Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Academic Realities Part 2: Preschool

There are businesses that dedicate their services to minding and teaching youngsters. As we are not yet ready for elementary school yet want a degree of academia, parents look to preschool.

These places mix play, social development, and academics. That is where their similarities end. There are faith based, secular, public, private, and cooperative. There are play based, Montessori, and Waldorf. Some are part-time, some full-time. Some cost as much as $9,000 per year, while others run about $3,000 per year. Some have waiting lists for everyone, some are first-come, first served, while others favor legacy. Some require interviews with the family, and others also want to interview the child. Some require the child to be potty trained, while others will change diapers.

Research into my options has just begun. One website came back with 833 options, thirty of which are within one mile of our house. Half of those are Catholic (we are Jewish). I will probably expand the range to two miles, which means about thirty possibilities. Some friends have experience and can lend a hand. At the very least, they can tell us about their preschool. They may have heard horror stories about others. It is easier to take things off the list. If there isn't a horror story, then it's got a chance.

We hope to begin some level of preschool at about eighteen months. (That's one-and-a-half for you non-parents out there.) Therefore, we have six months to be enrolled, which really means about a month or so to visit, apply, and go through the other hoops. Did I mention some schools have application fees as much as $300? Yikes.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Academic Realities Part 1: Home School

There are two realities I've come face-to-face with in the last couple of weeks. First, that teaching your child takes work and planning. Second, that enrolling your child in preschool takes work and planning.

I'm beginning to think that JD has been exposed to all of the wrong stimuli. That's my own assessment of his current learning ability. He is not learning at the rate my wife and I were hoping. He has no real words and calls neither my wife nor I Mommy or Daddy, respectively. At least, he does not call it to our faces. He says both, but he's never looked at me and said, "Dada!" Forget about any other words.

I am going to have to change the way I do everything. And it does not help that my personality swings toward the introverted side. Speaking directly to JD takes tremendous effort on my part.

There are plenty of things that he does well. Crawling, walking, kicking and throwing a ball, climbing stairs, and opening cupboards and cabinets are all things he is at the amateur or professional level for his age. Socializing? A regular butterfly.

I realize, though, that I have not deliberately worked on colors, numbers, shapes, or other basic academic skills. I kind of thought that such things came naturally. I do not know if they do for some kids, but these are not subjects JD has tackled.

I take that back. It is not necessarily that he cannot, but that he will not. He has no patience for learning. Everything is doing. Now. Right now. He wants freedom to explore. JD has a passion for playing. He is the easiest baby to care for as long as you can dedicate 100% of your attention to his play. He plays ball, piano (so to speak), and with most of his other toys. And did I mention his ability to destroy? Better than a wrecking ball.

I have decided to take a more active role in teaching him the basics. With index cards and markers, I will make alphabet flash cards. He will be taught numbers and colors. Shapes and animals will also be part of the curriculum. There will be some structure and some planning involved. All the parents reading this are saying to the computer screen, Good luck with that. Good luck, indeed.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

How Quickly Things Change

I don't think it was due to my last entry, but a couple of my friends have quickly come around. One friend came over yesterday, the other called to make plans.

The first called Monday to see if I was available on Wednesday; he had a day off and wanted to spend it with me and JD. I was surprised but happy. JD and I picked him up and we played with JD for about 90 minutes, including lunch. Then JD went down for his nap and my friend and I played XBox 360 for the duration of his nap. We played a little bit more with JD before driving my friend home.

It was a lot of fun. He was really good with JD. JD took to him very quickly and gave him several big hugs. It was everything I'd been asking for.

On top of that, another friend of the same class called to see if we could all get together next weekend for a boys night out. I swear, feast or famine! Maybe my rant was the voice of our collective need to see each other.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Filling the Friendship Void

One of the things that I've noticed since becoming an at-home Dad is the absence of my friends.

I have four friends whom I've known for years. Three I've been friends with since Junior High, the fourth since high school. Before getting married, I would see some combination of them at least a couple of times per week.

Since having JD, they've been almost absent.

Three of them don't have cars. All four live two miles or less from me. And yet I rarely see them. One I see about once a week because we play on a men's league hockey team. If it wasn't for that, I don't know how often I would see him. It's come down to this: they've become drinking buddies.

I don't want to blame them entirely. Two of them have made a greater effort than the other two. One's work schedule runs late as he works roughly from noon till eight. Of course, that is bad timing for my lifestyle. The other has a serious girlfriend and works long hours. I certainly know what that's like. The others, like I said, I see on drinking occasions.

It's kind of like the stereotype about football players not going to hospitals to visit an injured teammate. They don't want a jinx. Our guy friends don't want a wife and kids just yet and maybe by staying away, they won't fall into the trap.

They're out living their lives. Their day-to-day doesn't involve changing diapers. I have to go out and make friends that share my lifestyle. They've made friends who are closer to their lifestyle.

Fortunately, I have found some new friends.

I consider the women in the playgroup I joined almost nine months ago my friends. They are a terrific group. So welcoming, I never felt like an outsider. After coming a couple of times, they have included me in their occasional social outings with and without our families. I don't talk to any of them outside of the playgroup.

The person I have become close with is the husband of a friend of my wife. Their son is about three months younger than JD. Basically, we're going through the same things. He and I have become good friends. I would say it was partially out of necessity. He's going through the same thing that I'm going through with my friends. We have a lot in common, from golf to hockey, he's from Michigan and I've spent a lot of time in Michigan. He's short and I'm tall. Oh, yeah, we both like to drink.

We talk almost every day now. It's about sports and diapers, baby food and finances. We're guys who have similar interests and are in a similar place in life. I'd have to say that I'm pretty lucky to have made such a friend.

I can't say that it doesn't hurt that my "old friends" rarely come around. They haven't taken an active interest in my life. I rarely get calls asking how JD is doing or about the funny thing that happened last weekend.

When I'm with the playgroup, they're a lot of fun. Their kids are great and we have a generally similar sense of child rearing and conversation.

When I'm with my new buddy, we have laugh-out-loud fun and have lots to talk about. It's like a new relationship - everything is new and it's easy to create new memories. We have a great excuse to get together and are happy to do so because we've found a friend. And it fills a void that was left in going into this amazing part of my life.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Gift Giving. Want my routing number?

There's a George Carlin joke that goes something like this: If someone at a bar says, "Hey, buddy! Can I buy you a drink?" Say, "No, thanks. Can I have the money instead?"

When my wife and I were engaged, we registered for gifts at a couple of different department stores. I sort of joked to my wife, "Why don't we just put our bank routing number on the invitations?"

Of course, the thinking is that we could use the money more than the things for which we registered.

In hindsight, I am glad that we registered and were given gifts besides money. When we moved into our new house, we were able to open about 80% of our wedding presents, as there was no place to put them in our condo. We now have enough place settings and glasses to entertain without using plastic (though my wife and I battle over dish duty.) We have a full set of china, though we have to buy eight more bowls (we have all of the plates and tea cups for twelve place settings.) Not that we'll ever use the china for fear of breaking any. We were given towels and vases, platters, cookware, and other things that have come in handy.

Now that we have a child, our house is the recipient of a vastly different manner of gift - the toy. We now have a basement, a main floor, and a second floor and in each room of each floor there is at least one toy. Even the bathrooms.

Why are there toys in the bathrooms? You try having a proper bowel movement with a screaming child in another room. I've smelled JD's poop up close. He can smell mine once in a while.

His first birthday is this coming weekend. I'm very excited. I'll probably write another entry about my excitement. What I'm not excited about is figuring out what to do with all of his new toys.

First of all, I have to put them together. That's not that big of a deal. Then I have to present it to this child. He may or may not take any interest in it. Or, it may become his favorite toy. Or, he may play with it obsessively for a few hours, then never touch it again. Then it must be stored.

There are many people who have the money to continuously purchase storage for all of their things. I am not one of those people. I purchased a house to store my family and our things. Not good enough. Actually, one of the downsides of the house is that storage facilities are lacking. I digress.

You know what would be a good present? A toy storage chest! That would be a great present. Another good present? Money. I will have a 529 plan soon. One would already be open, but my financial adviser (he's the best) said the plan will be improved in February. So I have his money earning 4.40% in an online savings account. Clothes are OK, but taste varies. Then again, people are often creative and think of things that I never knew he would want or need. One way or another, money or not, we will have to purchase toys or clothes or books at some point. Having them gifted is not a bad way to go.

I guess I just have storage anxiety. Is that a term registered with the psychologist institute? If not, I just coined it. And besides, I'd be lying if I said that I didn't have fun playing, too. I just can't wait till he enjoys XBox, real sports, or can we can jam on guitars together.

Comment on Previous Entry

Does anyone know what the comment meant on the previous entry? It was either in Spanish or Portuguese. I understand some Spanish, but not that well. I'd appreciate if someone could translate. Thanks.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Social Police Officer

The holidays are a terrific time of year. I have to say, I love the music and decorations. It's the one time of year when people smile to one another, trying to be nicer and more considerate of others.

Yeah, right. Consideration goes out the window in general. I'm sure it's no different now than in the past. People being inconsiderate to one another drives me crazy. It's added to my long list of peeves.

One place where I see inconsideration gone wild is at Costco. Have I written about that before? I'll do so again. The most consistent offense is customers leaving their shopping carts randomly throughout the parking lot. I have seen, more than once, a customer unload their cart then leave their cart behind the car next to theirs. Others leave carts between vehicles, while others will park theirs on the nearest curb.

I have begun to call people out on this offense and commend people who actually return their cart to the cart return.

The last time was two days ago. An elder lady, probably in her sixties, arrived at her car next to mine and unloaded. She then pushed her cart behind the car next to hers and went to get in her car. As politely as I could, I said, “You know, there's a cart return right there,” pointing to the return about fifteen yards away. She ignored me. That made me mad and I repeated. She said, “You know, if someone has a handicap...” and didn't finish her sentence but continued getting in her car and closed the door. I laid into her verbally, but never used profanity. It was more along the lines of the example she was setting, and that she was a generally rude person.

When she said that thing about the handicap, I felt bad for a half-second. Then I realized a couple of things. She did not have a handicap sticker. But that may not mean she didn't have some kind of ailment. Then again, we had some of the furthest spaces from the entrance. She had been able to walk in, do her shopping, bring her cart to her car, but not walk the extra few feet to return the cart. Maybe her feet hurt or something. She could have easily said, “Excuse me, would you mind taking my cart back with yours?” I would have been happy to help.

Instead, she chose to impose on another person, leaving her cart in an area that could possibly impede oncoming traffic. Not to mention, the disappointment the person returning to his or her car would feel finding a random cart.

Please, please, please. When you are in public, be considerate of other people. If someone needs to change lanes or merge, let them. If someone is trying to back out of a parking space, stop and let them go. Return your shopping cart. If someone drops something, try to help pick it up. Don't litter. If you see litter, put it in the trash. If we all did a couple of these little things, everyone would be happier and fewer things would need to be done.

With all of this harping and ranting, I should remember that I did not offer to help the elderly woman by asking her if I could return her cart with mine. It does not excuse her action, but where she made a mistake, taking initiative to be considerate could have saved unneeded stress, but would have brought good feelings for both of us. Remember, it takes two. But it did make for a good entry.