Tuesday, February 19, 2013

an education

This morning Maude didn't want to go to school. She was sobbing that she wanted to stay home with us. I snuggled her in my arms for a while, then we played a shapes game, where she rearranged some shapes on a puzzle board and tried to match where they had been on the back of the board in an elaborate memory game of her own invention.

I always feel guilty when she doesn't want to go to school, in at least two ways. First, while I know I am making this little kid go off into an institutional environment so I can catch up on teaching work, which is in fact my paid employment right now, let's face it; I'm home all day today. Home working, yes--but home. And, here, as you can see, writing, which is not exactly working (though it is actual work, I know).

Second, I feel guilty because not only am I sending her away, but I'm sending her to someplace she claims makes her unhappy. Although I don't think she is ACTUALLY unhappy. I think she just prefers the unstructured time at home and, getting used to it, doesn't want to change back when Monday comes.

Now, Maude has been attending this preschool since she was two, in the days when I was working a 9-5 office job and her other Mom was too (basically, a 4-4 composition load is at least 9-5, and actually more). We wanted her to go not only for the daycare, but for the socialization and play time, since she is an only child. I feel good about this. Her day consists of work in the morning drawing shapes and lines (they follow Montessori principles here), lunch, nap time, and play in the afternoon, with stories and reading. Some mornings they dance, others they have an instructor come in and teach Tae Kwon Do. They do a bunch of fun stuff in a regimented but fairly intimate neighborhood environment (about 30 kids total).

Some days I pick her up early, anxious to see her and give her some home time, and she tells me that I am too early, that she was enjoying playing with her friends in the afternoon. So she's not really--or not often--actually unhappy there. She just forgets in the morning that she likes school, and forgets in the afternoon that she was ever unhappy about being there.

Now it is time to think about kindergarten, and there are three options. Actually, there are really only two, because we have already decided that the Chicago Public Schools are not an option. We don't have good schools anywhere near us, and even the good ones are geared towards the ridiculous testing schedules that have decimated education in this country.

So there is Waldorf, which is right down the street, and North Side Catholic, which is a little further down the street. Waldorf is expensive. North Side is, well, Catholic.

When we visited Waldorf we loved it. I especially like the aesthetic philosophy of muted lights and soft colors, and their emphasis on creativity and the arts. However, they are, as I pointed out, expensive--nearly twice what we pay now, and twice what we would pay to send her to Catholic school. Still, the neo-Pagan festivals they celebrate--in the fall they make lanterns and walk around the neighborhood, for example--their emphasis on music, movement, and the arts, and the quirky philosophy of teaching kids to knit instead of read, getting them ready to pick up reading and really take off with it--really appeals to me. Even their no-media emphasis, where they encourage families to keep tv and movies to a minimum so kids can develop creativity, is ok. We don't have time to watch much tv, though Maude loves it on the weekends, and she likes to watch a show with her breakfast on weekdays. I grew up in a house in the woods, where we got three channels, and that made me read more, play the piano, go outside, and draw self-portraits using my bedroom mirror.

The down side is the feel of a lightweight, if warm, childhood curriculum, where there is no actual kindergarten (all early childhood before grade one is kids lumped together), and kids knit instead of read and are not allowed to watch tv. The up side, as I said to Maude's other mom, is that Waldorf feels like home to me, and by home, I mean the 1970s.

What about North Side Catholic? It is our neighborhood school, for sure, with many if not most of the parents of Maude's classmates planning to send their children there. It is rated very high, it is affordable, and it has a cheerful, industrious feel. It is also Catholic, and by Catholic, I mean Catholic. There are posters about God on the walls, and there is Mass once a week that the kids have to attend. Mass.

Neither of us is Catholic, or even really Christian. We grew up in churches, but while I was mainstream Protestant, Maude's other mom was raised Mormon. Needless to say, she has little use for churchiness, and we are not church-attending people. Churches are not as a rule very nice to two-mom families, and while I know there are churches out there that are, we are both pretty secular people now. Also I am an aesthete, and I think churches have to be pretty and old-fashioned, and I don't want to meet in a carpeted room where they let the gay people congregate (MCC in Chicago, I'm talking to you).

Other than the God thing, North Side Catholic is a no-brainer, but there is, you know, the God thing. And Maude is impressionable--you just know she's going to come home full of new-found religious fervor. She already told me (based on info from a boy in her pre-school) that God is coming, and that the sky is going to open up, and that we should say a prayer before meals, and that God is in heaven, to which I replied something like, "God is everywhere, and probably more female than male, if you think of the earth itself, and anyway, who told you all this?" And I can't stop thinking about how my ex-girlfriend and I used to go to midnight mass at Christmas to humor her mother, who was widowed at the time, and how the deal breaker was the year the priest asked everyone to pray for "all our brothers and sisters struggling with same-sex sexual attraction." Right up there, on Christmas Eve, in Lambertville, NJ, where half the congregation that night was gay men (New Hope, PA was just across the bridge).

And so we are struggling right now with this (though not with same-sex sexual attraction), and filling out financial aid (which, by the way, only one of us can claim Maude as a dependent on our tax returns, because, you know, same-sex couples can't be married in the eyes of the federal government). And I just want Maude to get up in the morning and look forward to school, which maybe nobody does, but I'm hoping anyway that she will.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

a teacher

My own personal nerdfest, grading papers till 2 a.m., looking out into the darkness towards the Big Lake, nibbling Stilton, listening to John Dowland, laughing fondly when students write about sovereignty and "homo saucer." Though only an adjunct, still, this is the good life.

In the late hours, the early hours, everything comes back to you. Other late nights, walking in despair across faraway campuses, mourning the jobs you didn't get and the career you will never have, remembering the night three boys you had in freshman writing call out to you as you are trying to remember where you parked your car. They are flushed with youth and camaraderie, and they tell you you were the best teacher they ever had, and you turn away in pleasure and confusion, kind words on a dark night. They are seniors, and they push on through the darkness, laughing, and now you are smiling, too, to yourself, as you find your car and drive home through the country night, to the home you soon will lose, but then you think you should lose, in the interests of progress, but now it seems like the most golden nugget of happiness, that house in the dark town by the river, when you were young and impatient for the success you knew was coming. And their flushed words, thrown in exuberant generosity, fading down the streets left so many years now, float still on the moonlight on those roads like the purest distillation of platinum, of silver that rings like a bell in your heart's ear, the tired heart that now sits here in the dark, waiting for sleep to come,but still springs up, remembering an unforced gesture, the color of a world only half known, but missed now, so missed, as the new places unfold and strangers multiply, and kindnesses dry up, and even lovers hang back, yet there they were, once, just boys with someplace else to go, shouting an unforced greeting, a blessing, flinging gold happily from little purses that showered, showers, now on your head. The kindness of students, victims of our monkey experiments, still gazing at us with their dark benevolent eyes, as we fire up the rockets kiss them goodbye, tell them that it will be ok and that we, all of us, will be ordinary together again soon, when we see each other again. Which we will.