Glitter on the table

Sugar on the counter

Five empty wrapping paper tubes!

Four untied gift bows

Three unstuck gift tags

Two temper tantrums

And all the ornaments off the Christmas tree.


On the ninth day of Christmas, my children gave to me —

Mittens on the floor

Christmas cards off the shelf

Glitter on the table

Sugar on the counter

Five empty wrapping paper tubes!!!! (Again?? Where are you getting all this wrapping paper??)

Four untied gift bows

Three unstuck gift tags

Two temper tantrums

And all the ornaments off the Christmas tree.


On the tenth day of Christmas, my children gave to me —

Tissues from the box (Yes, you’re using all of those anyway!!)

Mittens on the floor

Christmas cards off the shelf

Glitter on the table

Sugar on the counter

Five empty wrapping paper tubes!

Four untied gift bows

Three unstuck gift tags

Two temper tantrums

And all the ornaments off the Christmas tree.


On the eleventh day of Christmas, my children gave to me —

Crayons on the wall (seriously??)

Tissues from the box

Mittens on the floor

Christmas cards off the shelf

Glitter on the table

Sugar on the counter

Five empty wrapping paper tubes!!!!

Four untied gift bows

Three unstuck gift tags

Two temper tantrums

And all the ornaments off the Christmas tree.


On the twelfth day of Christmas, my children gave to me —

Spilled Christmas candy (hand over the chocolate!!)

Crayons on the wall

Tissues from the box

Mittens on the floor

Christmas cards off the shelf

Glitter on the table

Sugar on the counter

Five empty wrapping paper tubes!!!!

Four untied gift bows

Three unstuck gift tags

Two temper tantrums

And all the ornaments off the Christmas tree-e-e-e!!!!!


Happy holidays from our family to yours!!!

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Preserving a free America for our children

Since Friday’s horrific mass murder of schoolchildren and teachers in Connecticut, I — like many moms with school-age children — have been sick with grief for those who were lost, and with worry for my daughters. Our family’s sense of safety and security in our own community has been shattered by events in another state, which seemed so frighteningly close to home. Those kids could have been any kids in my daughter’s Kindergarten class. Or could have been her.

Never before had I felt compelled to make gun control my #1 priority as a mom, but now I’ve signed up to participate in the Brady campaign and plan to write all my elected officials to press for sensible gun laws.

(Here’s what I consider “sensible”: strengthen background checks to include adjudications of mental illness; require background checks at gun shows and for online gun purchases; prohibit suspected terrorists from purchasing weapons at gun shows; and ban military-style assault rifles. There may be other steps we should take, but that’s a good start.)

Never before had I grasped the magnitude of the mental health issues in this country. Now I am questioning what can be done to ensure that kids, young adults and older folks no longer slip through the cracks of our society, and can get the mental help they need.

And for the first time, I wondered how much additional security is required at my daughter’s school. Without going into detail, I fear that the safety measures being taken aren’t enough to have prevented a tragedy like the one in Newtown.

Every parent across the country is wrestling with the same questions. But now the debate on gun control is exposing an additional danger, of which I was previously unaware. When people vehemently defend the right of anyone to own any gun they choose, what are they really saying? A gun is a means to an end, and in the minds of many gun-rights folks, that end is defending themselves against something. The question needs to be asked — against what, exactly?

Probably the most common answer is protecting one’s family against a home invasion. I can understand this argument, having grown up on an isolated farm out in the country where no law enforcement could ever come quickly enough to save us from danger. We were out there alone and had to protect ourselves. My parents were both responsible gun owners with handguns as well as hunting rifles. (My dad was also a hunter.)

But another answer to the “what are you protecting yourself from?” is much more troubling, and one that I’ve only learned about in the wake of Friday’s tragedy. It seems that many red-state folks are arming themselves against an Armageddon-type scenario in which the federal government moves to take their liberties, or something like that. Basically, they are arming themselves against the government.

I’m baffled by this angry loathing of our democratically-elected government. We’re Americans — when our guy loses, we’re not supposed to “take up arms” and overthrow him, like they do in third-world countries. We’re the very model for peaceful, non-violent transition because our Founding Fathers set it up that way. I believe that it’s un-American to threaten revolt against the government just because your side lost an election. 

Larry Pratt of the Gun Owners of America recently stated that U.S. civilians need automatic rifles in order to be prepared “to take on our government. And this government has gone overboard.” He continued that it’s time to take action “when elections are stolen.”

Pratt knows exactly what his rhetoric is doing: stoking the fears of anti-government gun owners. It’s incredibly irresponsible and helps to create the Timothy McVeighs of this world — angry individuals who won’t accept that the very strength and power of America has always come not from millions of individuals alone and isolated, but from citizens living together as an American community. Our strength hasn’t come from everyone being the same background, but from our diversity. We didn’t become a great nation by silencing debate with weapons, but by protecting the freedom of speech, assembly, religion, press and petition. And we didn’t amass our power by overthrowing our president and Congress, but by believing in our democracy to address the most important issues of the time. 

In addition to working in the short-term for better gun laws, expanded mental health options and improved school security, I now feel the need to defend our American tradition of a free and peaceful democracy. Because that’s the America I want to leave to my daughters. 


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O Pink Doggie, Where Are You??

As of last night, it’s official: I lost my daughter’s lovey.

His name is Pink Doggie. The “Pink” refers to the color he once was, when he was new. My mom bought him in the hospital gift shop when Baby Sis was born, and Pink Doggie (a.k.a. “P.D.”) has been a member of the family ever since. Over the past 17 months his original pink faded to a dirty color closer to brown, and his pungent odor was a punch line around the house. It wasn’t possible to wash him, other than by hand, which wasn’t very effective. But Baby Sis loved him dearly, smell and all. She would hold his fragrant ear up to her nose as she went to sleep every night, or when she needed to be comforted. He was her best (non-human) friend.

I had read horror stories about loveys being lost. I had heard advice about keeping a back-up lovey, just in case; writing down the name of the manufacturer; and cautionary tales about how you should never, ever let a child’s lovey out of the house.

Carelessly, I disregarded all of that advice. So it was probably inevitable that we lost him yesterday, somewhere on the streets of Brooklyn, rushing between day care and school and dance class and home.

We didn’t realize he was gone until bedtime. A frantic search of the house and car ensued, which wasn’t uncommon — but always before, we had found him. This time, when we looked in the oven of the play kitchen, or in the empty boxes of the wine rack, or under the Baby Sis’ car seat, he was nowhere to be seen.

I called around to the contacts we’d seen that day, and even posted an “SOS” on the Facebook page for parents in the neighborhood. No dice.

G asked me to write down every place we went that afternoon so he could go search. I produced a detailed itinerary of our afternoon and he set off into the darkness, flashlight in hand.

N also took out her Dora flashlight to continue searching every nook and cranny in the house. I rocked Baby Sis in her room, whispering reassurances and hoping she’d fall asleep without him. I tried giving her a few different stuffed animals, but she rejected them all by throwing them onto the floor.

Baby Sis was quiet, but she wasn’t going to sleep, so N came to visit her darkened room. N was very concerned, so she brought in her little music player and put on some music. When she saw me start to tear up, she put on “No Woman No Cry,” which she knows is one of my favorite songs. The three of us started dancing in the dark, me holding Baby Sis and N dancing around us. “Girls,” I said, “I want to tell you something very important: no matter what happens, we will get through it together, as a family. We can handle anything.”

I knew that losing P.D. wasn’t the end of the world, but it was still sad for Baby Sis and for our whole family. I had the comforting thought that maybe a small-scale loss isn’t such a bad thing for the girls to experience — maybe smaller disappointments can help prepare you for the inevitable bigger ones in life.

In any case, G came home a little later, doggie-less. We put both girls to bed, and at first Baby Sis went to sleep. Unfortunately the night turned into a very long one, with Baby Sis waking up every few minutes between 11:00pm and 3:00am.

Sometime around 2:00am, Baby Sis reached for a different stuffed pink dog that I had brought into her room earlier. She had rejected it before, but now she seemed to want it. She cuddled with it a little and took it to bed with her. When she finally fell asleep, it lay beside her.

This morning, after getting the girls to school and day care, I made the rounds: to N’s school to check the lost & found (nada), and back to the hospital gift shop in a Hail-Mary effort to get a new one. (In what was possibly a sign from God, the gift shop was closed due to major renovations at the hospital’s main building.)

At that point, the search seemed fruitless, and I was nearly resigned to giving up the mission. There was one thing I wanted to do first: look online.

Back at home, I jumped on the computer and Googled “stuffed pink dog” and “plush pink dog,” to no avail.

While I was searching, I got an email from my (amazing) mom: she had found the manufacturer and the website (how, I do not know!). When I looked, I saw him — Pink Doggie!!

Immediately I ordered two, and bookmarked the manufacturer’s website. Both P.D.’s should be here in a few days. I’m curious to see whether she accepts him, now that he will be clean and new and not smelly, and after it must have seemed that he abandoned her.

As for me, who for the past 24 hours has felt like the worst mom in the world, I think I’ve learned a few things from this experience:

1) Losing a lovey is sad, but it’s not a tragedy. Over the past couple of nights I’ve been watching Ken Burns’ documentary on the Dust Bowl, much of which centers on my ancestral homeland of Oklahoma. Huge clouds of dust enveloping homes, hunger, plagues of grasshoppers and kids getting sick with dust pneumonia — that is a tragedy.

And it could always be a lot worse. I was embarrassingly reminded of that fact when speaking to a work acquaintance over the phone today. I was telling her our woeful Tale of the Lost Lovey and how I was trying everything I could to recover him. Realizing I was sounding a little whiny, I asked if she’s headed home for Thanksgiving. “Well, not exactly,” she responded, and went on to tell me that her parents’ home had been flooded during Hurricane Sandy and all their possessions were pretty much wiped out, so they were getting together at the home of a relative for Thanksgiving dinner.

Ouch. That put my lovey-story into stark relief.

2) My daughters — and our family — will be fine no matter what happens, as long as we have each other. N was wonderful with Baby Sis last night, taking care of her and even offering her own stuffed animals as replacement loveys. At one point N produced a poster and hung it on the wall; it says, “O pink dogge, wer are you?” and “Sadie loves you!” I am happy and relieved to see the sister-bond forming, and hope it is lifelong.

3) I need to slow down and take better care of the important things, like children and their loveys. So often I get caught up in the daily rush and move too fast. I forget something or neglect something. I was already feeling this way before I lost P.D., when I had a dream that I had left Baby Sis in her stroller in the middle of a parking lot to go check on a job (strangely, I was in charge of hiring a contractor to pour a concrete floor in a huge warehouse owned by Ron Swanson from Parks & Rec). In the dream I spent longer on the job than I should have, and when I rushed to check on Baby Sis, she was crying for me in her stroller, in the middle of a parking lot. I know it was just a dream, but it felt way too real.

Anyway, that’s our Saga of Pink Doggie. If on this Thanksgiving Eve I were to say what I’m most thankful for, it would be that our family is together and strong enough to weather anything.

(And I’m thankful that you can find almost anything on the internet!!!)




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In the past 8 weeks, our family has made a series of big transitions: N started Kindergarten and dance lessons; Baby Sis started day care; G started a new job as well a new business venture, while I increased my work hours and took on new professional responsibilities. N turned 5 and G turned 40-something. Also during these 8 weeks, we traveled to Oklahoma and Massachusetts to see family; to an apple orchard in New Jersey to pick some fresh fall fruit; and threw an at-home birthday party for the newly-minted 5 year old. We’ve had a lot going on.

In the midst of all this, I’ve been trying to help out our local PTA. Already we’ve spent who knows how much money and time on school fundraisers; I even signed up for the Fundraising Committee. My teeth were gritted when I put my name on the line, knowing it wouldn’t be buckets of fun, but if it will help her school  I’m willing to do it.

The committee I REALLY want to serve on doesn’t exist: an “Education Policy Committee.” I want to be in charge of talking to who’s in charge about how and what our kids are being taught.

From N’s first week of Kindergarten, she’s had one hour of homework each night. One hour!! It seems ludicrous to me, but it’s true. First we start with the worksheets — usually 4 of them — which require writing, coloring, cutting and pasting. Some nights she has additional assignments in her “homework” or “poetry” notebook or in her math workbook. 

Once that’s done, we move onto the reading homework. N must review her sight words and a phonics sheet; read the 4-5 little booklets that come home in her bag; and choose a book from her home library to read so we can note it on her “reading log.”


This deluge of work — which does not seem to be consistent among Kindergarten classes, even within our school — has inspired countless conversations among me and my parent-friends that start like this: “When I was in Kindergarten, we never had any homework! We didn’t even attend a full day — I was in Mrs. Claver’s morning Kindergarten class from 8:30 to 11:30! I was home for lunch and a nap!”

Not so anymore.

For the past 8 weeks, I’ve been trying as best I can to help N stay on top of her homework. She gets out of school at 2:40; we’re home just before 3:00. She gets 30 minutes of free time — then we put her nose to the grindstone and she starts her homework.

For the most part, N is pretty good about focusing and getting the job done. Sometimes her mind strays or she “dilly-dallies,” but she naturally enjoys writing and doing little crafts, so sitting down for an hour of homework isn’t as much of a stretch for her as it must be for some of the rambunctious boys in her class.

Nonetheless, I’m sure it’s stifling to her imagination. Tonight she took a while to complete her homework, so when she was done she only had a few minutes to play with Baby Sis before dinner. Once we sat down to eat, she was off in her own little world of pretend — which meant that her dinner sat in front of her for almost an hour, practically untouched.

During that whole time, I was issuing calm reminders such as “eat your dinner,” “eat,” “eat,” “take a bite,” “eat,” “stop playing with your milk or I’m going to take it away,” “eat,” etc. 

Tonight her dilly-dallying was worse than most nights, so instead of getting angry (as I usually do), I tried a new tactic: calmly explaining that if she didn’t stop dilly-dallying and focus on eating her dinner, I would have to send her to bed straight after dinner — no dessert, no games, no storytime, zip.

[Cue full-on 5-year-old hysterics.]

Thirty weeping, wailing minutes later, she was in her room, beginning to calm down. I asked her to lay on her bed for 10 minutes while I put Baby Sis to bed. Then I would come back in and check on her.

When I peeked back in, at 6:50pm, N was fast asleep, still in her school clothes.

She has not been staying up later than usual. The exhaustion she felt was simply her little 5-year-old body responding to the demands of a rigorous daily schedule.

We didn’t even finish her reading homework.

Which raises several questions for me:

Is one hour (at least!) of homework a day an appropriate workload for a 5-year-old? 

If I decide to decrease her workload, how will I handle this? Will I have a conversation with her teacher, or simply send a note when she doesn’t finish something, and ask for more time to complete it?

We did ask for additional time when N missed one night of homework — it was dance class PLUS her birthday — but it took us all week to catch up from that one night of missed work.

When I asked for more time, N’s teacher said absolutely, take your time, no rush. I recall that during parent orientation, she said not to worry about it if we miss a day of homework. The kids don’t get a report card so “it’s not a big deal.”

But it is a big deal to me. If the teacher sends homework, I think N ought to do it completely and correctly and hand it in when it’s due. I know her Kindergarten homework won’t matter on her high school transcript — but isn’t Kindergarten when kids start learning how to be a student? Aren’t they supposed to learn what is expected of them, and how to meet those expectations? Wouldn’t it be taking a shortcut and sending the wrong message if I said, “Oh, honey, don’t worry about every piece of paper the teacher sent home tonight. Let’s only do half of it.” That doesn’t seem like the right thing to tell her about the way to handle school, and her education!!

And that’s the other thing: I want her to learn to read, and to write, and do math. I want her to learn right along with the rest of the class and not fall behind. So if everyone else is doing it, I am not going to cut back or tell her that she doesn’t need to do everything 100%. Because it will take a full effort just to keep up with her classmates.

Here’s the rub: when my 5-year-old needs a little bit of time to be creative, to imagine, to have her own little world and feel in control of one piece of her day, I want her to have that. When she needs a little extra sleep and an early bedtime, I want her to have that.

But she can’t have those things AND do everything that is expected of her in Kindergarten. It’s just not physically possible.

So I have some thinking to do and some decisions to make. What’s more important — teaching her how to be a good student and instilling good study skills to carry with her throughout her school career? Or giving her a little time each day to herself, to pretend and practice creative thinking and even problem-solving?

I guess I have to find a way to do both…


Posted on by A Mom In Brooklyn | 2 Comments

Going to the pool — and getting lucky enough to swim!

Today the girls and I had our first experience with a NYC public pool. Predictably, we were traumatized, as I expected we would be — just not in the way I anticipated.

For our first NYC public pool experience, I chose McCarren pool in Williamsburg — newly renovated with a gradual slope down into the water, which is perfect for young kiddos who are just getting used to the water. The McCarren pool just opened for the first time last week, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I had read online about the new, clean locker rooms (yea) as well as a group of teenage thugs who beat up some lifeguards (boo). But as teenage hooligans are one thing, and dirty locker rooms another, I decided it was definitely worth checking out.

We actually left the house on time (gasp!), were slowed down by traffic on the BQE only minimally, and arrived at 11:00am, opening time for the pool. We got a parking spot right across the street (double gasp!). There was already a line waiting to get in, full of moms and kids and strollers like us, but it moved pretty quickly. The girls were in a good mood; I was over the moon, feeling super proud of my summer-fun-planning-skills.

We got to the front of the line, where several blue-shirted pool attendants were looking through people’s bags. No big deal — our two bags were compactly and neatly packed with all our usual fun-in-the-water stuff: sunscreen, towels, hats, extra clothes, snacks, water, diapers, wipes, changing pad, pacifiers, sunglasses, female toiletries and goggles.

Then I heard one park attendant say, “No bags on the sun deck.”

Um, what? I thought.

The attendant turned his attention to me. “No bags on the sun deck, miss.”

“But these are just our towels and clothes and diapers,” I replied.

“Okay,” he said. “You don’t have anything to eat in there, do you?”

I looked at my kids, both of them guiltily holding crackers. “Um, yes?”

“You have to put it in a locker,” he replied.

Being a new pool-goer, I hadn’t thought to bring a padlock with me. “I’m parked just across the street, I’ll put the snacks in my car.”

I got all three of us back across the street, ditched the snacks in the car and returned to the attendant.

“Okay, we’re back!” I said brightly, and he let me through.

Little did I know that dozens of Parks Department employees had formed rings around the perimeter, each one progressively harder to pass.

The next attendant I encountered repeated the dire warning, “No bags on the sun deck, miss.”

“Oh, yes, I explained to the gentleman before that it’s only towels and sunscreen and clothes,” I replied reasonably.

“Okay, leave the stroller and talk to them in there. But you can’t have bags on the sun deck.”

Now carrying Baby Sis, I went through this routine about three more times, the tension level rising in each encounter the closer we got to the pool. At one point N turned to me and said, “Mom, it’s like they don’t want us to go to the pool!” I gritted my teeth and vowed to continue on.

Finally we reached the locker rooms — the last ring and the port of entry to the pool itself. We could smell the chlorine!

But alas, there was another blue-shirted person, waiting to thwart us.

“Miss, you can’t bring those bags on the deck,” she said sternly. I tried the same explanation that had worked before, with other attendants in the outer rings, but she would not budge.

Finally I had to accept that I could not bring the damn bags onto the sun deck. I decided to ditch them in an unclaimed locker and take my chances.

But the attendant was right behind me. “Miss, you can’t do that!” she said forcefully.

“Oh, I don’t care what happens to the stuff,” I said, getting a bit desperate. I had promised N that we would go to the pool today, and I was determined that we would succeed.

The attendant and I had a tense exchange, in which she recommended that we walk to Metropolitan Avenue to buy a lock (ha!! dragging these two girls??) and I refused, deciding instead to dramatically renounce my property in the unsecured locker.

“Just a minute, miss, I’m going to get my supervisor. Wait right here,” she instructed firmly.

I was starting to panic. It was really very important to me that we go to the pool together, today. I don’t know why, it just was. We don’t get that many opportunities to do this kind of thing, in the course of our normal year. Couldn’t we just take one darn vacation day and enjoy it??

The supervisor came back. She was even more unyielding than the blue-shirted attendant. Finally, almost with tears in my eyes, I grabbed all our stuff back out of the locker and turned back to the supervisor.

“You know, these rules are way too strict!” I lashed out. “They actually encourage people to break the rules and try to get around you — then you have a bunch of people who shouldn’t be in there, instead of families like us, just trying to have a fun day of swimming!!”

Since I never like to take out my anger on someone who is obviously just following the rules, I immediately softened my tone. “This is not directed at you at all, in any way. I know you’re just following the rules.”

I don’t know why, but the supervisor — in a lower voice — said, “You know, I may have an extra lock. Wait right here.”

Mama was over the moon again!!

The nice lady helped me out, and got her contacts in the attendant-network-ring to help me out — until all three of us girls were finally at the pool!!

We found the shallow part of the pool with the gradual slope, and N announced that she would be the “leader.” Tentatively at first, N waded out into the water and picked her spot. Then she dove under and swam back to me and Baby Sis — no goggles, no holding her nose. Just swimming.

Over the next hour, Baby Sis and I watched as N repeatedly dove under the water and swam back to us. Each time, she’d go out a little further, push herself a little more. She barely came up for air, but when she did she had a big smile on her face.

At one point I said to her, “You really love to swim, don’t you?”

She looked back at me over her shoulder and replied “Yeah,” with a smile.

Mama was over the moon again.

By the time we left, I was thanking those blue-shirted folks and the kind-hearted supervisor who went out of her way to help out a mom in distress.

And as we drove back home through terrible traffic (including a long wait for the open Hamilton Avenue drawbridge to close) while sitting in wet clothes, hungry and exhausted, I realized — this excursion certainly wasn’t easy, but it was definitely worth it.

Now, I just have to find that padlock…!

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My outgoing/antisocial child…?

At 4.5 years old, our daughter N is a lovely, outgoing child (much of the time). She is well-liked at preschool by her friends and teachers and plays very nicely with the other kids. She is fun and funny and has a sparkling sense of humor.

Except when we attend a birthday party. Or a school picnic. Or a day on the farm hosted by her preschool. In those cases — all of which happened in the past busy week — my sweet little daughter turns into a grumpy, antisocial old man, complaining about the heat, her boo-boo, being hungry, or even just walking determinedly off by herself while all the other kids are having fun at the sack race.

At the school picnic, while several of her close friends were playing at the bean bag toss, N refused to participate. Instead, she wanted to swing by herself.

Part of me was glad she wanted to do her own thing. I see her in my mind’s eye at age 8 or 13 or 19, still independent and not needing to follow the crowd. I’m glad she has that independence inside her.

But I don’t want her to miss out on fun activities either. So as I pushed her on the swing, I tried to walk a fine line between accepting her feelings (“You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to…”) and encouraging her to join her friends (“…but I really think you would have fun if you just tried it”).

She didn’t try any of the activities, and after about 45 minutes the games were over. But I was glad to see that N finally joined her friends for lunch on the grass — it was a relief to see her having fun with them, which made the whole expedition worthwhile.

On Saturday we went to a birthday party for a friend’s daughter who was turning 1. It was a lovely day in the park, right by the carousel. N has ridden on carousels before and loved it, but at the party she suddenly developed a serious case of merry-go-round-a-phobia.

It was quite hot and sunny out, which made N flushed and cranky. She was also missing her nap, which didn’t help matters. Again she walked off by herself, this time to find a shady spot where she could draw and color.

We tried to get her to interact with the other partygoers, but she kept complaining about every little thing. The tension continued to mount, so I tried making her a plate of food to at least take the “hungry” out of hot, hungry and tired. When I didn’t do it right, she flared up into screaming hysterics. At a party. In the middle of the park. On a beautiful Saturday. By the carousel.

We scooped her up, said a hurried goodbye to our gracious hosts and left. This time, I was mad. She had behaved terribly. I knew she was hot and tired, and also that she’s 4. But there were other kids there who were about her age (boys, of course!) and they weren’t complaining about everything or screaming like banshees. What the heck was her problem??

I scolded her quite severely and told her that behavior was unacceptable, but in my head, I was wondering — as I always do when there is a behavioral issue — is this because I went back to work when she was 3 months old?? I realize this is ludicrous, but I feel like sometimes that’s what people are thinking. (That’s a blog post for another day!)

We took our third excursion of the week yesterday, driving nearly an hour to a farm where N’s preschool was hosting a tour of the children’s petting zoo. Again N was uncomfortable in an unfamiliar environment, even with all her good friends there. She didn’t want to milk the cow (but I really can’t blame her, I didn’t want to do that either). She also missed the pony ride, which made me sad because I knew she was looking forward to it.

Exasperated, I exclaimed, “Why did we come all this way to the farm if you’re not even going to participate?? You’re being like the cowardly lion” (we’re reading the Wizard of Oz) “and you’re not being brave, like I know you can be.”

I wonder to myself if this is a little harsh for a 4-year-old. Yet I feel like if we don’t push her a little bit, she’ll always hang back and never try anything. I’m not sure if that’s true but I don’t want to chance it.

As the tour continued we came to the pigs, where she got up the courage to pet the piglets. I praised her and told her I was proud of her. Then she touched a chicken and fed a goat. Except for my fears of animal-borne diseases and goat dung on her shoes, this made me happy and I told her so.

Then we came to the hayride. Again, she didn’t want to go, but finally worked up the courage (with some prodding from us). She had a wonderful time and the hayride turned out to be her favorite part of the trip.

I guess our girl is outgoing when she’s in her comfort zone, but in a new environment she hangs back for a while until she gets a feel for it. The testing window seems to be about 45 minutes. She even told me about this, when we were coming back from the party — she said she has to “warm up” for a little while.

So I’ll try my best to be patient, while still being a little bit of a nudge, but not too harsh. And maybe plan to arrive on the early side, so N has her 45 minutes to “warm up.”

(And a glass of wine for mama afterwards never hurts!!)

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Useful grieving tactic: folding fitted sheets. (Who knew??)

As soon as I woke up this morning, I felt annoyed.

It wasn’t that Baby Sis had been up intermittently since 4:00am. It wasn’t that N came downstairs at 6:00am to watch me do my exercises and chat while I was working up a sweat. It wasn’t even that I was bleary-eyed and tired and just wanted to go back to bed.

I was annoyed at my dad for dying five years ago tomorrow.

Especially annoyed that he chose to take his own life.

Each year around this time, I feel a weird, silent presence sneaking up beside me, casting a shadow over my mood. His name is Grief. He’s like a strange person you don’t really care to be around, but in a bizarre way you consider him a friend. The one you always have to invite to your party — and just hope he doesn’t show up.

For me, Grief shows up when green spring leaves are budding on the trees. He’s sneaky, so I don’t even know he’s there, casting his stupid little cloud over me. I get irritated at everyone and everything and I just want to be left alone. Then I realize — oh, it’s just Grief. Swell. Did he at least bring some chips and salsa?

So back to this morning. Greg went to work, N went to preschool and Baby Sis went down for a nap, so it was just me and Grief hanging out. I decided to fold some laundry — a basket of sheets.

I hate folding sheets. I guess the top sheet and pillowcases aren’t bad, but fitted sheets are absolutely horrible. I’m sure there is a way to fold them neatly but I can never figure out how to do it. If I tried getting a job as a housekeeper, I would definitely fail that part of the exam. I usually just try to bunch them up as quickly as possible and stuff them into a drawer.

I picked up the two fitted sheets in the pile. As usual, I bunched them up and started to put them away — but something didn’t feel right. I spread them back on the bed and looked at them. Then I actually tried re-folding them, slowly and carefully this time.

At first my mind was screaming, this is torture! You have so many other things to do — why are you wasting your time on this?? No one but you sees these sheets anyway, so who cares whether they’re neat??

But a voice in my head (I think I know who!! Grief, is that you?) told me — slow down. Fold the sheets carefully. Try hard to make them neat.

So I tried. My product might still not have passed muster with the Housekeepers Union, but it came out better than before.

Then a strange thing happened. I did something I’ve never done before: I got out ALL of our sheets — fitted sheets, top sheets and pillowcases. I shook them out and began re-folding them.

It was quite zenlike, actually. I really had to concentrate on matching up the corners, making neat creases, not hitting the ceiling fan above me, etc. Instead of my mind screaming at me, it became calm and quiet.

And I started thinking about my dad. (Tricky Grief, that was your plan all along, wasn’t it??)

I thought about all the special keepsakes and trinkets I kept in my room growing up. I’d get something small from my Granny or a yard sale — a little porcelain kitty or a teacup — and I would carefully display it on one of my shelves. I arranged my things with great care and dusted them often. Maybe it was an early nesting instinct or something, but I was proud of my little doodad displays.

My dad never seemed to understand. He belittled me for keeping “stuff” and made a big show of not attaching importance to his things. This continued throughout my time in college, when we sold our farm and the house where I grew up. He wanted to throw everything away when we moved — things that to me signified childhood memories. To him, they were just things.

I guess that’s how I feel about how he died. He chose to end his life — to throw away the most precious gift. I don’t understand that and I never, ever will.

So this morning, I carefully folded every damn fitted sheet we own. It took time and effort on my part, but it felt so good to practice taking care of something that is an integral part of our home. The art of taking care and nurturing is part of my healing process — to counter my father taking so little care of his things, his relationships or his life.

Okay, Grief, you did your job. You hung out for a while, which was nice, I suppose. The chips and salsa were good, thanks. But the party’s over now, time to go home!

Unless there is more laundry to fold…? Sigh…






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