Saturday, February 5, 2011

Jack's Montessori Birthday

I've seen this birthday a dozen times played out in my classroom, and it makes me teary each time. The ceremony goes something like this:

We light a candle (in our case, on a beautiful wooden sun with a mirror/candleholder in the center); " to represent the sun, which gives us warmth, and light and life." The months are laid out around it, and the birthday child is given a globe. "You've been on the earth now for four years, and so you've traveled around the sun four times." The child begins to walk around the "sun, " holding the "earth."
The narration gets personal, and so in Jack's case went something like, "You began in Israel with two sisters,Kit and Gabby, and in the first year you sat up and began to speak; the second year (the child is circling again) you began to run, and use your words to get what you want and you moved to America! . . " etc. until the fourth circle, after which the teacher recites this heart-crunching prose that goes something like, " so you will never again be three or two or one . . ." and leads the child to a small music box (which takes some doing to wind, and you hear the plaintive struggle as the little hand turns and you hear the "Happy Birthday" song making its way). I've never seen any child look any other way than proud, illustrating Montessori's famous tenet, "The hand is the tool of the intellect." (Until Jack though, I never saw a child "dance" around the mat, so I am pretty proud of his . . . uniqueness . . . as long as it is joyful.) And then all the children sing, and pass out treats and have snack together. I asked Jack what he wanted, fully expecting Batman cupcakes and he requested "strawberries and gingerbread men!" Happy birthday, Baby.

(sorry I haven't figured out how to rotate the clip from iphone to imovie, at least not tonight)

Monday, January 31, 2011

Gabby and Jack's Birthday Splash

Gabby turned 9 on January 23rd. Jack turned 4 on February 4th.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Fleming Six-Month Catchup Part IV, the Last

Accept our fondest Happy New Year! and delete, or pull up a cup of Joe and read on . . . in four parts.

Part IV Our Christmas Present

John came home, slipping through Europe's clogged air passages, a week before Christmas. It was just all good. Period. We jumped into the Christmas rush with Santa, and enjoyed a beautiful, Traditional Fleming Christmas*. It even snowed.

(Kit and Gabby demonstrating the We-Pod)

*Note: Yes, that's Southside Johnny (from the south side of the Bayonne bridge, that is) singing Gaelic Storm's gentle lullabye, "The Night I Punched Russell Crowe in the Head," our odd children immersed in sugar and their favorite presents . . books.

Two days later we left for the snows of New Jersey, and were not disappointed. We had to dress the kids in full snow gear in the van, and bail out on a main road by Grandma and Pop's directly into three feet of the white stuff: kids, dog, luggage and all, and make our way to the house.

Una held family Christmas a day later in Bayonne, the entire Fleming family making it in on cleared main roads for the festivities, including both dogs. It was a blast.

All 12 grandkids, from the top: Katie, Deidre, Hannah, Michael, Fiona, Finula, Gabby, Jack, Kit, Bella, Joey (the oldest) and Cora (the newest).

John and I escaped to romantic Long Branch for a couple of kid-free nights away, with yummy dinners at warm restaurants along a snowy beach . . .

. . . then made it home to Bethesda on New Year's Eve, (out of car, dress everybody, back in car to make it to Lebanese Taverna to meet Fran and Roger and Bella and Finula . . . see? Who needs transitions? ).

John left a week later.

Today is January 28th. There are 68 days left until John's next visit home.

Kit asked me what my hobby was, and while a sad, little spark zoomed through my brain that it would be running outside if only I could leave the house, I said, naturally, "writing," as it's always been since I was her age (7) and wrote my first successful research paper on the duckbilled platypus.

So, ok, then:

2011 New Year's Resolutions
~consider taking a breath between events
~do more yoga
~just write already

Happy New Year!

A Fleming Six-Month Catchup Part III

Accept our fondest Happy New Year! and delete, or pull up a cup of Joe and read on . . . in three parts

Part III Autumn

Although I could have tried one challenge at a time, it appears I attempted both single- and working- motherhood all at once.

For future reference, I'll have just the working motherhood, please.

Kit and Gab went into before and after care at the y, a huge success. They loved it and I won't fear it in the future. Jack began school with me at Apple Montessori, though not in my classroom of course, which is a great thing since the tantrums he'd been throwing at home were the same as the ones he threw at school in between telling people, "My dad's in Iraq. Sometimes they call it Baghdad," and thus began the fallout of John leaving. Forget Jack's tantrums; I began a curious habit of growing real horns and claws and scales around 8:30 every night. I was a walking cortisol pump.

By November, exhaustion turned into illness. I missed four days, then the kids got sick, then we all got strep. So I fired myself--told my boss she needed an employee she could rely on. Now I go into work, same as always, for those first few intense Montessori hours to fulfill my internship, with all of the same expectations and responsibilities, only now I don't get paid and I have to get the kids after school (no more aftercare ), etc. Sounds crazy, but knowing that I can prioritize the kids without leaving my boss shorthanded took some stress away. Not the exhaustion, mind you, just the stress. My honor and respect for single mothers now has no bounds. I know next year this will be doable with live-in backup (aka John). I have hope and an end in sight. Unlike many who do this every day, I am truly blessed.

Speaking of blessed, did I mention Gabby's teacher this year? I called for angels, even had one in my pocket with Gabby's fabulous aide returning, but . . . Christopher Higgins. Say it with a prayer on your breath. I think the guy must lay awake at nights thinking, "How can I best include Gabby in my lesson plans tomorrow? " His enthusiasm and creativity seem endless. I am truly in awe, and Gabby is thriving. I called to see if I needed to be available to run the Wyngate fun run with Gabby. No. Not only did he run with her, he wrote me and told me in detail what a blast he had. After a presentation she gave, he wrote me, "I am so proud of her!" I am so proud of him.

Mr. Higgins, and Gabby and Ava in the Halloween Parade

Kit just continues to build character, or to show me how it is done. She started soccer this year and is very excited about it. Unfortunately, i didn't see it coming, signed up too late, and she couldn't play with her school team. She was bummed, but determined to play the sport. After the first few practices she said, in complete innocence and joy,"You know what's really cool? I can make friends anywhere." Yes, Honey, you can. In the spring she has first choice of any team she wants. She could choose Wyngate and her best friend's team, but she chose to return to the team she started with. Games resume in March.

Jack is three. Ok, he'll be four in February, but I'll believe it when I see it. Never before have I met a man so articulate and so emotionally chaotic at the same time. In that he can't stop talking and in that he has a gift of colorful and varied vocabulary, I come to understand and witness first hand the inner working of child development. He can scream volumes about the unspreadability of blueberry preserves, the unwillingess of shampoo to rinse from hair . . . really, anything. It almost makes me look forward to age 12 when he will be reduced to grunting responses. His cuteness continues to save his life on a daily basis.

Sometime when it gets rough, I just have to kick the rest of the world out, and make sure we are all in, a quarantine of sorts. I love nothing more than just the three kids at home together, playing dress up, making up dances (Jack has a routine to Michael Bublé's "I've got the World on a String" that rivals old Hollywood numbers), building forts, and reading, reading, reading . . . the three of them are addicted to it.

A Fleming Six-Month Catchup Part II

Accept our fondest, Happy New Year! and delete, or pull up a cup of Joe and read on . . . in four parts.

PART II Summer Vacation

And so I ended a sanctuary of order, and freedom within limits, and all that good stuff, and went home to . . . . laundry, broken sheetrock and . . . the rest of real life, and began preparations for the summer's big vacation: a whirlwind tour of Grandma's in Ohio then Deep Creek Lake.

It was perfect. We got a house across the street from a sweet neighborhood park on the lake. We celebrated Kit's seventh birthday early so she could have her big day with Daddy. Jack swam freely for the first time. We climbed on slippery rocks, and played and swam, in Swallow Falls. We even brought home a few monarch caterpillars. ( "Slinky" survived, and one afternoon just as Jack and I came home from school we got to witness his grand metamorphosis. Truly stunning.)

Enjoying the big open spaces of the rental house, John instituted a new Fleming pastime: Daddyfighting. All opponents respectfully bow and look deep into the eyes of their opponent (Daddy), then let him have it. Great spectator sport.

So, we arrived back in Bethesda, car full of kids, dog, sand, food (mostly scattered around the floor of the car) and a milkweed plant.

Yes, arrived just in time to meet Maureen and John who would babysit that evening while John and I met Una and John, and Fran and Roger, who'd taken the train into Georgetown so we could have dinner together before John left for Baghdad in five days. They were also there so Pop could paint the basement and help put it back together since the tile floor would be finished and I was starting my internship/assistantship the next day.

Did I ever mentioned we're not really good at transitions? I guess that's why we tend to skip the actual transitioning part of anything. (See: "consider taking a breath between events" just before "meditate" and "do more yoga" in 2011 New Year's Resolutions.)

The dinner was great. The basement floor wasn't finished, nor would it be, prompting me to take two personal days in my first month of employment just to paint the walls and move the furniture the contractor had complained was too heavy BY MYSELF. Don't mess with a woman who needs her playroom back.

And so that Friday, August 27th, John left at 9 pm. By 10pm I was in Suburban Hospital's friendly ER with Gabby who'd fallen off the swing at 5 and had us all convinced she had fractured her elbow, even the doc who casted her. By 2am I was home painting the wall in the laundry room where the new washer and dryer would be delivered the next morning, the old one having been deemed useless by the contractor when he moved it. (Long story short, Gab took the cast off two days later out in the baby pool in the backyard, threw the wrap in a heap, and went to climb the monkey bars. No I am not kidding. )

A Fleming Six-Month Catchup Part I

Accept our fondest Happy New Year! and delete, or pull up a cup of Joe and read on . . . in four parts.

PART I Summer School
Let's see, where were we? Oh, yes, June 2010: knee deep in a basement full of water, John leaving for somewhere for two weeks, and me about to begin eight weeks of intensive academics in an effort to achieve my Montessori credential, during which time my kids would experience summer camp like never before.

Eight beautiful women and some truly gifted instructors filled my summer. It was very rigorous, just as my previous courses in Oman had been. I stayed until midnight many nights knowing I would not have a spare second to finish assignments in the fall once John left for Baghdad. My classmate from Israel was working diligently and late, too, since she had to translate everything, and so I made a great new friend. It was all very college-roomatey, except for the part about each of us with three children.

Exhausted, and about to trade the rigors of research for reintegration into full-on summer with kids, I looked forward to the last day, and the last instructor, who I could not wait to meet: Amy Beam. She runs a special nature program called Beyond the Walls, one of the primary reasons I chose Montgomery Montessori Institute. (Move over, No Child Left Behind; how about No Child Left Inside?)

One hour into the day, the Y called about Gabby. After eight weeks of holding my breath and thanking God things were going well, they had had enough. Or something. During the final swim show on the final day of aquatics camp, Gabby decided that she didn't want to do what they wanted her to do, she just wanted to swim, and so began diving into the pool wherever she felt like it and swimming away from anyone trying to corral her--a flight risk cum safety hazard. Try to imagine the scene and you can't help but set it to music in your head. Please note that a two-foot poster of Gabby is in the lobby of the Y under the proud heading, Our Inclusieveness, and you begin to see how far she must have pushed them.

Looking beyond the Institute's strict rules about bringing children with you, Amy pointed to a word on her whiteboard: "welcoming," and said "Besides, we're going to the woods." So I went and got my monkey daughter.

The rest is a surreal end to an otherwise serious experience. At the end of the lesson, we were in Seneca State Park, in an area where Amy's camp was going on (without her that day). There in the forest, Amy gave us a box of colorful scarves and showed us how to make a fairy arch by bending tall birches. Then she gave us a big box of fussy dress-up clothes to put on. In full frill, serenaded by the chanting of a sparky group of 3-to-5-year-old daycampers, we walked through the arch (thus symbolizing a passage of sorts) lead (as Montessori would only have it) by a child . . . Gabby.

. . . Which leads me to wonder, yet again, who distorts whose reality more, me or Gabby?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Where the Wild Things Are: 9516 Ewing Drive

I am making myself write this down, because if I don't I'll block it and someday, when asked how our lives were at this time, I'll draw a complete blank. First, I looked at this week coming up as a miniature Fall of 2010 (when I will be starting work, Jack will be starting school, the kids will be starting before- and after-care to facilitate all of this while John leaves for Baghdad, all pretty much on the same day). At present, I am starting classes Monday, sending the kids to before care at the Y for just one week, Elle is picking them up after school, various sitters we love are stopping by to care for Kelbi (she is very picky about her people) just to facilitate John leaving for the week tonight. So just this week, while diving into the 8-5, eat-sleep-dream rigors of the Montessori course, I am going to have to negotiate end-of-year performances (I HAVE to go to Gabby's; Kit scored Hannah's appearance at hers) and a couple of yoga classes I am still committed to teach. This is followed by seven more rigorous weeks of insanity, but John will be in town.

With all that in mind, this weekend was about having all our ducks in a row, all the laundry done and outfits ready, food prepared, yard work complete, John packed up etc. so John and I could have a Saturday night date. So why is it 9:30 pm on Sunday, and I am standing in a veritable abandoned battlefield full of wailing and debris?

Yesterday afternoon at 5, Elle showed up to entertain the kids and I bolted upstairs to get dressed, John bolted downstairs to grab a shirt from the laundry. And that's when it ALL began. Only, we weren't really aware of the "ALL" part yet.

The washer hose, free of the sink it was supposed to be draining into was instead, filling the carpeted basement, turning it into one big, wet sponge. Every towel and blanket we could grab went to the floor, and every toy and book went into a very big pile on the "dry side" of the basement. Before six, with a yard full of towels and comforters, (and a very nice Persian rug draped over lawn chairs) we assessed the situation, grabbed a phone number of our trusted floor guy and the cell phone and said, "Let's go drink about what to do next."

This time, when I ran upstairs to grab my shoes, Gabby was busy with a paper towel and a spray bottle of Clorox Cleanup (read: bleach), "cleaning" our room: the dresser, our comforter, quilt . . .think little white dots and you get the picture. She was . . . cleaning. Undeterred, we said, well, the quilt could be turned over, and thank goodness she didn't spray the doorless closet with all of John's suits, and off we went. (One of my favorite yoga studios was throwing a soiree with gourmet chocolates and live music, and we were going to meet Geneva and Brian there, then head for margaritas.) In the car on the way we put our stories together and realized . . .Gabby had also been in the laundry room and freed the hose from the sink. Hmmmm...

But when we got home, everyone was happy and sleepy and we thought nothing more of it, until every time we left Gab alone for more than five minutes today . . . mischief (which is actually stipulated as a non-coverable cause under "water damage due to . . ." in our insurance policy. And so, by noon, after Gabby had broken her sundress strap at church, left us at same Mass to join another family (never met them before, but decided to stand between this chosen husband and wife and hold the lady's hand, and stand and listen like an angel as opposed to annoying her sister, slamming down the kneeler, whining, or reading while sitting on the kneeler); and at the Silver Diner, after she had ordered pancakes, fussed over how they were cut, refused them then insisted she wanted something else completely- something with french fries-then spent 45 minutes eating; and after returning home and moaning that her stomach hurt (really? why?) when I tucked her into bed she slithered out and slithered under my bed taking every dust bunny with her then spreading thick dust (that gathers quickly: the dog sleeps there) on our bed; and after I was trapped in the bathroom while outside the door I could hear her taking a picture and it's glass out of a metal frame, an act for which I drew ever so deeply to find the patience to bring her to the broken glass on the stair to show her that this was not a good thing only to have her step in a piece of it on the way and wail for 30 minutes (while I, Cruella, mused, "Huh. Just like the stove. Glass teaches it's own lesson.") . . . . well, I was not at that moment suitable for motherhood, Montessori and DEFINITELY not any thing yogic. So I gasp --- took her with me to Costco as punishment. ( . . or maybe it was self-preservation, because I knew if I left her with John and the others he would have to avert his eyes and then what? Would I have to unfork the dog from the ceiling?)

She was an angel, of course. Sat in the cart, used beautiful words to remind me of all the things we usually get: "Milk! Orange juice! Bread!" I was even beginning to like her again, and she, me.

It didn't last, of course. At home she turned the central ac to "heat" (it's like 90 degrees here), unplugged the ac in her room, hit her brother, threw cards at the ceiling fan . . .and these are just the things I know about. Finally, Kit and Jack and I stood at the front door saying our goodbyes to John (with Jack screaming, "No Daddy! Don't leave!") when we heard the final crash: forget Daddy leaving, she had climbed onto the counter to search for the chocolate chip cookies, thereby releasing, from great height, a full crystal sugar bowl.

Go ahead. Call social services.

John, my angel, my saint, stayed a few more minutes to sweep up the Barbie crystal sugarscape that the kitchen had become, and, as I love him so, I added another wet comforter and a few beach towels to the collection he took in large garbage bags, bound for a laundromat some evening this week after training (he's driving there). Now there's where this week's trip and Baghdad seriously diverge.

We all calmed down. The kids brushed their teeth, and I read them stories . . . rocked Jack . . . .and rubbed toes, and bellies . . . and pulled Kit's tooth out.

Her tooth! Her tooth! Finally! the second one! just when there was peace, she could not stop: "I am SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO exCITED!!!!!!!!!" she kept yelling.

. . . right. Pack four lunches, get books ready, write list for Elle (now bound to walk Kelbi AND stay for the flood repair people), do laundry, tear down barrier that was keeping kids from basement so flood repair people can get in, and, oh yes: don wings, sprinkle dust . . .