“Play is the work of the child.” – Maria Montessori
Sophie’s first day of preschool, September 6, 2011
She was so excited.
Sophie’s last day of preschool, May 23, 2012
Her teachers said she was so quiet, her last day. I think she was sad. She’s still telling everyone she’s just on spring break. I imagine she’ll appreciate summers more in her later years.
“Time is what prevents everything from happening at once.” —John Archibald Wheeler
Sophie knows that Andy goes to work every day. And that he works on a computer every day. And that his work earns our family money every day.
She attends a Montessori preschool and the word “work” is used often. So she also understands work as an activity she pulls off of a shelf and takes to a small rug to complete.
But I don’t think she quite understands my work. She certainly doesn’t consider the stay-at-home-mom work I do every day as work. And I don’t want her to think of my taking care of her as “work,” even though every once in awhile I secretly would like her to know that the reason she has food every day and clean clothes every day and a bath (most) days is because of the “work” Andy and I do.
But I also have other work, freelance editing and writing work. I’ve tried to explain this work to her. But she simply thinks (and tells people) that my job is playing on the computer. Lately, however, my editing work has been a bit more old-fashioned—I’ve been editing on paper, with a red pen. And having grown tired of all-nighters (something I was able to do quite easily in college, but has become increasingly hard for me the older I get), I’ve been trying to do more of this work during the day, while the boys nap. Sophie is intrigued by this work. And after hearing me say “no” for the 10th time to her request to “help” me with my work (which invariably involves drawing a flower on the pages I’m editing, something I’m sure my editors love) she gets out her own work.
We have never pushed workbooks or flashcards or the like on Sophie, thinking that she will have enough of that in her lifetime. But we’ve also discovered that she loves workbooks. Loves them. She loves tracing letters and doing simple addition and subtraction and finding opposites and differentiating between big and small. Of course, she loves playing with her plastic princess figurines and wooden castle and ponies and dolls much more. But when she sees me doing my work, she insists on doing her work. Hence the picture above (and yes, she’s wearing her bathing suit and sporting a train tattoo on her arm).
She concentrates so hard on this work. And she zips through workbooks so quickly. Grandma and Paw Paw brought her two this weekend, and she’s almost through both of them.
I love that she loves her work. I love that she’s eager to learn. I love the way she wrinkles her brow and purses her lip when she’s trying to think something through. But I also worry. I got As and Bs (and some Cs) in school, but unlike some people, I had to work for the grades—really work for them. And I stressed over my work. This was not my parents’ doing. In fact, they once approached a parent-teacher conference with concern over the amount of time I was spending, worrying about homework. As such, for the rest of the year, my teacher would put a time limit on the top of all my homework assignments, big, red, circled. Once the time limit was up, I had to stop, no matter how unfinished, how imperfect. At first, this additional hurtle worried me to no end. But in the end, it was one of the greatest gifts ever given to me.
I think the best kind of work is work that doesn’t feel like work. I feel those who live that life are lucky. I try to live that life, with caring for my children and my other work, my writing and editing. (But trust me, when it’s 2am and I still have hours of editing left, I often don’t feel lucky.) I also admire those who find joy in work I love to hate—laundry, scrubbing bathrooms, weeding, even cooking. I strive to find joy, fulfillment and contentment in these everyday chores. Some days I do, some days I don’t—even when I remind myself to be grateful that I have a yard to weed, bathrooms to scrub, clothes to wash and good food to cook.
But for now, it’s clear Sophie finds great joy in her work, tracing letters, X’ing big stars and circling little stars, matching. So I let her be. Let her grow. Let her learn. And I hope that passion for work stays with her always, not in an every-day always, but in a big-picture always. And perhaps most, I hope her grownup work is work she loves just as much as her childhood work. Work she looks forward to doing, enjoys doing, loves having done. I realize this requires a combination of skill, luck and attitude, but it’s something I so desperately want for her, for all my children, for everyone.
“Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.” —James Matthew Barrie
This year, your birthday was a big deal. You spent the year prior throwing daily birthday parties. These parties involved emptying toy baskets and decorating the house with their contents. Making cakes out of boxes and insisting we sing and make a wish (over and over and over). Wrapping presents (often books from the bookshelves or your little, plastic princess figurines) in baby quilts, and presenting them. You loved making birthday cards. You refused to wear your underwear with little cupcakes on them unless we were celebrating someone’s birthday for real. Birthday parties required party dresses, no matter how informal the occasion. You loved birthdays, everything about them—so you can only imagine how excited you were for your own. As such, this year we let you invite a few friends for a birthday party, the weekend before your actual birthday.
We borrowed child-size tables and chairs and covered them with vintage tablecloths from Nini. In teapots (also from Nini) we put snapdragons, which you picked out during a trip to Ft. Thomas Florist. You chose the paper plates and napkins. We used antique tea cups from my collection (and a few extra we picked out together, during a trip to an antique store). You had a tea party.
Parents (friends and cousins) were so helpful.
We decorated little wooden teacups with stickers, and homemade teacup and teapot-shaped sugar cookies with icing and sprinkles.
Your cousin Gregory was not only a trooper given the theme of the party, but also a big help to his little sister, Kaitlyn.
We picked out your dress a couple months before, stumbling upon a tea party-worthy frock with one of your favorite things (flowers) and your favorite colors.
During the party each child visited Nini to decorate a bonnet with flowers.
We drank pink lemonade, and ate peanut butter and jelly, and cucumber and cream cheese tea sandwiches.
Everyone was so careful with their teacups.
Our house wasn’t big enough to invite everyone you loved, and you were so gracious when we said in addition to your cousins, you could only invite a few friends. I’m just so thankful you were able to have some of your most-loved friends with you on your special day.
For your “cake,” Daddy made homemade Oreo truffles.
Your brothers surprised us! I thought for sure we’d have to take them upstairs but instead they sat at the table, drank “tea” from their tea cups, decorated (and ate) way too many cookies and didn’t throw a thing.
Whitney and Lauren loved wearing their bonnets.
Mommy and Daddy were very grateful to have Pop Pop and Nini there for help.
Daddy brought you your truffle “cake,” and everyone sang “Happy Birthday.”
Then, you finally got to open your presents.
After presents, we cleared out the table and had a dance party to smash hits such as “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” and “Freeze Song.” You loved this.
A few days later you celebrated your birthday at preschool. All week long we worked on a book all about you, which you shared with the class—and class treats!
I love your school’s birthday tradition. After sharing your book, an older student lifted you up so you could turn off the light. Mrs. Richter lit a candle, which represented the sun. Everyone sat in a circle around the sun. You then walked around the sun, carrying a small world, four times—representing your four times around the sun. As you walked, the children sang: The earth goes round the sun, the earth goes round the sun, the earth goes round the sun tra la, the earth goes round the sun. I got a little teary eyed watching you do this—and probably would have gotten more teary eyed if I hadn’t also been chasing the boys around your classroom, keeping them from pulling tiny little beads off of shelves and yelling too loudly.
On your birthday, as per your every-year-wish, you helped make your cake—strawberry cake with pink icing.
You insisted on sprinkles.
For dinner, you chose salad (specifically lettuce, tomatos and carrots only) with Daddy’s homemade dressing (a recipe from his grandpa), apple slices, bread with butter and water—for everyone.
You wanted to put the salad on everyone’s plate …
yours, of course, was red.
After we sat on the couch and waited for Daddy to bring in the cake. There was singing, a wish and then …
Nini made you a Red Riding Hood-esque cape …
which you wear when you need magical powers. I was so thankful you were able to celebrate your birthday with all four grandparents and all of us.
You turning 4 really struck me. Some birthdays seem so much more than others, and for me, 4 felt … well, you’re a girl now. No longer a baby. Or a toddler. But a girl who dresses herself and has opinions (about everything); a girl who is wise and yet still naive; a girl who keeps a delightfully/maddeningly messy room filled with tiny princess figurines and silk flowers and stuffed animals and dress-up clothes and doll clothes and magnet dolls and rocks and dried flowers and masks and treasures; a girl who rides her scooter fast and with ease; a girl who can write her own name and draw a picture of our family and tell us what letters words start with; a girl who can get upset about how the tops of her strawberries look and a girl who can be filled with joy upon spotting a robin in our yard.
A girl who sleeps in her own bed, under her own quilt, in her own room (without a gate) with her own dreams—and yet a girl who, even though I complain about it, I secretly love when she climbs into my bed in the middle of the night, simply to snuggle.
I love you for how much you love others, for how much you love life. May that love only grow as you grow, and not diminish as love, sometimes with more worldly knowledge, does. Now that you’re getting older, I so worry about the things you’re going to find out, the things you’re going to learn—that people aren’t always kind, that life on earth ends, that bad things (bigger than colds and lost pink markers) happen. But already I see in you someone who will be able to handle these truths with grace, acceptance, humor and the determination and fight to change what can be changed for the better.
I love you.
“So mayst thou live, dear! many years,
In all the bliss that life endears, …” —Thomas Hood
Several weeks ago was Parents’ Night at Sophie’s preschool. We took the boys with us. This was not smart. Sophie goes to a Montessori preschool, although I imagine any preschool has low-lying shelves with lots of little things on them. They boys’ eyes were big, their hands, everywhere. And Sophie was less than thrilled with their presence. Honestly, she’s pretty good about sharing. She has her toys that are hers only (as she should) and she keeps them in her bedroom, often playing with them by herself, while the boys nap. But she has her moments. We all do.
Still, her reaction at her preschool surprised me. It shouldn’t have. After the fact, it made sense. Her preschool time is her time. That night was for her to show us what she does—not what the boys can do with a tray full of beads. She was irritated and frustrated with the boys grabbing things, touching things, exploring things. Andy and I each took a boy, making sure things that were played with were put back exactly as they were found. And while doing this all-consuming task, we also tried to listen, watch and learn from Sophie.
She made that clear, in her own way. But I feel bad. We should have seen it, five minutes in, instead of 30.
So Andy took both boys outside, to walk around. And I sat on a rug with Sophie and finally got a taste of what she does every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, from 9am to 11:30am. I know she loves preschool. But watching her solidified my belief. And I’m sure that much of this has to do with the fact that it’s something for her, and only her. She spent so much of the boys’ first year stuck inside with me, listening to me say “wait,” “hold on,” “in a minute,” “just after I finish pumping,” “just after I change this diaper,” “shhh, the boys are sleeping.”
And then, preschool started. And she was free. Free to leave our house. Free to make friends her own age. Free to do “work” without the boys messing with it, free to do craft projects without the boys crinkling it, free to do her own things on her own time without having me say “wait,” constantly.
And she blossomed.
So I get her frustration Parents’ Night. This was not our night. And definitely not the boys’ night. But her night.
After some time Andy and I switched, and I took the boys outside and Andy sat with Sophie on a rug, watching, listening.
It’s funny. We went to Sophie’s school that night to learn about the things she’s learning about when in fact, we were the ones who were taught.
That said, having had children, I now believe children are the best teachers, no matter how much we try to reverse that sentiment.
“Children are human beings to whom respect is due, superior to us by reason of their innocent and of the greater possibilities of their future.” —Maria Montessori
Sophie attends Country Hills Montessori three days a week in Fort Thomas. Robert White of White Photography, a CHM parent and professional photographer, took the class pictures this year. I love this one.
This one makes me laugh. This is the face she makes when you say, “smile.” Her Great Aunt Susie, by the way, made her dress. When she and her family visited this summer, Susie asked Sophie what kind of dress she wanted. Sophie immediately said “a dress with pink polka dots that swirls.” And oh did Susie deliver. This dress is the most twirliest dress I have ever seen. Sophie loves it. (Thank you.)
Here’s her class!
“Children are human beings to whom respect is due, superior to us by reason of their innocence and of the greater possibilities of their future.” —Maria Montessori