As I sit at my computer to write this, there is exactly one more week of school in Addison County; when this column appears, my daughters will have been on summer vacation for approximately 15 hours. Between now and then there are picnics and potlucks and packing up. My oldest daughter's Kindergarten will have "Move Up Day," when she will meet her new First Grade teacher. My second daughter will participate in a preschool graduation ceremony, during which we will celebrate her ability to play, do crafts, and sit in a circle for 15 minutes. (Really, I see no need to continue her education.)
This year -- our first in the Addison County public school system -- has been a wonderful school year for our family. In August, we'll send two daughters to public school, while their younger sister begins preschool; we've gotten our toes wet, and soon we'll be wading in deep. So now seems like a good time to reflect on the valuable lessons our family has learned this school year.
1. Don't panic. This spring, a bat got into our four-year-old daughter's preschool class. Her teacher told me later that, while the students screamed and ducked for cover, the teachers ushered them calmly into another room, saying: "Don't panic! When you panic, your brain shuts off." The non-panicking teachers used nets to trap the bat in an art bin. (My daughter reported that, when they released it, she realized it had been little and cute all along.) For a week after this incident, whenever anything the least bit exciting happened in our house, my daughter would shout: "Don't panic!" Excellent advice.
2. Don't talk about your birthday party at school. This was the rule in both my daughters' classrooms, and -- as far as I can tell -- it was never followed. My daughters and their friends talked about their birthdays constantly, months in advance of the actual event. Birthday invitations were dangled as rewards and revoked as punishments. But just because a rule gets broken doesn't mean it isn't a good rule, and this is a very good rule. We repeatedly discussed its intention in our house: that it's unfair to make promises that aren't yours to make (in our family, at least, the parents decide how many birthday invitations get issued!), and that it's hurtful to discuss something that might exclude some people. In all honesty, I care less about the academic side of school than I do about the social side: that my children are learning to be kind, to interact with different people, and to maneuver tricky social situations. This rule is a good first step towards social sensitivity -- something that most of us adults are continuing to learn as we go!
3. Don't expect to sleep in on weekends.The school sleep schedule was a learning experience for my husband and me. I still don't understand how it's possible that the same girls we had to pry from their beds at 6:30 on weekday mornings came bursting into our bedroom at 6:00 AM on Saturday and Sunday shouting, "We're bored!", "We're hungry!", "We have to go potty!" But it happened every week. Eventually I learned that if I wanted to have a few minutes of peace on the weekend to, say, wash my face without the company of four small people, I had to leave my alarm set to the same time as during the week.
4. Don't recycle artwork until 48 hours have passed. Our daughters love to draw, and every afternoon they'd bring home numerous pages of their own artwork, in addition to official school art projects and worksheets. I am irreverent about this artwork; there isn't room enough in our entire house to store it all, and it tends to be repetitive (like 236 drawings of the characters from Frozen). So, I will choose the year's best picture of Queen Elsa, and recycle the rest. I have found that this works just fine -- provided I wait 48 hours (72 hours for very "special" pieces). Anything under 48 hours, and one of my daughters may suddenly remember her masterpiece and set out on a frantic search, while I avoid eye contact and mumble, "Um, gee sweetie, I don't know. It was there on the counter...."
5. THANK YOUR CHILD'S TEACHERS AND ADMINISTRATORS...AND BUS DRIVERS! I'm overwhelmed by the thought of spending 2.5 months with all four of my children, all day long; their teachers just spent nine months with four times that many children. I'm deeply grateful that my children are surrounded by teachers and administrators who care for them and educate them -- often with more patience and kindness than I'm able to muster. I will endure summer vacation simply because they deserve it. And my daughter's bus driver, Margo, deserves special recognition: I can't imagine spending two hours a day driving a metal box filled with K-12 students, but Margo does it with a smile. She knows my daughter's name; she pays enough attention to know when our family is doing something fun over the weekend, when we have grandparents visiting, or when my daughter's been out sick; and she always takes a minute to chat with me when she drops off my daughter at the end of the driveway.
Now, excuse me; I've spent enough time writing. I need to return to constructing a child-proof bunker to which I can retreat sometime in early August -- when we've exhausted ice cream and the lake and camps and we're all driving each other crazy -- only to emerge when the schools are willing to take back my children.
Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. Since moving to Addison County in 2011, her work has involved caring for a house in the woods, four young daughters, one anxiety-prone puppy — and writing for her blog, The Pickle Patch.