On her first year of school… and moving on…

The first Year

I haven’t said much here about Caris’ first year of playschool, for no other reason than not particularly having much time (or inspiration) to blog at all. But now that the year is done and dusted, I feel the need to reflect on what was an incredible year.

On the one hand, I was more relaxed about sending her to school for the first time than I was when Alex was little, as I had been-there-done-that before. But on the other, I was nervous as hell, because Caris doesn’t really take to new people that easily, in fact she used to even be reluctant to stay with her own grandparents!

So at two and a half, we packed her little butterfly bag and sent her to school.

butterfly bag

So let’s start at the beginning.

Her first day was an absolute disaster. I didn’t like her teacher. (It is customary at her playschool to spend the first day with them.) I do not say this lightly, as clearly one day is not enough to get to know someone. But I am pretty good at reading people, and I did not get a warm and fuzzy feeling. She was aloof and disinterested in my child, and considering that Caris started two weeks after the rest of the class as she was new, the teacher should have theoretically been able to give her a bit more one-on-one attention, which she did not do. I did not like the way the teacher handled disciplining a boy in the class that was having a meltdown and in general she just made me feel uncomfortable. Nobody even bothered to show my kid where the loo was, I had to take her. (She was newly potty trained and I was mortified at the thought of her having an accident.) And then about ten minutes after play-time, one of the kids in her class was brought in by the gardener bawling her eyes out, as she had been left outside; the teacher hadn’t even checked that everyone was back. I was not exactly filled with confidence that she would be the nurturing, caring teacher I had hoped for.

Needless to say, Caris spent the entire morning sitting on my lap, despite all my efforts to get her to mingle. I was devastated as Alex had been at the same playschool and his first day (and year) was amazing. (Albeit with a different teacher.) Another little girl had started on the same day, and I could see that her mom was feeling uncomfortable too, and I even assured her that it was a lovely school and that the class was clearly just experiencing teething problems that day.

I left the school with a heavy heart, and by the next morning I had decided she was not going back to school. I then requested a meeting with the principal and explained why my daughter had not returned, and what my issues with the teacher were. After pretty much refusing to take my child back to her allocated teacher, despite their “give it another chance, she really is an excellent teacher” pep-talk (and threatening to take both my kids out of the school), they agreed to move her to another class. And no, I am not normally a high-maintenance mom. (Incidentally, I met the other new mom in the parking lot the next morning and she was sitting in her car crying because she had left her daughter there that morning. As we got chatting, she had all the same issues as me, and wanted to take her daughter out of the school. Later I learned that she had taken her child to another school. I felt like I had dodged a bullet!)

So on the Thursday, we had a redo of the first day of school. Day one with her new teacher was amazing. I had intended to spend the day with her again, but within ten minutes, Teacher Tina had taken her outside to see the bunnies and I could go. I felt comfortable the minute I had walked into her class, and immediately knew that this was the teacher for my Caris! Little did I know that she would end up being the most amazing teacher I have ever met. (And also confirmed my belief that a child’s schooling experience is 100% related to the teachers they encounter along the way.) My little girlie blossomed and grew so much in Tina’s class over the course of the year.(Daphne, the assistant teacher, and Irini, the Greek teacher were absolutely fantastic too.)

Tina not only looked after and taught our little people, but she loved them and nurtured them as if they were her own. And as parents, she became our friend. Each Friday, she shared photos of our little ones in the class whatsapp group, allowing us glimpses into the daily activities of our little ones.We all became very attached to Teacher Tina.

One of my favourite images from the Teddy-bear picnic day:

CarisTeddyI could not have asked for a better start to my baby’s school career. At the end of year group ring, Tina’s palpable emotions let us all know how special our little ones had been to her too. And I know that all the other moms in the class felt the way I did too, we were all very emotionally charged as we said our goodbyes on the last day of school.

As a parting thank-you, I wrote Tina the following note that conveyed how much she had meant to us during the year. I can only hope the remainder of Caris’ school career is filled with other such amazing teachers.

letter

Moving on…

The end of playschool has left a heavy burden in my heart. Change is never easy, and the transition has been very hard on Caris. And me. The pre-school is so much bigger, and more hectic, and being separated from her original class and Tina has been very stressful. (Luckily she is in the same class as her friend Ciana, who is walking with her in the photo above!) She has pretty much broken my heart every day at drop-off, by clinging to me and crying inconsolably, and refusing to go to her new teacher. (Something she has never done before.) I know in my head that it will get better (and already she is less reluctant) but that doesn’t stop my heart from aching. I miss the days of dropping her with Tina, easily. I have some solace in the fact that the other little ones are also struggling to adjust, and it is completely normal for her to be experiencing some anxiety.

So hence we start the next chapter of Caris’s school career.

I can only hope that it will be even half as happy and wonderful as her first…

caris first day of grade 000

 

 

 

The trouble with being little

Barring the last week, Alex has been having a bit of a rough time since school started again this year. Being quite a reserved child, he sometimes struggles to fit in with the crowd. I can relate, because I was never really a mainstream kid. He has always been quite an intense child, we even saw him frowning in-utero during his 4D ultrasound! Even from tiny, he would suss things out before engaging with a new group of kids, or trying out a new activity. He doesn’t particularly care for crowds and much prefers one-on-one attention. I always assumed that it was because he only started school at three, and was naturally shy, but the more I observe him, the more I realise that he is a little different to the other kids. And specifically to the other boys. But not in a bad way. Alex is a sensitive child, and is clearly a thinker (a trait he has gained from me, and from his dad, so he has a double dose!) He is always polite and waits his turn, sometimes to his own detriment, as the other kids barge in front of him. He is a worrier and seems to carry the weight of the world on his tiny shoulders some days.

When I see the boys in his class playing fighting games and running around pretending to shoot each other, I can understand why Alex prefers the company of girls; he is just not into that stuff. So as a result, all of Alex’s school friends are girls. But by the same token, he loves typical boy things such as cars, planes, ball games etc, and his latest obsession: vikings and dragons. He has told me on many occasions that he does not like the fighting games that the boys play, because they are too rough. (But he is perfectly happy to rough-house with Gary or his older brothers, go figure!) He loves anything to do with animals, and I could fully see him being a vet, or an animal rights activist, in the future. While the other boys are watching Ben 10 and Spiderman, Alex prefers “A dolphin tale” and “How to train your dragon” (and mainly because the dragon is a pet!)

alex

So the trouble began when we started school again this year, and his friend Bianca was not there. (She has some medical issues requiring surgery this year and her parents decided to home-school her.) The classes are always mixed up at the beginning of the year, and as a result there are new kids in his class, and only a few from last year. And more importantly, the girls are starting to only play with girls. Which leaves poor Alex in a bit of a quandary. We have many conversations on the way home that go something like this:

“Did you have a nice day boy”

“No. I had a terrible day”

“Why?”

“Somebody hurt my feelings”

“Who, boy?”

“Carmen…” (or Vicky or Jessica etc…)

“What did they do my love?”

“Nobody wants to play with me … ” (tears at this point)

“Why don’t you play with the boys then, sweetheart?”

“I don’t like fighting games.” (now full-on sobbing)

And my heart breaks for him.

Alex has been teary quite a lot at school too. His teacher has mentioned this to me on a few occasions and asked me if there are any major issues in Alex’s life right now. She told me that she has asked him if anything is bothering him, and he sometimes gets very teary and (after a lot of coaxing) says things like his tummy is sore or he is missing his brother (Stuart has been away in New Orleans since November last year.) And whilst on some days he is perfectly happy and full of the joys of spring, the kid is clearly on an emotional roller coaster. Being in grade 0 this year also means that the pressure has increased big time, so it is important that he feels settled. By the same token, if I see that he is feeling down at home and ask him what is wrong, he gives me lines such as “I don’t like that movie we saw… ” or “I don’t want to swim because the water goes in my eyes…” or some other random statement, but I never get to the bottom of what is really going on. And the more I ask him what is really troubling him, the more upset he gets.

As parents we just want our kids to be happy, but no matter what I do to try to understand what’s eating him up inside, I just can’t seem to get through to him!

Which brings me to another issue: the sore tummy. I have also been at the receiving end of many complaints of “my tummy is sore”, usually preceded by something he does not want to do, which at the moment is just about everything. Not wanting to go swimming, not wanting to go to bed, not wanting to go to soccer, not wanting to eat dinner, not wanting to tidy up, being refused a new toy at the shops etc. So to be honest, I have doubted that there is anything physically wrong with his tummy, and that he has just been using it as an excuse to get attention. However, I am also not insensitive to the impact that Gary’s kidney issue last year has had on Alex, as he has asked me many times: “What will happen if I get a lump on my kidney? Will I die?” And “What happens if daddy gets a lump on his other kidney? Will he die?” etc. I always try to reassure him that he is fine, and daddy is fine, and no-one is going to die right now. So for good measure, I decided to take him to the paed just to be sure, and the doc confirmed that there is nothing to be concerned about. I also got the good doctor to check his kidneys too, which are obviously fine, but I felt terrible when the poor boy whispered to me as we got into the car: “I was very nervous when Dr Slowatek checked my kidneys mommy!”

Breaks my heart some more.

So as much as he seems a little happier at the moment, I still think that he is carrying around some issues, which I don’t know how to help him resolve. I would guess that the problem lies somewhere between Bianca being gone, Stuart being away, and Gary’s health-scare, but when I ask him about any of these things he just gets upset, and cannot verbalise his true feelings. Maybe its none of these things and I am jumping to conclusions.

I have considered taking him to a play therapist, but I have heard so many mixed reviews about these types of therapies. Some kids blossom during the process, and for some it’s a total waste of time (and money.) And my cynical mind thinks that we never had the luxury of therapists to sort out all our problems when we were kids, and we ultimately turned out just fine. But I also appreciate that kids these days are under a LOT more pressure than we ever were. I also don’t want Alex to become completely withdrawn as he clearly already struggles to express his feelings.

So later today I have a meeting with the school psychologist… wish me luck! (And here’s hoping we get to the bottom of this!)

Meet you on the other side…

At school, there are a couple of pathways that lead from the parking lot to the classroom. When we arrive, I always ask Alex which way he would like to go; past the fish-pond, under the mulberry trees etc. His reply is inevitably “I’ll meet you on the other side!” (Which means: he goes down a different pathway to me and then meets me on the other side.)

It is a little game that we have been playing since the beginning of pre-school, a little reflection of his growing independence, and sometimes, I run ahead, and say “BOO!” when he strolls out of his chosen route. He screams with delight and then runs ahead to the pre-school block reception. During mulberry season, he dawdles along the pathway, squashing purples berries while he walks. On rainy days, he thunders through the puddles, splashing water all over the place. And in winter he runs as fast as he can, trying to stay warm, blowing little puffs of steam from his mouth into the icy morning air. (Our afternoon ritual is similar, but then we go past the fish-pond, so that he can see “daddy fish” – which happens to be the biggest koi fish in the pond.)

When we arrive in the school building, he runs to find his locker, and usually looks to see if his friend Vicky’s bag is in her locker yet. This morning, his Greek teacher was waiting, and he sidled up to her for a hug, saying “Kalimera Kyria Sula” shyly. (…with apologies to any Greek readers, I have no idea how to spell that!) My heart just swelled with pride. He is growing up far too quickly, and I find myself missing the days when he was a baby. Before long, I imagine I will be stopping outside the school gate, with a sulky teenager in the back seat, who would probably rather die than have me walk him to his class room. To add to my melancholy, I went into the playschool on the way out, to hand in Caris’ application for next year. Memories of Alex’s first day at playschool hit me like a hammer; holding his tiny hand, and sitting on the floor with him on my lap for his first group ring. And how proud I was when he got off my lap all by himself to go and sit with the others.

Alex, my sweet baby boy, I hope you will want to “meet me on the other side” always…

This time last year…

This time last year, I was having a mild panic attack, because I was one of those moms who hadn’t put her child on a school waiting list in utero. I had a three-month old new baby, and an about to turn three-year old, who was rapidly succumbing to boredom at granny’s house, and had his nose out of joint big time with the birth of his little sister.  Having canvassed a few of the local play / pre-schools in the area, I realised my rather large faux-pas, at having not paid a school deposit the day I fell pregnant.

So ever the optimist, I filled in forms and hoped that someone would have a space for him by 2013, if I was lucky, never mind the back-end of 2011 or January 2012! The school I was most keen on (who had said that there was no way they could help me that year) gave me a call out of the blue about a week after filling in the paperwork, and said that they had a space for him to start in September 2011 if I was still keen.  Seemingly someone had left with short notice, and he could start immediately.

Deposits were paid quicker than you can say “Playschool costs HOW MUCH!?!” and my little guy was set to start school.

{A photo of Alex’s first-ever ring time sitting next to Emily. Look at how much hair he has!}

He was put in the older of the two playschool classes, where the children all celebrated their birthdays six months to a year before him, so he really was the baby in the class, with some of the kids turning four years old a few weeks after he turned three. I spent the first day of school with him, and was horrified at some of his class mates jumping off of play equipment higher than my waist, and watching the eagerness in Alex’s eyes to follow suit. I was imagining a phone call within his first week at school to say that he had broken an arm or leg while trying to imitate his new friends.

He was so shy, and so little, and it broke my heart to leave him there alone on his second day. (But luckily he took a liking to Emily, the teacher’s assistant, and she helped him settle in!) Before long, he was fitting in just perfectly, had made some friends, and was happy and eager to go to school. Once he started, I felt hugely guilty that I had kept him home for so long, and was worried that I had done him a disservice by waiting till three to send him to school. And keeping him home, was entirely my doing, not wanting to let my baby go out into the big wide world. But I soon realised that he was not at all behind his classmates, and in some cases he was ahead of even the much older children. (Having had one-on-one time with Granny and Grandpa for almost three years, he knew a lot of stuff already!) The only real problem was that he was painfully shy, and this was in part his personality, and partly because he was not exposed to that many kids of his own age. (Even though we had play-groups and some activities such as Kindermusik and swimming, it’s not quite the same as a school setting).

A few weeks after starting school, he turned three, and celebrated his birthday with his new friends.

{Blowing out candles with Elli}

A year later, deep in the throes of grade 000, he loves school. He has made a few close friends and looks forward to seeing his teachers and classmates every day. According to his teacher, Christine, he loves to participate, and is nowhere near as shy as the boy I witnessed on his first day, and at his first parents’ day some 11 months earlier. He has fitted in brilliantly and is a popular and well-liked boy. He has made beautiful art-works, “baked” some delicious creations, played to his heart’s content, and has even been on two outings (to Drake’s farm and the Joburg zoo). And he has learnt SO MUCH! He comes home every day with some new bit of knowledge, and will tell us “Do you know…” followed by the little titbit that he has learnt.

He is at a Greek school, even though we are not Greek, but I am told by his Greek teacher, Matoula, that he is one of the stars in the class. At home, we often hear him singing his Greek songs and pointing out certain things or counting out aloud (to thirty!) in Greek!  (It still amazes me what little sponges pre-schoolers are. When he first started playschool, and was exposed to this second language, I am sure that he was super confused, but now it’s as if he’s been learning it all his life.)

A year later, I am impressed by how much he has learnt, and how he has blossomed since starting school. Some days when I fetch him, and we drive past the play-school building on the way out, Alex says to me, “There’s Elli’s class, and Caris is going to be in Elli’s class when she is a big girl!” (And this time around, I can’t wait for my little girl to start school!)

Ocean Motion

For the past few weeks, the theme at school has been Ocean Life, and Alex has been in his absolute element! Ever since his first visit to Ushaka Marine World when he was just over two years old, he has been obsessed with sea creatures.  When he was tiny, one of his favourite DVD’s was “Baby Genius: Under water adventures“, which he used to call Ocean Motion, and to this day, he loves all things marine.

After his first trip to the aquarium, we bought him this book on Ocean Life. And at all of two and a half, he had memorised every single sea creature within its pages. (Friends were amazed when we asked Alex to read them his Ocean Motion book, and he would happily name each creature (over forty of them!) as we paged through it.  It used to be one of our favourite party tricks. We used to laugh out loud at the fact that this tiny boy was reciting marine animal names as if they were part of his day-to-day vocab!)

We were dumb-struck at how brilliant his memory was, and how he even got the pronunciations right. Even the obscure ones like Coelocanth, Mantis Shrimp and Sea Anemone!

The Ocean Life book is now well-worn, as it was paged through (and recited) each night before bed. Over time, the obsession faded a little, and some of the creatures were forgotten, but thanks to the aquatic theme at school, it has been revived, and he is back to naming each creature in his fishy book, without a single error.

During his parent / teacher review at school last week, his teacher, Christine, told us how amazed she had been, when putting up a picture of a shark or a whale, he pointed out that it was in fact a great-white shark, and a humpback whale etc. (So we had to confess that this was one of his party tricks!) And on the subject of his progress at school, we have been assured that he is a kind, bright, happy, polite child, who never forgets his P’s and Q’s. (I did also ask if she was sure she was talking about MY child, given the daily tantrums and non compliance I have to deal with!)

On the way to school the other day, Alex says to me: “Mom, when school is on holiday in August, I am taking the train to Ballito to go to the aquarium!”  I just love my budding little marine biologist to bits! (And luckily for him, we will be going down to Ballito for a week soon, and he can visit his beloved sea creatures.)