Wednesday, April 29, 2009

old school

Owen is already learning you can't go home again, even if he doesn't understand that yet.

We've had pretty good child care luck. When Owen was born in 2005, Lisa took seven months off.

(Before you get all excited and start applying for her job, this was seven months without pay. Lisa's an opera stage manager who gets contracted per show. So basically she took no contracts for seven months. So didn't get paid. So we lived on one income, which was not the most fun thing ever, but that's not what this is about.)

As I was saying, we've been lucky. Lisa stayed home longer than many can, and the single income thing didn't kill us

(Although I'm not super excited we may be doing it again soon. And no, Lisa is not pregnant.)

When she did go back our moms each came to help for several weeks.

(Which also didn't kill us, though in some ways came closer.)

And with Lisa's sporadic work schedule and piecing together babysitters here and there (that sounds like we dismembered them. we didn't) we didn't put Owen in daycare until he was over a year old. Having seen many friends hand their kids off to infant care at 6 weeks, we were happy we could wait, and Owen thrived (and continues to, thankfully).

When the time did arrive to start him in daycare, we found a place close to where we work in Downtown LA that we were really happy with most of the time he was there. When we did have issues, they addressed them (mostly. took way too long to get me a new keycard for the security gate.). Their hours were RIDICULOUSLY convenient (6am - 6:30pm. That is not a typo.). The location worked well for us (and was right near the train station which Owen loved). The director and staff were friendly and caring, and the teachers Owen had really seemed to love the kids and what they were doing. Oh, and it was cheaper than almost everyone else I knew was paying. I still don't really know why, but I'm not complaining.

This is the Old School.

(We've always called it school with Owen, even when it was really just daycare. Also, I feel strange posting the name of the place, but if you're in LA and interested email me and I'll share. If you still want the info by the end of this post.)

Owen LOVED the Old School. Once he got over being left somewhere besides home, and apart from the inevitable tough days now and then, he loved it. He made friends before we knew he was old enough to HAVE friends. It was a strange experience visiting friends whose daughter was in his class and seeing they had something going on which had nothing to do with us or time they'd spent together while we were around. They were tight, and that happened all on their time, not ours. He loved his teachers, and often he didn't want to leave when one of us showed up to take him home. How could our house compete with all these toys, kids, and a playground right outside? We saw his social skills blossom, and get this - they basically potty trained our kid for us. No kidding, one day they were like, "start sending him in underwear, he's ready." I felt like tipping them.

Then we got pregnant with Nicholas.

(Clearly, it was my wife who actually got pregnant, but we're a team, so I say "we got pregnant" even though I realize she is the one with the uterus and did all the actual gestating and pushing the baby out and it makes me sound like kind of a new age parenting hippie to say "we got pregnant" but there I said it so whatever. Again, this is not what this is about.)

When we started contemplating how to handle the logistics of a second child, we decided two things: We were getting a nanny, and we were moving Owen to a school closer to home. We'll call this the New School.

The New School is four blocks from our house (Old School: 10 miles). The New School has been lauded by friends since before we had kids as the best thing that ever happened to their kids. It's only slightly more expensive. Having Owen at the New School would allow the nanny to pickup and dropoff (Car Talk, anyone?), and meant he'd be in school with neighborhood kids, some of whom might end up his classmates for years. Also, as Kindergarten started to loom, we wanted him to have a slightly more academic atmosphere than the Old School provided. Theirs was basically structured play, with crafts and stories and circle time, which is great for little ones, but lacked the beginning reading and math we think is important to at least start introducing somewhere around age three.

(This makes it sound like we've spent much more time thinking about educational theory and approach than we have. We basically play this thing by ear and try and do what Owen's ready for. Honestly, the way notes home from his teachers at the Old School were spelled, I was not sure I wanted them teaching my kid to read, sweet and well meaning as they were. Also (and this probably bothers me the classically trained musician more than most), his teachers could not sing. I don't mean they didn't have beautiful voices. I mean they couldn't carry a tune in a fucking bucket. Owen still has trouble matching pitch and I blame them. We sang to the kid, but they had many more waking hours with him in those early days, and how the hell can a kid learn Twinkle Twinkle Little Star when it sounds like there are only maybe 3 1/2 notes in the song and their relationships to each other are entirely arbitrary and vary from one verse to the next? Does that song even have verses? Whatever, you get the point. And again, this is not what this is about.)

So we decided to move Owen to the New School. We thought a lot about timing this move. Knowing he liked his Old School, we didn't want him to associate leaving there with the arrival of the baby (fucking baby you came and I had to change schools and I hate you!), so we decided to wait and move him several months after Nicholas was born, while Lisa was still off work (she couldn't take quite as much time off with #2, further reason why we went with the nanny option). We actually made the switch while out of town on vacation, so when we got home, Owen started in the New School. If he were older I think we'd have wanted him to have a chance to say goodbye, but at 3 we just thought that wouldn't make sense to him. He'd probably think we were saying goodbye for the day and coming back tomorrow.

The good news is I think we succeeded in making the school move not about the baby. Owen loves his brother and has never connected his arrival with changing schools, that we know of. That said, the school move was a little rough at first. The first few days were great. He was all caught up in the novelty of the new school and the differentness of it all. We naively thought we were home free. But about a week later we heard:

"When can I go back to my Old School?"

My heart sank. Because of course he couldn't go back. We'd structured our lives around him being close to home, not to mention paid money to the New School and given up his spot at the Old School. It was time to move on, but how do you tell that to a 3-yr old? We told him the New School was his school now, and he was going to keep going there. Thing is, I wanted him to WANT his New School, and by extension to have fond memories of his Old School without actually wanting to go back there again. Which is totally unrealistic, especially since I also have my moments of pining for my past. And I'm 35 - he's 3.5. I'm a whole power of 10 older than him.

But those moments pass, and before long, he did get past it. Mostly. Pretty soon he wasn't asking about his Old School anymore, and was really having fun at his new school. He made friends, he likes his teachers, he's learning all kinds of cool stuff. And the logistics are working out great and we're really happy about the move.

But now and then, it comes up. We see someone from the Old School - at a birthday party, playdate, etc. - and he asks about going back. But the more time that's passed, the more his Old School isn't really the place he knew anymore. Almost all of his friends have moved on. Most of the teachers we knew and liked are no longer there. And, of course, he's not the same kid he was, either.

And maybe that's the hardest thing to accept.

He's changing.

And it's all good. It's what's supposed to happen. He's growing up. And that is both the best and the hardest thing to watch. He's the same sweet funny cuddly charming kid, but at the same time, he's not. He's different every day. And that is, as much as anything, why none of us can ever go home again. Because not only is home not the place it was when we left, but neither are we the people we were then. We change. And that's what's supposed to happen, but sometimes we think back and sigh a little about who we were, and will never be again. At least, Owen and I do.



  1. Ok... 1st off, beautiful post. It is soooo bittersweet to watch that change in your children.

    2nd, I blame you for the airfare I am about to spend going back home to Chicago. If only for a visit, a Chicago-dog from Portillo's and a hug from all of my 'old school' friends.

    Not that my 'new school' friends aren't pretty 'bad ass' and all, but you know...

  2. Sigh. I slightly dealt with this when my son went from his daycare to actual school.

    Sometimes I thinking watching them grow up is the hardest part of parenting. I am constantly begging time to slow down but it never does.

    Great post.

  3. Beautiful post, Mike. A bit wrenching to read of your son's son's pining.

  4. Your post was so touching, it made me cry. You are such a good writer - expressive, funny, thoughtful, perceptive. You have a gift. And you have a beautiful, loving heart.
    Love, Mom

  5. Oh, this is a lovely (and heartbreaking)post. Change isn't always easy, and explaining necessary change to a toddler isn't either. Oh <3. Cheers for sharing this. :)

  6. Hello! Neilochka kept tweeting about your perfect bald head, so I just had to come and visit. Glad I did.

  7. It's funny how time flies when you're having fun.

  8. what a sweet post. it's great to hear he likes his New School now!

  9. My 7yo Isa still asks about the Montessori school and friends she made from age 18mos to 3yrs old. Nice to know I'm not alone in this heart tug!


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