Ok, September is Good, Too

Around mid-August, a little pit started in my stomach. Summer was almost gone! Only two weeks until my kids and I were to go back to school and work! Only two more weeks of lazy mornings, romps down to the river, kids sprawled with books on couches for hours at a time, swim lessons, berries, camping, spontaneous visits with friends, and forts and crazy art projects that take up large spaces of time and square footage. I think I mentioned before that I adore summer. And that spring can bring me to my knees in happiness because it means that summer is near.

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Well, August ended. The first day back to school (for me) arrived. One of my best friends works with me and she greeted me with excitement at reuniting with colleagues and friends. I looked around at the competent, caring teachers and staff who were also sad to say goodbye to summer but ready to tackle the 2014-2015 school year. I remembered the students and work ahead of me for which I had labored three years in graduate school, who challenge me to creatively solve problems, and make me laugh almost every day. Then one of my co-workers whispered, “you remind me of Angelina Jolie”, and that filled my bucket for the remainder of the inservice on longitudinal math data.

Momentum gathered as back-to-school night for my kids came and went, I attended a three-hour workshop on “Executive Functioning”, and new shoes were purchased. Our family gathered at a cottage in a pear orchard with two other families we regularly meet with through the fall, winter, and spring. The trees surrounding us were heavy with nearly-ripe fruit, perfectly formed and full, ready for harvest.

This summer has been a season of plenty for us. All summer long we have gorged ourselves with every good thing – friends, nature, beauty, learning, home-grown vegetables, family, rest. We are ready for fall’s harvest. We release our kids to their elementary school, I return to part-time employment and volunteer work, and John starts a new job at the Forest Service.

We renew our minds and bodies for schedules and discipline: wake up times, lunch-packing, homework, IEP-writing. We look forward to what the season holds: new friends, piano lessons, holidays, and visitors from Haiti. For the first time, John and I both have Fridays off together while the kids are at school from 9-3:30!

First Day of School 2014

The September harvest and scattering of our family reminds me how much I like my kids and miss them when they are away. Something I noticed the first week of school was that in the evenings, I found myself initiating interaction with my children (shocking, I know). One evening, after dinner at my in-laws, Ellie and Jack ran outside and I found myself following them to watch the bike riding and roller skating and cheerful chatter instead of my usual lingering at the dinner table among the adults and blessed adult conversation. Bedtime tucking-in this month has inspired longer conversations and extra hugs. Our weekday routine of Ten-Minutes-With-Mom after school has been reinstated after fading away last spring.

September is also good because actually, it’s still summer for about 70% of it! So, bedtime reading may take place at the river, summer squash and green beans straight from the vine grace the dinner table, and we can sneak in a couple camping trips before the month ends.

Paradise Creek

September has turned out to be full of goodness – hot, sunny days, reading in hammocks, adorable kindergartners who need speech therapy, and a cookout at the river with friends.

October may not be so bad either: Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Coffee. Amen.

 

Thank you, Mrs. Maxey

Two years ago, I sat on some bleachers in my daughter’s elementary school gym. Her kindergarten class was performing their end-of-year “Hoedown”.  It was the cutest, most hilarious, tears-streaming-down cheeks, darling school performance I have ever seen. And there was my girl’s teacher, twirling and swaying, mouthing words, directing movements, with 22 pairs of eyes fixed on her as they do-si-doed and kazooed around the gym.

Fast forward a year and my son is on the cusp of starting kindergarten at the same school, with the same teacher. I remember having a few weeks of panicky doubt – should we have had a third baby? Just like that, and Jack will be dancing at his Hoedown and that sweet, silly, wonderful five-year-old world of kindergarten will be gone. He hadn’t even had a first day in Mrs. Maxey’s class and I was already mourning saying goodbye to her.

Well, that day came, folks. Jack sauntered in the gym with his kindergarten friends, waving his hat, swingin’ his partner, warming his hands by the “campfire” and singing, “Come a ti yi yippee yippee yay”.

Kindergarten is oh, so sweet.

We have lots of friends who homeschool their children, and there are many moments that I consider the advantages of keeping my kids close at home and giving them a very individualized, very purposeful education. But our family has prayerfully and intentionally chosen to have our kids attend our neighborhood public school. How thankful I was when our first baby-turned-five-year-old landed in Mrs. Maxey’s class at Gause Elementary.

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Mrs. Maxey is one of those teachers who seem born to teach. Her classroom is organized, bright, welcoming, with just the right visuals and tools at hand at the right time. Her default expression is a smile. She looks happy to be in that classroom, with those children. Her voice even smiles when she introduces a new sight word, a new math strategy, and reminds forgetful children of prior learning. Finger spaces between words are a joyful experience! Choosing books for one’s book box is a matter of great importance and fun. Seemingly small tasks, such as taking only three seconds at the drinking fountain and remembering your coat for recess are cheerfully recited, just as if she was saying them for the first time in her life, not the nine thousand and ninety-seventh.

Mrs. Maxey has eyes on the back of her head and can attend to many unrelated tasks at once. She can direct multiple parent volunteers, coordinate schedules with her team teacher, check neglected backpacks, remind just the right students to move their lunch tags to the correct slot, cajole another sentence from a distracted child, and deliver her son to his preschool class in the building. All in the five minutes before the bell rings.

Kindergartners have so much to learn. Like how to smile for a school picture.

She knows that teachers never stop learning. She goes to kindergarten teaching conferences during summer vacation and workshops on the weekends. When the Common Core came down last year, she created and found new activities for new standards, and she adjusts and modifies assessments and lessons year-to-year, week-to-week, hour-by-hour, even!

Most teachers breathe a sigh of relief and settle down to eat their lunches in the staff room or in the blessed quiet of their classrooms while their students raise ruckus in the cafeteria. Not Mrs. Maxey. She and her team teacher, Mrs. Goodling, scarf down their meal while the children are at recess, then during Kindergarten lunch, you will find them walking up and down the cafeteria benches. They twist open lids, poke straws into holes, wipe up messes, sweetly insist that children not neglect their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, tear open stubborn packages, and mediate arguments. They instruct upon the nuances of the compost bin, the recycle bin, and the trash bin. They heap on smiles and cheerful encouragement to kids who are Ready To Go Home.

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And – Mrs. Maxey has spirit, yes she does. On October 31st, you might find her dressed as a “Despicable Me” minion; at the annual Sport-a-thon, she runs laps with her kinders; and on Muffins with Mom morning, there she is serving juice with a smile.

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When Mrs. Maxey goes home, I know for a fact she does not collapse on the couch in exhaustion (as I would after a day like hers). Her police officer husband is off to work for the evening, and her name changes to “Mom”. She has two boys, one of whom is a 2nd grader in my daughter’s class. She makes dinner, drives to football practice, and supervises homework. The proof of consistent and caring parenting is evident in her sons.

Then there is the Hoedown. Mrs. Maxey pretty much had me at “hello”, but the Hoedown endeared her to me forever. It makes me consider adoption so I can have another kindergartner someday. How do two kindergarten teachers get 44 five- and six-year-olds to gallop in a line, kazoo on key, wave cowboy hats and swing “lassos” in synchrony, swing their partner, and sing “Happy Trails” while swaying to and fro without utter chaos erupting? Magic, I tell you. Plus they can all read and write and add and subtract and walk quietly in a line and treat their friends with kindness and respect. Nine months of marvelous kindergarten magic.

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Thank you, Mrs. Maxey and Kindergarten teachers everywhere for the way you love our children and teach them how to read, write, listen, raise their hands, think about others, play kindly, take turns, eat respectfully in the cafeteria, work hard, forgive offenses, make good choices, and sing and dance. I don’t really want to say goodbye. I hope you don’t mind when I continue to wave into your doorway on my way to the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade classrooms.

Love, Ellie and Jack’s mom