Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Eleanor Project

A few months ago, a friend of mine told me about a really cool blog called The Eleanor Project.  The idea behind the project is to show the beauty of all women, not the airbrushed, unrealistic fantasy that hollywood and media portrays.  They named it the Eleanor Project after Eleanor Roosevelt, one of my favorite people in the world, because she exuded beauty, vibrancy, elegance and intelligence throughout her life.

Every few days or weeks, someone is celebrated on their blog as an Eleanor, and the best part is that any woman can be an Eleanor.  You just have to send a little email with an introduction and answer a few questions.

My friend, who told me about it said "You should totally be an Eleanor!"  I thought about it for a bit.  And then I thought about it some more.  I read about all of the other Eleanors on the blog.  I liked their Facebook page.  I got updates in my newsfeed from The Eleanor Project, imploring me (and all the other women who liked the page) to join the sisterhood.

So one night, as I was wrestling with insomnia, I decided to take the chance.  I opened up my email, typed up a bunch of stuff, pressed send, and then immediately second-guessed myself and wished I hadn't done it.  Even though I have a blog and seem relatively easy-going around others, always quick with a joke, I really hate being the center of attention.  That, and I suddenly felt inferior to all the Eleanors who preceded me.  Their bios and their answers to the questions seemed so much more thoughtful and intelligent. 

And the next morning, I got a gushing thank you in my email inbox, asking me for my photo (of which, I have about three that I like).  So I got excited, and I couldn't believe that I was going to be featured on this really cool blog that celebrates really cool women.  Me!  I started to get excited.

I visited the blog every day, sometimes more than once (OK, probably about once every couple hours), anxiously anticipating my face, smiling from the page.  The week seemed to drag on, as I talked myself out of my worthiness of being an Eleanor, because that's what I do.  And let's be honest, this is what we all do at one point in our lives.  And this is what the Eleanor Project is working against.

So this afternoon, when I checked the page, my heart almost stopped when I saw myself smiling at me from their page.  I read my post like it was the first time, and I found myself inspired by . . . me!  And there was a comment, from someone I've never met, who said she wanted to be my friend.  And someone else sent me a sweet comment on my blog.  And here I am, gushing and blushing, and not quite ready to share this with all my friends on my facebook page.  But I'll share it here, because you have to come here to find out about me.  It doesn't shove itself into your face and jump up to the top of your news feed with every like and comment.  Because, while I'm still an introvert and rather shy, I'm still pretty damn proud to be an Eleanor.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Blazing a Trail to Preschool

I began my search for a preschool without a road map or any clue of what direction to go.  I had so many questions and very few answers.  How old should my child be before I start looking?  What type of preschool would work for her?  Montessori or Waldorf?  Faith-based or not?  What about language immersion, or co-op?  What do these terms even mean?  And how much will it cost?  Is it even worth it for my child to go to preschool when she can learn the same things from me at home?  Or will she learn more things at preschool?  If I keep her home, will I be doing her a disservice?  Will she be ready for kindergarten?  And of course, I thought all of these things before she even blew out that first candle on her birthday cake.

It’s hard to live in the moment of parenthood and simply be and love your children where they are when you’re inundated with Facebook status messages about your friends’ children reciting their ABC’s (in French), spelling their names, or solving quadratic equations and you look over at your two year old, giggling with glee, diaper off and playing in his poop in the corner of the living room.  So then I become the “funny mom” who posts those off the wall status updates of “cute” and “silly” things my kids do because she skips 17 every time she counts, and he sings just the first two lines of “Twinkle Twinkle” over and over again.  I just have to keep up, right?  I need to start their education right now, right?

Well yes.  And no.  If there is one thing I’ve learned from my experience as a teacher, and my most recent experience as a mom, it’s that children are learning all the time.  Let me say that again: children are learning.  All. The. Time.  From the time they wake up in the morning, to the time they go to sleep at night, they are learning things.  They learn by doing, playing, exploring, experimenting, making mistakes, observing, talking, listening, running, jumping, painting, making messes, cleaning up, crying, laughing, hugging and kissing.  So you see, their education has already started, because their education goes hand in hand with their development.

There are four major areas (or domains) of child development: cognitive – how children think; physical – how children move; social – how children relate to others; and communication – how children…um…communicate.  The way children develop in these domains directly affects how and what they learn, and vice versa.  In addition, each area is dependent on the other for development.  So many childhood tasks require all four domains to complete.  Let’s look at potty training as an example (since this has created my most recent motherhood battle scars).
In order to be considered potty trained, a child needs to be able to do the following things in the four domains:

Know the sequence and routine of using the toilet (first pull down pants, then sit on toilet, etc.)

The ability to hold and release waste.

The understanding that others prefer not to play in your puddle of pee, or smell the poop smoldering in your underwear.

The ability to understand and answer the question “Do you need to use the bathroom?” as well as being able to state “I need to use the bathroom.”

Because of this, a child entering kindergarten needs a good, strong foundation of learning that encompasses all four domains of development.  An enriching environment where a child can explore, experiment, problem solve, make mistakes, get angry, laugh, cry, make connections, run, jump, and express themselves in any manner they please is essential to building that foundation.  That environment also needs to provide a safe, predictable structure to the day.  And where is the best place for a child to find this?  That’s right – preschool.

I know you try very hard to make sure everything in your child’s day is enriching.  I do the same for mine.  However, we have them 24-7.  There is a LOT of down-time in your day.  Think about how many times you lock yourself in the bathroom just to get a moment’s peace.  Preschool lasts about four hours, max.  It’s so much easier to create four hours of highly enriching structured activity that keeps children engaged, than to do it all day every day.  Also, it’s easier when they’re not your kids.  I know this from experience.  My daughter was a student in my class one year.  She lasted five months.  I lasted three.

Now that the why has been answered, I’m guessing you want to know the who, what, where, and when.  Remember that road map that I mentioned at the beginning?  I didn’t have one.  I blazed a path on my own, following recommendations of friends and random people on mommy boards online.  I visited a few, fell in love with some, never wanted to see others again.  In the end, we found a school that worked for my kids, for my family, and had the same philosophical ideals on early childhood foundations that I have.  I would love to give you a map of the trail I blazed.  However, it may not be the right fit for you.  What I can do is offer you a key – a map legend of sorts – to blazing your own trail to the right preschool for your children and family, and an opportunity that I did not have or even know about when I began my search.

This key is the Lake Oswego Mother’s Club Preschool Forum.  Every year in January, the LOMC invites preschools from around the area to gather together in one place, providing information on their programs to parents and families like you.  All you need to do is show up, walk in, ask questions and get answers.  There’s no cold calling here, just warm greetings and time for you, because there is childcare, too!  And the best part – it’s free!  Even if you’re pretty sure junior won’t be enrolling in the fall, it doesn’t hurt to start asking questions now.  You may learn something you didn’t know about a school or a teaching philosophy that could change your course.  If nothing else, it will make blazing your path for preschool education much easier than mine ever was.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year, New Hope

Welcome to 2014.  The world as we knew it ended in December of 2012.  I think that explains why 2013 fucked me up so much.

I was not prepared.

This year, I'm preparing for anything.  I'm glancing over my shoulder, expecting the absolute worst to happen, like it will tap me from behind and say "surprise!"  I hold my breath when I answer the phone and my mother says "Dawn," in a very concerning way, like she has the worst news in the world to tell me... even though the worst news has already been delivered, and that she could not deliver the news that would be unfathomably worse than that.

I started my period yesterday, which is pretty apropos.  When I lived in New York and worked for Bankers Trust, I worked with a guy named Aramis Perez.  He wasn't the brightest bulb on the tree, and I always thought the following comment proved such, but tonight, or this morning (however you want to look at it), I'm thinking there may be something to it.  One day, after a blood drive, he mentioned that men needed to donate blood because women at least had their periods, so they got their monthly cleansing.  I never thought much about bloodletting, nor about the fact that I do it regularly.  And this month, I've been especially PMS-y, so this bloodletting has been a huge emotional release.

But then, I've been an emotional volcano since August.  Turning 40 and losing both my father and grandmother within a month of each other has forced me to face the reality of my own mortality.  While I know it may not come for another 40 or 50 years, or could happen before I finish this sentence, I have faced, called into conference, sent to detention, contemplated, considered, denied, accepted, denied again, blamed, hated, pined for, and entertained the thought of death for the last quarter of 2013.  The last week has been the most difficult.  I returned to the place where I first learned of my father's passing.

Colville, WA was once our oasis.  In fact, when we were so full of stress and screaming at each other and our children on our way out the door for Labor Day Weekend, Paul and I were both longing to get to my in-laws' place, as it's our emotional center, drawing us away from the crazy of city life, work, and commercialism, taking us back to the simpler times of daily chores, cultivating food, and preparing for the near future.  Little did I know as we were pulling away from the city, leaving our cares behind, that my oasis would soon become my misery.  I didn't realize until I was there for Christmas, just how much I had been undone in such a short, painful weekend.

Last year, we spent the week sledding, building a snowman and tromping through the hundreds of acres in the snow.  This year, I didn't leave the house.  I couldn't convince myself to do so.  Even though the trees were bending to the weight of the ice and snow, begging me to photograph them in their brilliance, I couldn't do it.  I couldn't make that mistake again.  I couldn't enjoy myself while someone so dear to me left the earth with nothing more than a random passing thought while pulling up my pants in the bathroom.

Did I not mention that yet?  The day my father died, before I went for a hike with my brand new camera in hand, I had a crazy thought go through my head as I glanced at myself in the mirror in the bathroom.  I thought "You know, one of these days you're going to get old and die.  It happens to all of us."  I looked at myself and gave a shy smile, not knowing why the thought came to my mind.  And then I thought "Don't look in my closet," thinking about my "sewing room" that I created out of a closet.  In addition to all the sewing supplies, I keep a random assortment of shit in there.  It's a wasteland... a garbage dump of stuff I can't quite figure out what to do with but can't seem to let go of and toss.  And there I was, at the moment of my dad's demise, thinking that I didn't want anyone rooting through my closet should I pass.

And the next week, I was rooting through my dad's closet, which, minus the sewing supplies, was just like mine.

It gives me comfort to think that my dad may have tried to notify me in an ethereal way, to say goodbye in the only way he was able.  But this time, I waited to hear something new, something more comforting, and expected more pain, another message from another loved one's passing.  Instead, I merely felt the echo in the memory of the old thought, and this time, all I could think was "death and taxes, death and taxes," over and over.  All weekend.  No matter where I was -- bathroom, kitchen, or bed, between the legs of my husband.

I was a sentry, waiting for a message, not leaving my post, lest I miss important orders.  At night, I dreamt of losing family members - one night it was my mother.  Another night, my brother.  I was on high alert, keeping my phone with me at all times, expecting a call I should never expect, jumping at every ring.

I couldn't wait to get home, away from the memory of that day, when I got the phone call from my brother while we were in the driveway, and for some strange reason I finally had good cell phone service up there.  I remember asking him to repeat himself a few times.  It didn't compute that my dad.  MY DAD was dead.  Even now, I expect a phone call or letter from him.  After all, it's Christmas, isn't it?

At the hotel on the trip home, I found myself loathing the morbidly obese man at the breakfast bar who was unquestionably larger and unhealthier than my father.  How dare he be alive when my father is not!  I found myself asking nobody in particular in my head why that man couldn't have died instead, and then immediately felt guilty for wishing such.

Now we're home and I'm surrounded by his memory -- all the things I took from his place, for Christmas craft projects I didn't have the strength to make.  Pillows from his old t-shirts, hats and bookmarks from his old sweaters, copies of his AA testimonies on CD.  All of these things in neat boxes added to my closet -- my closet that I hope nobody has to go through should I leave this earth.  My shit is now his shit.  His shit is now my shit.  Our shit.  No wonder he pops into my head every time I'm in the throes of ecstasy with my husband.  I thought I was just really fucked up.  I am really fucked up, but maybe not as much as I thought Freud would think I am.

So here I am, standing on the precipice between 2013 and 2014.  I'm so ready to jump, to leave behind the pain and suffering that I remember from the last year.  I can't remember being happy.  I'm sure I was at some point, but the lingering pain snuffs it out so quickly.  I'm also terrified to move on, as I can imagine even more terrible hardships ahead.  I've lived a charmed life for the past 10 years, and now things are beginning to crumble away.  December is crumbling away at my feet.  If I don't jump into January, I'll fall into it with no bearings or footing.

So here goes, 2014.  I'll jump, face forward, feet first.  I'm tear-stained, battered, bruised, beaten and tired.  But I'm also strong, secure, and brave (if only on paper), and I have a lot of love around me.  I'm coming through, not the other way around.  Make way, and let me have my time, my love and my peace.  If you bring me as much hardship and strife, I may leave you fading into history blood smeared and splattered like I did your predecessor, even if it is only on the absorbent layer of the pantyliner left in the trashcan of yesteryear.

And 2013,  Fuck.  You.