Childhood is Magic

Photo: My collaboration with Ursa Major at preschool yesterday. I call the left “Exploration in Autumnal Hues” (school paint on poster board) and the right “Interpretation of Colonial Autumn” (school paint on poster board).


Both of my boys are taking one of them good naps. I knew that it was going to be a good nap day when we got to noon and both of the boys were ready to leave the playground. We got to the playground at 10 and they really did play consistently and well for 2 hours. As pleasant as a beautiful autumn morning on the playground is, those two hours were not totally relaxing for me. I was managing toy squabbles or helping the boys navigate the obstacles on the playground. There was the good 20 minutes of marathon swinging, too. We’ll get to more about the playground in a bit.

I really want to talk about yesterday, because yesterday was my first “parent helper” day at Ursa Major’s preschool. I spent my Monday night baking pumpkin oatmeal cookies (which were the bomb! No seriously, you must make those. Delicious!) and preparing fruit for the day. Then I set out clothes and set up The Husband for taking care of Ursa Minor for the morning. Ursa Major was really surprised that it was just he and I for the morning. He was extra surprised that I stayed with him at school!

Being the “parent helper” meant nothing more than hanging out. I started out in “teacher” mode–arms folded, watching the room. Eventually, I was put on set-up duty, doll-house duty, play food duty, and magic sand duty. Ursa Major and I even collaborated on two paintings!

What I noticed most, though, which I’m trying not to let bother me, is that Ursa Major spent a lot of his time playing alone. The other kids sort of played as a herd. One child would go to the sand table and the rest of them would join in. One kid would take interest in the big bear and then the rest of them would jump in on that, too. Ursa Major would be playing over at the train table, perfectly content the entire time. Every once in a while, he’d go over to the group and see what they were doing, watch for a few minutes, and then go back to his own thing. His two teachers would check in from time to time, asking him what he was doing, expanding on his field of play, encouraging him to do this or that. He was totally responsive, happy to include anyone who wanted to join him–he would ask questions and answer them. He was perfectly content the entirety of the day.

I am so torn about how I feel about this. On one hand, it is totally age appropriate for him to behave this way. He’s not anti-social in any way, he is just interested in cars and trains while the rest of the children want to do other stuff. I want to say that I’m frustrated with the teachers for making such an unbalanced group (5 girls, 2 boys), but then again, he doesn’t really engage with the other boy in class, and I’ve never seen him show a gender preference when it comes to play. I guess I’m frustrated because we made all of this effort and are spending this money for him to socialize with other children…so, you know, socialize, dude!

He’s only attended 3 sessions…I’ve got to calm down, I know. And he is certainly happy, so I’m turning myself over to backing off a little bit.

I was pretty hungry when we left preschool, so I called The Husband and told him that I’d pick up sandwiches from our favorite little seafood joint on the way home. It is right next to the commuter rail station on our side of town, and as soon as we drove by, Ursa Major wanted, needed to see a train.

“I don’t have control over the train schedule,” I told him as we walked into the seafood store. I put my order in with the very salty old New Englander at the counter (augh, ya’ll are killing me with the rudeness), and tried to placate my son by looking at the lobster tank while we were waiting. He was cool for a few minutes, but then his eyes went toward the station. Eventually, he parked himself next to a window and watched the cars drive over the tracks.

When the order was ready, Salty gave me my bag full of food and I took Ursa Major’s hand to leave.

“Can you say thank you to the gentleman for our lunch?”

“Thank you!”

“Yeah, you’re welcome!” the guy practically spat. I really have to reevaluate if I’m going there any more…but that grilled tuna sandwich is kind of delicious….

anyway, we step outside. There it is, the train station.

“Can we see a train? We need to see a train!”

“Baby, I don’t know if a train is going to come, sweetie…I can’t control the train.”

Disappointed, he lets me tug him toward the car. I’m feeling really bad. I know how much he has missed being able to see the train all day every day. It used to make him so happy to be able to stop and see the train whenever he wanted. And here we are, so close, but I have no idea if a train is going to be coming by anytime soon.

We take three steps.

and the ding ding ding ding of the crossing signal turns on.

Ursa Major is so happy. He knows exactly what it means. “A TRAIN IS COMING, MAMA!!! A TRAIN IS COMING!!!!!”

Yup, a train is coming. We get a prime place to watch it go by.

We’re standing there, and the train has pulled up to the station. Ursa Major is pointing and yelling and jumping. He’s so freaking excited. I’m holding his hand just to keep him from doing something crazy like run into the street. Cars have pulled up to the intersection to wait for the train, but he still has a pretty great view, though if any more cars pull up, his view would be blocked. A woman in a white SUV pulled up to the intersection, noticed us, and left a crazy amount of space just so that Ursa Major’s view wouldn’t be blocked. My heart just swelled a little bit. It was so considerate and nice of her.

But then it got better.

Because as the train pulled slowly out of the station, one of the engineers noticed us standing there and watching. He tooted the horn a few times, slowed down so that Ursa Major could get a good look, opened up the windows and practically fell out of the train so as to give my son the biggest wave possible. Just the biggest, happiest wave from the train that he could possibly give. And then the train rolled off, tooting a few more times on the way out. My toddler was the single happiest kid in the entirety of Massachusetts at that moment.

And I could only shake my head in wonder and hold back a tear. Childhood is magic.

I bowed my head and said thank you to the woman in the SUV. She waved at Ursa Major before heading off on her way. We got to our car to head off when another train came by in the opposite direction. No theatrics for that one, but it didn’t matter to my little boy. He was just happy to see a train up close. Finally, he asked if we could go over the train tracks on our way home. It wasn’t out of the way, so I told him yes. Bump, bump, we went… he squealed in delight.

When we got home, he didn’t want to tell daddy about school, he wanted to tell him about the train.

He was even talking about it today as we went to the park.

Childhood is magic, but suburban motherhood is isolating. There were many mothers, fathers, grandparents and caregivers on the playground today, but I might as well have been the only one there. It really isn’t a race/class thing–though I was the only person of color there–it’s really a “I’m not that outgoing” thing. I hate the shallow nature of the playground interaction. It’s always “you’re sons are so cute. How old are they?” and then we talk about that. Or commiserating over some toddler-behavior that we don’t like… it’s never anything of substance or interest. It’s always the weather and poopie diapers. You shake a hand and a repeat a name and then you forget about it as soon as you get into the car.

Preschool, unfortunately, seems to be no better. At least two of the families send their au pairs with their kids, one sends their kid with a grandparent, one mom does seem to be kind of cool, but then the other two… I don’t know… I just don’t think any of us are going to be sharing coffee in the near future. Again, not a race/class thing. I actually think this might be an age thing? Or a “we’ve been here longer than you have” thing? I don’t know… I’m certainly not in with this group.

I had one of those moments today when I reached for my cell phone to send a text to somebody and then couldn’t come up with anyone to send it to. I had a falling-out with my best friend over a year ago and, despite attempts to rekindle, couldn’t seem to make it work. I know that I’ve been missing that “best friend” element of my life lately, especially in these high-stress times, but today was one of those days when it would have been nice to exchange snarky texts with someone and feel a little less alone. I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to get that back. It would seem, anyway, that I won’t be getting that back any time in the near future. I really thought that I’d stop being the odd duck by now…

I’ve been thinking more about this diversity stuff, and I’ve been disappointed by my cursory searches. First off, there isn’t a lot of discussion about diversity in early childhood out there, and when I do find anything, it’s very shallow stuff. I haven’t found anything targeting adults that talks about the importance of diversity in the lives of young children and the importance of creating diverse learning/play spaces for young children. I’ve seen the studies about segregated learning communities and the impact on test scores, critical thinking and other learning categories (for all races. White children are impacted in different ways, but there is still potential negative impact). I’m just surprised that there is nothing targeted toward parents and caregivers regarding seeking integrated early-childhood play opportunities… I’m not convinced that there is nothing out there. I suspect that I’m going to have to head to a library to find out more.

…. I haven’t been to a library in ages… when I was in school, I rarely found myself in the freaking library…I’m wondering if I’m asking the wrong questions. I need to focus and narrow the scope of what I want and need.

I haven’t done a lot of writing this week, but I will. New television is really killing me! How I Met Your Mother came back on Monday and I was like gotta watch it! My DVR is filling up with all sorts of new shows. Gotta stay focused! I haven’t even gotten to my “higher quality” Friday post. It’s already Wednesday!!! Trying not to panic…trying not to panic…

I’ll leave you with some pictures from today. Even if I’m not always enjoying it, the boys are really loving life in the ‘burbs. It really was a beautiful day today. I look forward to taking advantage of as many of these beautiful days as I can! Winter is coming!!

Groundskeepers were mowing the lawn when we first got to the playground. Ursa Minor thought it would be a good idea to CHASE the thing. When he learned that I wouldn't let him do that, he was content to simply watch it go back and forth across the grounds.
Groundskeepers were mowing the lawn when we first got to the playground. Ursa Minor thought it would be a good idea to CHASE the thing. When he learned that I wouldn’t let him do that, he was content to simply watch it go back and forth across the grounds.
Ursa Major discovered that he could, in fact, get up tot he biggest slide at the playground and go down on his own. Then he decided that he was SO cool that he could do the entire process one-handed, water bottle in his mouth. Lordy.
Ursa Major discovered that he could, in fact, get up tot he biggest slide at the playground and go down on his own. Then he decided that he was SO cool that he could do the entire process one-handed, water bottle in his mouth. Lordy.
After lots of climbing, Ursa Minor settled down for just rolling stuff in the sand.
After lots of climbing, Ursa Minor settled down for just rolling stuff in the sand.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Meredith says:

    I love seeing pictures of the boys! I know that feeling too about not having anyone to send a text to. Luckily, I have my sister, or I’m afraid I would probably die of loneliness! The train story is so cute.

    1. K.C. Wise says:

      I wish that I could send texts to my sister more often, but she’s been working since she has moved to Texas. The time difference has us all screwed up, too. It is no fun at all. 🙁 Everyone I know is either working or in class. And since I seem to be inept at making mom friends, I’m gonna have to figure something out!

  2. Motherhood is isolating! I live in a city and it’s pretty tough. My theory is motherhood has turned into this crazy weird thing where women look to be fulfilled by parenting, so they kind of over do it.

    Like, when I was kid I went outside and played. But, now kids are scheduled and mothers sort of feel like it’s their responsibility to see that the kid is entertained and socialized and well adjusted etc. etc.

    When my mother was a kid there wasn’t even Kindergarten. You know? You stayed home, till 1st grade and everyone turned out pretty much OK.

    I often want to blame race for my isolation, since I live in a pretty old school Italian working class neighborhood, in Pittsburgh. Most of neighbors are white. But I mostly think I’m kind of awkward and weird and standoffish. I try, but I’m bad at small talk and stuff like that.

    I hate that motherhood has turned into his weird thing, that we think we can’t get right, even when we are doing just fine.

    1. K.C. Wise says:

      It is very true. It feels like mothers need to give up their entire pre-parenting identity in order to be a “true” and “real” and “good” mother. I’ve written a lot about that. It has been very difficult for me to shed/hide/lose my intellectual self in order to somehow fit into this motherhood scene. I feel like all of the mothers who are more likely to be interested in the same stuff that I am are working. I have not found a way to reconcile my thinking self with my parenting self, and I may well never will. I don’t see that as a bad thing, though sacrificing on the social side will, eventually, drive me to insanity.

      You and I sound very much alike: I’m kinda weird, awkward and standoffish. I’ve been trying to shed the standoffish part, but I know it comes up from time to time. People say stupid things and I can’t seem to stop myself from pointing it out! But mostly, I really suck at small talk. It doesn’t send me into crippling fear, but it does make me impatient. Let’s talk about something real for just a couple of moments, please! It doesn’t even have to be about politics! Tell me what you see, what you know, who you’ve heard! SOMETHING!

  3. zeudytigre says:

    Sitting here in my white, middle class, rural, affluent southern England home I am not going to try to talk about diversity. What I have experienced though is life at the school gate, where the cliques dominate and the rest are left to flounder. Of course your kids being happy is what matters, but I empathise with your own need to find a space where you feel comfortable. For you it is early days, and I truly hope that you find some souls with whom you can chat and share; who understand where you are coming from. Our children grow and so do we. I am so pleased to hear that your kids are settling in. Work on yourself now; you need your space to grow as much as they do.

    1. K.C. Wise says:

      You know, it’s funny, because it’s YOU who I need to be targeting. The affluent/uppermiddle class white woman is queen in America. If affluent/middle class white women want something in this country, Heaven, Earth and even Hell seem to move. If the suburban White women of America woke up and decided to demand integration and diversity for their privileged children, I wouldn’t have to run my playgroup. Instead, we’ve got the polar opposite going on. Where government tries to create programs to force diversity, suburban families vote out school boards in order to stop busing and go back to “neighborhood” schools. It isn’t purely about racism–it’s about other priorities. I need to figure out a way to put a demand for diversity and inclusion into the the top tier of priorities for suburban middleclass/affluent moms. Everyone is trying to socialize their children anyway, getting them ready for school and what not, so why not prepare them for the “real” world early by also creating integrated play/learning spaces, too?

      It’s a hard sell. It might not be a sell that I’m capable of making. I have to do more research. What I’m looking for may already be out there…

      As for taking care of me, you are totally right, and you’re probably the third or fourth person in a month to tell me so. It’s hard to do when there are so many competing needs that feel like they are utterly immediate. I feel like I’m constantly putting out fires. Then, when I do take moments to myself, they are so terribly fleeting. That relaxed feeling just doesn’t seem to last long enough. And doing this seemingly solo doesn’t help at all. The Husband is wonderful support, but you know how it is. He goes to work. He’s got his own world that is full of co-workers and intellectual demands. Here in this world, it’s just managing and treading water with very few moments of feeling like I *contributed* to the universe in some way. The writing helps, but it is hard not to be in contact with someone who really gets it…

      What’s the weather like in southern England?? Is it pretty much the best place on earth?

      1. zeudytigre says:

        The weather in Southern England is unpredictable! For much of the year it is generally mild but we do get occasional periods of unexpected heat in summer and cold in winter. Problems can occur because the infrastructure is not set up to cope with these rare extremes. I think it is a fabulous place to live though; the landscape is beautiful and I love the history.

        The village we live in has a very homogenous make up, meaning my kids did not encounter diversity until they moved up to their huge, secondary school in a nearby town. Here they have made friends with children from a wide range of backgrounds. The friends they have chosen share their interests and outlook more than the way they look.

        Government policy and propaganda can be horribly divisive so I feel encouraged that the young people I encounter are accepting of superficial difference; it rarely warrants comment. My daughter expresses more concern about discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation than on race or religion.

        Coming from a privileged majority I do question if I have a rosy view of these issues though. Having said that, our children will choose their own paths. All we can do is encourage them to consider what they do, how it affects them and those around them. and to make wise choices.

        1. K.C. Wise says:

          Very interesting. I’m so curious about your perspective about this. It is so interesting to see this conversation about race/class/gender in different nations. It is so easy for us Americans to believe that we are the only ones grappling with blending populations. It really is fascinating.

          And one of these days, I swear, I’m going to get over there and have a look. My mother-in-law is a bit obsessed with your country, which has turned me off a bit, but the history does interest me and I hear that the countryside is simply beautiful. I once saw a news segment about the Royal embroidery school in London somewhere and I was like, “that’s going on the bucket list!” Supposedly, they do day classes or short-classes and I would just fall all over myself to spend a day doing something like that!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.