Dear M,

Four years ago today you made me a mama and Mark a daddy and taught us how to be a family.  And now you are so very excited to be 4 – a big girl by all measures. It amazes me every day that you are ours, that we get to spend our time with you and that you will always be our baby.

5 hours old

You’ve never been timid about life.  Shy, sometimes, but once you decide to do something you go at it full force.  This is why you are covered with scrapes, bumps and bruises all the time.  You know exactly what you want to do and how you want to do it.  When we are somewhere new you are content to just chill out and observe for a bit.  You need to get the lay of the land.  But as soon as you feel comfortable it’s off to the races with no turning back.

Age 1, at The Toledo Museum of Art in our old neighborhood

You are a very adaptable child, and can usually go with the flow.  You find games and tricks in every little activity.  Now that you can recognize some words you love showing off your “reading” skills.  You excitedly point out letters and numbers and make associations that blow my mind.  A constant craving for new books means we go to the library every weekend for a new stack to devour all week long. You dance with abandon, love to wiggle and shake and could play dress-up all day long.  You love pretend – be it with your dollhouse or your dump trucks in the sandbox, there is always some sort of involved story unfolding in your mind.

Age 2, helping with your party prep

M, you love to help.  With MAD’s arrival you have taken on your role as big sister with great pride.  You dance and sing for him to make him smile.  You soothe him with gentle pats and belly rubs when he’s crying.  You love laying on the floor to hug and play with him.  You fetch diapers and burp cloths and bring him toys.  He’s the first one you want to see when you wake up and when you get home from school you run to give him kisses.  You’ve struggled a little with having to share daddy and I with him, but overall you are a fantastic big sister and seem to take great pride in your new status.

Your personality has really blossomed this last year, you know exactly who you are and have no desire to be anything but M.  When you are playing dress-up or pretend we ask you if you are Cinderella or Belle and you stand tall, puff out your chest and say “No! I’m a M Princess!”. Of course you want to be a princess for Halloween this year but you didn’t want a Ariel or Snow White dress – you simply requested pretty princess dress.

Age 3 – ready for preschool

At school you’ve mastered the monkey bars – down and back! – even though you’re not tall enough to reach them and need a boost.  You’ve long given up your tricycle in favor of a bike with training wheels.  You love to show off your skipping skills and the swing in the backyard has helped you learn to pump with both your feet. You still love the water and are strong enough to swim the width of the pool underwater.  You love doing belly flops and cannon balls, climbing out and jumping back in for as long as we can stand it.  You are in constant motion and are so fearless that even your teachers now point out a new scrape or bruise and say “She was just being M!”.

You are constantly talking, retelling some event of the day or coming up with an amazing story.  You’re so animated – using your whole body to relay your message.  You absorb everything and remember it forever.  Your dad and I are always looking at each other, eyebrows raised, over some memory you tell – how can you possibly remember that?  A new habit is asking a question and if you’re not satisfied with the answer you will argue that it’s wrong.  Oy – the teenage years are going to be fun!  You want to be a “science girl”, a “worker man” and a mommy when you grow up.  I think you can do anything.

Obviously your favorite color is pink

I can’t wait to see what the next year brings.



The Kindergarten Question

With M’s 4th birthday quickly approaching I am of course already thinking about next year and how that would mean kindergarten and OMG my baybeee!  But then a few weeks ago I came across this post about “red-shirting” kids for kindergarten and the comments made my head spin.  Parents of developmentally-normal kids holding back children who are 5 ½? Parents of kids with March and April birthdays considering them “on the cusp”? I mean, I know that parents of kids whose birthdays were within 60 days of the start of school have always red-shirted but kids who are of age by 6-8 months?  I was floored. 

As it is, our district has a cut off of September 30… her birthday is on the 23rd. If she starts next year she would still be 4 for the first six weeks of school. Other schools in the state have a cut off of August 30, so in the next district over this wouldn’t even be a question – she would have one more year of preschool.  In other areas of the country the cut-off is December 30 so she would be right in the middle of the pack in those schools.  And even though it’s almost a year away, if you follow me on Twitter you know I am totally stressing over this.

First off, I am also a September birthday and was always the youngest in my class.  My mom, a teacher, started me “early” because I was a tall kid and she was worried that my size would be more pronounced if she waited another year. (As an aside: I was the tallest kid in my class until the boys caught up in 4th grade.  I’m a pretty average 5’ 8” now). I did fine in school.  More than fine.  I was in advanced classes from 2nd grade on.  The only downfall I can think of was having to beg rides off people until I got my license and not being able to go to any of the 18+ clubs for the first few weeks of college. 

But!  That was when it was rare for anyone to hold back kid for any reason other than real development issues.  But now, talking to some people in the area I’m finding it’s common for kindergarten entry to be delayed until 5 ½ – 6. For one, I don’t think that’s fair for teachers to have to deal with that wide of an age range.  Secondly, WHY? Why are parents doing this? So their better in sports later in life? So they are the smartest, biggest, best in the class? This is infuriating!

I think M will be ready.  She already knows her letters and can read several sight words.  She’s got some math under her belt and has been in full-day preschool/daycare since she was a baby.  She thrives at school.  But, she’s also on the small side for her age (32 lbs, 37 inches) and has the normal lack of impulse control you’d find in any almost-4 year old.

Second, while she’s used to a full-day of school she’s also used to being in a class with only 6-8 classmates, not 20 or 25.  She’s used to naps and lots of one-on-one interaction.  She adores her school, the teachers and we love the facility.  We live in a fantastic school district and I have no worries about the quality of the curriculum and teachers but the idea of thrusting her into that environment so young does bother me.  Especially when she might be dealing with kids 12-18 months older than her as classmates.

Finally, I wouldn’t be truthful if I didn’t admit that the financial side of things weighs heavily in the start sooner column.  Daycare cost is, I’m not kidding you, the same as it would be to send her to my college alma mater – WITH room and board!  (And her tuition is about the same as other full-time programs we’ve looked into, so there’s no savings to be had).  Even though we’d still be paying for before and after care, our budget would get a huge boost.

So, what’s your stance?  Did you start a kid early or red-shirt?  If you did hold back for a spring birthday – why?  If you’re a teacher I’d really love to hear your thoughts on this!

Right now I’m leaning towards waiting one more year.  But, we will talk with her teachers and meet with the school’s principal this winter to discuss what’s best for M.  I’m just feeling almost forced to red-shirt based on the actions of others.

What’s Wrong With Us?

A tiny 8 week old baby started daycare in MADs room this week.  A fragile little boy who still has the translucent skin of a newborn and whose little squawks and squeaks makes my ovaries ache.  And in an instant my heart broke for his parents and my hate of US family leave policies started taking form.  This country has things SO SCREWD UP.

6 weeks.  That is all that 52% of working moms get off with their newborn.  24% only get 4 weeks.  And for 10% of mothers this time, as short as it is, is totally unpaid.  The other 90% get anywhere from 40-100% of their pay via disability – a coverage that they pay into from every other paycheck they receive.  Apparently if you live in the states you want to work for Johnson & Johnson, “The Family Company” where new moms with five years of job nets 26 paid weeks of maternity leave. (Source: Institute for Women’s Policy Research & Working Mother Media, Inc.)

Studies abound about the benefits to all involved – including the company – that comes from extended periods of leave.  Time away from work within the first year back goes down drastically. Long-term (6 months +) breastfeeding increases when leave is longer. Worker productivity is higher upon return when leave is 12 weeks minimum. Heck, the US government’s Department of Health and Human Services has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on ad campaigns to convince moms to exclusively breastfeed for at least six months – money that might be better spent allowing new moms to be WITH their infant those first six months.

Now – before you start crowing about how it’s not fair for those who choose not to have kids for women to get this time off, let me finish.  I’m not just talking about maternity leave here.  I’m talking about FAMILY leave.  FMLA  = Family Medical Leave Act and it can be used for more then just birthin’ babies.

For instance, an acquaintance of ours in Toledo just passed away after battling brain cancer for years.  He and his wife were some of the loveliest people you would ever know and they were the kind of couple that upon meeting them you just know they were meant to be together.  They loved each other fiercely.  They had no children by choice. As you can imagine with brain tumors he underwent years of surgery, illness, good days and bad.  In the end his wife had to return to work the day after his funeral because she had used up all of her FMLA time caring for him in the year before he died. They were together 20 some years and she had no time to grieve his passing.

Another friend just moved to be near her 80-year-old father and become his primary caregiver. She’s in her 40s and is facing a few health issues herself, including an upcoming surgery.  She is worried that if something happens to her dad that requires her to take time off work she would put her job in jeopardy.  She’s single, childless by choice and is worried that if something were to happen that FMLA won’t be enough to protect her only source of income.

I have a feeling that as the Baby Boomers continue to age and start leaning on their adult children – the very people that make up the bulk of working America – that things might slowly change.  If the Boomers and their children start pushing for change that would make up a huge majority of voters who could leverage some action.  Which is sad, because most everyone says that family should come first but we don’t do anything to make sure that it really does.