Thursday, January 13, 2011


Monday morning I woke up feeling ill.  I had experienced a stressful weekend so decided to go to work anyway, figuring that my nausea, etc. was a result of stress.  My boss agreed and I taught my class, leaving a half hour early that day.

As I was resting that afternoon, my son found me and announced he had just vomited in the toilet.  Terrific, I thought.  Not only is this NOT stress, but I probably just spread it to a class of unwitting preschoolers.

Most childcare centers are required to send children home who show signs of illness until they have been symptom-free without medication for 24 hours.  It's been my experience that this policy causes a tremendous amount of confusion and frustration for parents.  If the child isn't running a fever, why can't they go to school?  He only threw up once last night, what's the big deal?  Everyone has green mucous once in awhile.

I personally have a condition that compromises my immune system, and am at a much higher likelihood to catch whatever comes into the classroom, even after all these years.  I've had children in my classroom with all sorts of medical conditions that could be extremely dangerous should they catch  bronchitis, the flu, or whatever is going around.  In other words, the rules are in place to keep EVERYONE healthy, not just your child.

When my kids are sick, and even when they were young, my thoughts were always in the mindset of, "Could they possibly infect another child?"  If the answer was yes, they stayed home.  If the answer was no, my next question was, "Do they feel well enough to go to school?"  Did they seem to have the stamina to complete the day's activities or were they dragging?  Did they seem worn?  I have one child who only slows down if she's extremely ill.  We know when her speed goes down to dragging, it's time to go to the doctor, stat.

In trying to keep our kids--and ourselves--healthy, there are several steps we can take.  Eating a healthy diet and getting enough exercise are important.  Sleep is important as well, and most of us, including children, don't get enough of it.  All of these are important for overall general good health.  But even more important is the regular washing of hands.  Teach your children how to wash hands.  I know a lot of people don't buy into the whole handwashing thing--anyone who's been in a public restroom can testify to the fact that there are tons of people out there who do not wash their hands.  But here's the proper way to wash:  Turn the water on; wet your hands and apply soap; scrub for twenty seconds (about the time it takes to sing Happy Birthday or the ABC song), then rinse.  Dry your hands on a paper towel and turn the water off using the towel.  In public places, this is the safest way to avoid germs that spread and keep your family healthy.  Wash your hands whenever you enter or leave a public room, use any public surface, use the restroom, before and after you eat, and whenever you get any substance on your hands.  In cases where you lack appropriate facilities, hand sanitizer will work until you get to a sink.

Sounds like a lot of work?  It is.  But it's a lot better than trying to force gatorade down a sad little preschooler as you're missing a much needed day of work.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Hat Juggling

No matter whether you're a parent or a teacher or a real-estate developer in the middle east, you're quite likely juggling a number of roles in your life.  Currently, I'm juggling roles of wife, mother, teacher, employee, and learner.  Each one of those roles has a subset within it as well, because each is a complex range of actions I perform and keep up with to ensure everything gets done.  As a mom, I ensure my kids have the material items they need, nutritious meals, are bathed, do chores and homework, get love and affection, have down time and work time and play time.  Of course that's a simplified version of what I do each day, but you get the idea.

Lately I'm feeling more like I'm juggling my head than my hats.  I've got a lot on my proverbial plate and am starting to wonder again if I've gotten in too deep.  You know the feeling where you didn't say no when you should have?  Yeah, that's where I am.

I've personally been learning a lot about my own limits in the last year or so.  I've learned that if I don't say no, the work will keep coming.  I've also learned that it's up to me to decide where to draw the line, because otherwise the day will never be done.  There will always be more laundry to do, more dishes to wash, more lessons to plan, more material to read.  I am the only one who can determine when I've reached my maximum capacity.

I've also learned that if I overload, which I quite frequently do, I'm a miserable person to be around.  I get anxious and moody and irritable, much like a stressed-out child.  I'm prone to temper tantrums (the adult kind--you know, where you snap at your spouse or call your friend to complain or stomp off to your bedroom and kick your shoes off your feet).  Most recently I've been learning that I do have a priority list.  We all do, and I knew consciously I had one.  But I didn't realize I had a subconscious one as well--one that includes things like playing with the dog and going shopping and making sure my children have school supplies and that the markers in the art center work.  Why is this important?  Because I've recently begun to understand that quite often, I'm the first person to be dropped from any and all priority lists, both conscious and subconscious.  And sometimes, when I'm overloaded, I don't make it on a list at all.

A lot of adults, particularly women, struggle to put and keep themselves on the priority list.  There's so many hats to juggle that it's easier some days (or months...or even years for some of us) to just toss our hat out of the equation.  But at what cost?  How can I give my children more when I'm completely drained?  Just as importantly, what message am I sending my children about self-care and about life?

I am so pleased to know so many moms and dads who are better equipped to juggle their hats these days without overloading; parents who model appropriate choices and limits for their children.  But for some of us, it's a regular struggle to figure out just how we'll get everything done.  For a person like myself, it's hard for me to put myself into the hat-juggling ring knowing that it means I might have to juggle somebody else's hat a little less effectively for awhile.

But it's a good thing to remember...that our roles as individuals are as important as our roles as anything else.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Here Comes Trouble

I had a humbling experience today while teaching.

I've started a new job and have been there for roughly a month.  I'm teaching preschoolers again and absolutely loving it.  It's been thrilling to get back into the classroom and see the children engage with materials, watch them create and think and problem-solve.  And it's been interesting for me to be the new kid on the block.

I was at my last job for ten years.  Because I taught a multi-age group (children ages two to five), I had some children for up to three years.  This enabled me to be a well-established teacher with both the children and their parents.  Of course there were new children and families every year, but there were also children who were "old pros".  So I haven't had a completely new class of children in ten years.

The biggest challenge as a new teacher is establishing yourself as a respected and respectful member of the classroom.  The first couple of weeks found me making requests of children to clean up or to change their behavior, only to have them run from me or tell me no.  This led to me reinforcing what I said, every day, until the children understood that yeah, that new lady is really gonna make us clean up!

In every class there are children who are more responsive (or more quickly responsive) than others. The slow responders are the ones who sometimes need a bit more attention, a bit more direction, a bit more rapport.  I rather enjoy the challenge of building a trusting relationship with these children in particular, although every relationship with each child is unique and special.

Today, as we were playing outside, one of my slower responders was playing chase on the playground.  "I got you!" he yelled as he pushed into another child, who fell down.  I directed my slow responder (heretofore known as SR for slow responder) to help the other child up and ask if she was okay.  He stood, with a frozen smile on his face, as the other child rose, dusted herself off, and ran away.  As I moved toward him, SR took off running and I called him.  He continued running until I said, "SR!  You're not in trouble...I just want to talk with you."  SR stopped and let me approach him and explain again that if he forgot to be gentle, he needed to help the other child and check on them.

As I spoke, SR's face remained frozen with that same smile.  You know the one...the one that says, "Oh man...I'm gonna get it."  His eyes darted to my face, then back to the playground several times.  When I finished talking, his eyes met mine one more time, and then he shocked me.

SR threw his arms around me in a huge, tight hug.

So many times we turn tiny issues that are teachable moments into huge discipline issues.  I could have easily lectured, given a logical consequence (you need to leave this area), punished (time out) or used a million other responses in this situation.  The reality is that SRs--in general--tend to receive these types of responses far more than most children, because their slow compliance is seen as defiance.  Is it defiance? Maybe.  Had this SR and I had other confrontations?  Yes.  I knew he knew that I meant what I said.  It was because we had experienced other confrontations that it was so important to give SR an opportunity to try again, to show him I trusted him.

Discipline is a difficult subject and a hard call in many situations.  But this SR's response to me today reminded me of how much power adults have over children and how careful we must always be to use that power carefully, kindly, gently, to teach and to love.  There's no trouble here.  SR kept his hands to himself, interspersed with brief hugs with  me for the rest of the day.

I think I made a friend.  :-)