It’s a choose-your-own-adventure, except that instead of an exciting mystery to determine the fate of the protagonist, it’s a battle of the minds, emotions, and wills to get my kid to do something not very fun. Today it was “I don’t want to go to school—don’t make me!” First from the 7-year-old, then from the 10-year-old. The second I hear those words my mind kicks into gear, going through all the techniques I’ve learned over the years—and tried sometimes with success—in the last month.
I wrote my first post about unschooling and how we were thinking about ways to homeschool a little less than three weeks ago, and pretty much right after I wrote that, it became clear we would be jumping in head first, sooner than later. As the testing began and the pressure rose for our first grader, her days became more miserable and her nights filled with stress and anxiety. We found ourselves thinking (again), surely there must be a better way. So we took the plunge and pulled her out of school.
There are stretches of time when I stop for a minute (or sixty, on and off over a few hours) to update our records of Team Hokama—whether it’s the blog, photos, or videos—when I realize there is more happening than I can possibly keep up with. Yet I continue endeavoring on. So. Time to write some stuff down.
The past week+ has been tough. We were cruising along, having a great Mother’s Day, and just after a really nice brunch of belgian waffles and eggs benedict for the adults, Keana starts throwing up. And it doesn’t stop. For 7 hours. Yeah, nasty. At least it stopped by the time bedtime rolled around, but when things like this happen, especially with two other kids, I just wait anxiously to see who’s next. I was really proud of us though, because Sarah and I managed Keana and were still able to enjoy what we had planned for the day. It was a true tribute to Sarah on Mother’s Day.
Throughout the week, Sarah got a milder version of what Keana had, then it hit me pretty hard Thursday night. Luckily, Maia and Aliya seemed to have escaped it, though Aliya has been a little sensitive lately, possibly due to fighting this thing off. It’s just one of those things about having kids and it can, and does, derail things. I think we’re learning how to roll with it though and are a little better about taking time for ourselves if we need it. Half the battle is just staying in the moment and dealing with what’s actually happening and not getting carried away with what might happen. It’s funny to write all this, now over seven years into this kid thing, realizing that I’m sure I wrote those exact words after the first year of having one kid. Cycles of realizations and revelations?
So life’s been busy. Keana and Maia have been enjoying ballet since mid-January as something “extra”. Keana is pure muscle, tall, and poised. She watches the teacher like a hawk and doesn’t miss anything. Her execution is of course strained at times, but she is a joy to watch. Maia is definitely a natural. She’s only four yet her moves are crisp and precise, then graceful and smooth when they need to be. She makes it look like she doesn’t have to think much about what she’s doing. They’re preparing for their dance recitals, which will be happening in the beginning of June. They both have some apprehension about it, as can be expected, but they also have no idea what to expect, so we’ve been balancing listening to their fears and trying to give them a little supportive push at the same time. Another challenge as a parent: let your kids do what they want and what they enjoy, but still push them to try new things so they can figure out what those things are.
Last Thursday Keana had Author’s Night at her school which is where all the kids gather outside to share the books they’ve written and illustrated with parents, friends, and family. This starts in kindergarten and goes through fifth grade. Just like last year, we were really impressed with Keana’s story, how well it was written, and of course, the amazing pictures she came up with to go along with it. It’s really such a cool tradition at this school. Imagine having a book that you wrote each year of elementary school? What a gift. I have to admit that this year Keana had enough plot twists in her story that I’ll have to read it again to be sure I catch all of it. As the school year winds down, Keana is definitely struggling with the long, eight-hour day. She’s struggled with it on and off, and that, coupled with 30-45 minutes of homework each night has really been tough. This morning I told her she just had to stick with it through the rest of the year and we’ll reevaluate this summer. Nothing can’t be changed I told her. So we’ll see how that all plays out.
Maia has really been growing up fast too. She is just more and more mature every week, with how she relates to and helps Aliya throughout the day; being more open to what she wears and eats; and just generally handling things that used to stress her out. She tells amazing stories and plays really well on her own, mostly taking care of her babies or animals. She can often be seen flitting about the house, gathering things from each room, each item necessary for the best possible care of her clients. She loves taking care of us too. For instance, when I get back from a run, she’ll often grab a towel to dry me off and help cool me down. For how fiery she is, she is really sensitive and sweet. She is such a joy day in and day out, and I know Aliya really enjoys having her to play with. They like to run around the house playing together, making up various adventures, and yelling, “C’mon Aliya, c’mon!” and Aliya will scream back as she runs, “Okay Sissy!” We feel really fortunate that they get along so well and have so much fun together. The real bottom line with Maia is that she knows what she wants—or doesn’t know—and will make that clear either way.
And Aliya. Oh, little miss Aliya. Since the last post featuring her, she’s just progressed on that path of talking up a storm and being her own little, opinionated, feisty, happy self. She’s filling in her sentences more, sometimes with gibberish, but definitely trying more complex word formations. She has fits of silliness that crack us up, like changing the way she walks as she sings a little song or chants something. She’s fearless when bouncing on the bed and runs like a little daredevil, barely slowing down as she turns a corner. She’s definitely territorial and if she even senses a threat to something she has, or even something she sees that she wants, she screams, “It’s minnne!” Having two older sisters will do that to you I guess. Keana and Maia are mostly pretty good about sharing, but they are bigger and faster and swoop and pounce on things a bit quicker—for now. Aliya loves stacking things and will run into the room and motion saying, “C’mon Papa, c’mon!” then run to her stack of blocks to show it off. She love racing too, often counting off, “Two, two, two, GO!” Lastly, she, almost more than anything, wants to be doing exactly what everyone else is doing. She’s stopped sitting in her baby chair at the table. She clears her plate just like her sisters; loves to brush her teeth and even taps the water off the toothbrush just like we do. She wants regular glasses, puts her own shoes on, wants flip-flops, you name it. She is two going on five. What a brilliant little independent child.
Look at that, 1176 words. Apparently I could go on forever. And I would, but I have a few more hundred photos to back up and I would like to squeeze in some lushly mellow, possibly brainless, relaxation time with Sarah too. So. I go now.
We had just left Great Grandma Bev’s lake house, driving into the setting sun, when we heard from the backseat, “How did Jesus die?” The only reason I wasn’t totally floored was because Sarah had shared with me another time this happened. At the exact same point in the road, a week or two earlier, Keana had asked that exact question. At that time, Sarah wasn’t sure how much to say and worried about getting in a little over her head, so she punted, telling Keana she should ask me since I probably knew more about that. Lucky me. The conversation that Keana and I had after that first time was pretty brief; she was ready to move on to something else by the time she got home.
It would all be easier if Sarah and I didn’t question religion ourselves and went to church every Sunday, and if I just spouted off the classic, generally acceptable answers and stories within the Christian faith. I’ve spent so much time in church or church-related activities that I’m practically ordainable, but it’s only recently, after many years away from it all, that I’m beginning to come back to my childhood faith. Sarah and I have always wanted to provide our kids with a broad understanding of many forms of religion and ideas of God, hoping that when they were really curious and ready, our kids could embark on their own process with a good foundation—a process that wasn’t biased or misinformed. What we’ve come to realize lately though, is that in an attempt to be open, we may actually have been depriving our kids of the opportunity to develop any sort of faith.
So, back to the car. I thought for moment and chose the most direct answer. I explained he was crucified and the basics of what that entailed. I opted to leave out the public ridicule, beatings, crown of thorns, and stabbing—crucifixion seemed like enough. Keana (of course) asked why that was done to him, and I explained that some people don’t like to hear things that are contrary to their own beliefs or way of thinking, and unfortunately, it can and has resulted in some pretty sad and horrible outcomes. That seemed to go over relatively smoothly with the kids—and Maia was actually already drifting off to sleep, being exhausted from the day—which was probably good because Keana’s next question was, “How come you go to a bad place when you kill yourself?”
Yeah. Wasn’t ready for that one.
I think it’s safe to say that Christianity, and going to church regularly, is a pretty big thing in our current town of Fresno. It’s common enough that I’ve been asked on many occasions if I knew so-and-so through [the kids’] school or church. The church option never came up in the Bay Area. Also, a big population of Keana’s school are Mexican/Latino, so Catholicism is pretty prevalent I think, too. This is all to say that after the suicide question, I was pretty sure she was getting all her info from her friends at school.
Holy shit. Suicide? Hell? For first graders? Really people? These are the foundations of faith you’re sharing with your kids? On behalf of parents that are trying not to scar their kids and raise them in fear, I thank you. I calmly went on to tell Keana that there are different flavors of Christianity and in some of those, they believe bad things happen to you when you do certain things. I quickly followed it with the fact that Christianity is really based on love and that is the core principal to pay attention to. Sarah stepped in (thankfully) adding that it’s okay for everyone to believe whatever they want, but it’s important for each of us to make our own choices and respect others’.
The conversation continued for the full 40-minute-ride home and in the end I was a little worn out, but thankful that we could have a talk like that, in that way, as a family. Although there are many things that point to Keana’s maturity and growth, it’s conversations like that that remind me how much she (and all kids in general) pick up on, and how important it is for them to not only be able to talk to their parents or other adults about it, but to be met with an openness that encourages their own thinking and questions, and allows them to explore safely. At least I hope that’s what we did. Damn. That was weeks ago and I’m still processing it; great practice for what’s to come.
Today was Keana and Maia’s first trip to the ballet and what was on the bill? None other than The Nutcracker. It was Grandma Jennie’s Christmas gift, and we were all excited. Sarah hadn’t been since she was a kid (to that very same theater), and I realized that I had never been to a ballet before either.
Sarah got the girls dressed up in their holiday finest, and we dropped Aliya off at Grandma’s house. It was weird leaving our fifth member behind, but there was no way she was going to go. So it was a little sad but also kind of special just being able to focus on Keana and Maia.
Maia was hating her stockings and shoes all the way to the William Saroyan Theater, but once we got out of the car and headed towed the large building, she was immediately distracted. The theater is really nice and we got there with plenty of time to hang out and enjoy the experience. The girls were very anxious to get inside and see what it was all about.
We found our seats and I noticed right away that there wasn’t a live orchestra which was really surprising and also pretty disappointing, but I tried not to let that soil my experience. The girls were buzzing with anticipation, and Maia especially liked the self-folding seats. The lights dimmed, the music started, and the curtain raised. Show time.
Throughout the show I looked over to see what the girls’ reactions were, and they were pretty engrossed, for the first 30 minutes. Then the hunger and tiredness kicked in a little. Surprisingly, they had very few questions. We had sort of prepped them with what to expect, so maybe that helped. By intermission though, Keana was sad with hunger and Maia really needed to be close to Sarah. I tried to get them to go to the bathroom, but they insisted they didn’t have to go. The lights dimmed, the music started, and Act II began.
Maia was definitely having a harder time paying attention, but there was more action and more frequent cast changes, so they were pretty into it. The Russian dancers were almost more B-Boy than Russian, but were still really impressive and got the audience pumped up (and gave the girls a little jolt). They even had a dude in a wheelchair doing stands on his head, wheelchair lifted straight in the air. Crazy. I felt sort of bad for the other dancers in the other segments, because I’m sure they were doing really impressive stuff, but the crowd reacted much more boisterously to the Russian dance crew.
15 minutes to the end Keana started complaining about having to go to the bathroom really bad, but I convinced her to hold it telling her it was almost over and I didn’t want her to miss the end. The Pas de Deux at the end was really well done and you could tell the principals were quite talented. I couldn’t help but think they cut the orchestra to pay for better dancers, but it was a ballet, so that’s probably a good thing. Still, I was bummed the girls did ‘t get the live orchestra experience too (of course, they had no idea). Anyway, when all was said and done, the lifts were amazing and so was the footwork (or whatever it’s called). The bows at the end were fun and the size of the cast was really impressive.
The girls also enjoyed catching glimpses of the cast in their costumes in the lobby, but were pretty much ready to bounce at that point. When I asked them which were their favorite sections/dancers, they both replied “all of them”. So there you go, the first trip to the ballet. I’m really thankful we could go as a family and I’m looking forward to future performances. Now that Keana and Maia are a little older, these sort of excursions are becoming possible, and today was a really nice taste of what’s to come.
It’s not a very glamorous word, but it seems like such an important one. Progress. We can’t really help it, actually. And the kids, man, they are beyond it if that’s possible. I almost feel like my humble writings, even combined with all the photos and video, barely do their amazing lives justice. Not to mention their vast and rapid development. It overwhelms me really, but then I remember that even the most basic of accounts speaks volumes years down the road, and we can already see this at this early stage of the game.
Keana is simply a delight. From the instant she wakes up until she falls quickly asleep, she is essentially a ray of light. She has definitely been trying out her defiance, coupled with sneers and powerful growling expressions, but we know it’s natural and it rarely lasts. She’ll ignore what we say until we force the issue but it’s actually really good to see her healthy questioning and the strength that’s behind it. I think it will serve her well later in life. She’s also excelling in school and gets along with everybody, even the kids in other classes. I’m still surprised when other teachers and parents know her and greet her on the way to school. Keana is definitely our social butterfly.
Tonight was special too. She was chosen by all the kindergarten teachers to present a piece of what she’s learned in school. There were three kindergarteners and three first graders. Here’s what she read from her animal journal:
We’ve worried a little about how much the kids are expected to learn in kindergarten, but Keana has really done well with it and seems to really enjoy the power that comes with reading and writing.
The epitome of progress though is Aliya. She has the unfair advantage of being baby, but she changes every day. After she began sitting up, it wasn’t long until she started to crawl, and she first crawled just a week ago. Sure, it’s still mostly a scoot crawl, but it’s surprising how far she can get in just a short amount of time. We’ve really had to watch out for all those older kid tiny toys, as well as anything else a baby shouldn’t be ingesting.
Aliya is very curious about everything and loves taking the magnet off the fridge and putting them back on, as well as banging things together to make sound. She may be our little percussionist. She’s always been a thump-a-foot, and a game we like playing recently is when I’m changing her diaper, I pretty to defend myself as she kicks wildly at my arms and face; kind of like a faux-karate match. Laughs and squeals and loves it, and so do I. She continues to be quite flirty with everyone really, waving hello and goodbye, and her super-smile is irresistible. I also love how she squeals really high when she’s excited to see someone she knows.
As for food, Aliya is eating much of what we eat with the exception of cheese, cow milk products, bread and that sort of thing. She loves turkey, peas, zucchini, gnawing on chicken bones, and these puff cereal things made for little babies. I like to line little bites up in a row on her tray and she just mows right through it.
We also started Aliya sleeping on her own, in her own room, about two weeks ago. She fusses for 5-10 minutes and then sleeps through the night. It is really amazing having our evenings to ourselves again. Sure she was adorable to hold while she slept peacefully, but it was time. She’s still not used to napping yet, fussing for 5-10 minutes and falling asleep, but not sleeping for more than an hour and is noticeably tired throughout he day. So that’s still being worked out. This is the earliest we’ve started the sleep training though, so we’re in slightly uncharted territory.
Finally The Maij…our fierce little Maia. She is hilarious. She is adorable. She is quick as a whip. And she is mad as hell sometimes. Her will will not bend or brake, and though it’s quite challenging now, I know it will be a strength someday. It seems she’s been having a hard time eating lately. We think she may be too tired at the end of the day to focus on it, or maybe she’s just going through some developmental thing that affects her intake. She’s growing fast and we’re trying not to make issues out of it, but it certainly has been challenging. And of course, bedtime and sleeping has been a challenge too, just as it was with Keana when she was three. We ditched the bunk beds and are having Keana and Maia sleep in the queen together. So far, they are able to go to sleep together most of the time, but Maia often pitches a fit in the middle of the night and Keana comes to sleep with me and Maia falls back asleep with Sarah. We would let her cry it out, but she’s so damn loud and persistent, that she keeps everyone awake. So we’re feeling our way through this one at the moment.
And that’s just a snapshot but I’m operating from the perspective that something, anything, is better than nothing.
There are so many things we love about Maia and I think it’s safe to say one of her greatest characteristics is also her biggest challenge for us: she is full of fire. On the positive side of things this plays out in being confident, adventurous, and quite funny, and on the other side of things her will is very difficult to get around when she’s tired, hungry, or frustrated. She’s so much like me that having her as my little, slightly less developed mirror is scary.
Maia may end up being our most petite kiddo, but she sure is growing up fast. She begins her fourth week of preschool this week and she’s been adjusting really well. The first day was a breeze, but the next couple times involved some screaming and crying at departure. But the last two times I’ve dropped her off, she simply says, “Bye Papa.” gives me a quick hug, and runs off to talk to Great Grandma Bev. It’s been really nice, for both her and Keana, to have family as part of their first “teacher experience”. After school Maia is completely exhausted, but still insists on coming along to pick up Keana who gets out 30 minutes later. It is SO sweet when we arrive. Keana waits in a line until we show up and when they see each other Maia screams, “Sissy!” and Keana screams, “Oh Maia! Maia! I missed you!” and they run and embrace as if it had been weeks and not hours since they last were together. All the other kids seem to look on with envy and excitedly ask Keana, “Is that YOUR little sister?!”
And it’s a good thing Maia is so sweet with that touch of fierce, because although she and Keana play really well together 90% of the time, that other 10% requires some sweetness to deal with Keana’s bossiness, and a good dose of ferocity to eek out her space with her much bigger sister. I have to say it makes me proud to see our little one stick up for herself with such bravado.
Maia is also quite fearless. When she was having trouble sleeping she would often walk around the house in the dark, just playing or checking things out. Keana never did this and still won’t go into dark rooms without Maia. She often says, “Maia is much braver than me.” and I think it may be true. Also, this summer when we roasted marshmallows, it was Maia who stepped out first to get closer to the fire. Of course she has her things that she’s scared of, but overall, she’s our brave little girl.
We’re finally getting into a good schedule with her sleeping as well. For the longest time, probably because she is so independent, we tried to take cues from her for sleep. It was always a struggle though, and it seemed like just as we got on top of it, something big would disrupt it (the last being Aliya’s birth). So the last couple months we’ve gotten back on the boundaries and she’s sleeping much better, mostly through the night. At first, of course, she screamed bloody hell, but now bed time is much less traumatic for everyone. She even asks for her naps during the day when she’s ready.
Speech-wise Maia has always been impressive. Perhaps the influence of a very verbal older sister has helped. Communication is, though, a bit of chore at times. We think her thoughts might be moving much faster than her tongue can handle and she either gets very frustrated or gets stuck in these loops, repeating phrases over and over until they come out. For instance she’ll be telling a story and when she moves on to the next part, she’ll say, “And then, and then, and then, and then…”. It’s really cute, especially when she uses hand gestures that seem more in place with a thirteen-year-old than an almost-three-year-old.
Maia just continues to be our tiny-feisty-now-preschooler and it’s so fun to see all her amazing attributes just continue to develop and grow and evolve. I don’t think we’ll have to worry about her getting lost in the middle of our little trio of girls.
It begins: school. Real school…for Keana at least. Yesterday was the first and here’s what she had to say about, “It was better than I thought!” I took her to school at 7:25 a.m. and they have the kindergarteners meet in the cafeteria, sit at a table with their class, then line up and walk to their classroom altogether. It was quite the scene. Not only were the kids nervous and excited, but then there were all the parents. I have to say, many of the kids were handling it more gracefully than the parents. I think as parents we need to remember that we have a lifetime of “stuff” about school and separation that we sometimes put on our kids. What I’ve had to keep reminding myself is that this is all new for our kids and it’s exciting and interesting, this whole school thing. There’s no reason for them to be scared or worried. We’ve done our best to pick the best possible school for them and our family, and now we just have to sit back, observe, trust, and support Keana in having fun with it, while getting the most out of it.
Anyway, so…for the most part, the departure of Keana and the rest of the kids from their parents, for a brief 5 hours and 15 minutes, was pretty smooth. Keana clung a little, but when it was time, she lined up and marched off confidently. She was ready. Unlike some of the little guys in her class that were bawling. Screaming and crying and clinging, these little guys really derailed the whole thing. I was just glad it wasn’t my kid! At least not this one.
Maia had her first day of preschool yesterday. She’s going Monday and Friday and drop-off was seamless. She was ready to play and have fun. At around 11 a.m. Sarah’s phone rang. It was Grandma Bev, but it only rang once so we thought it was an accident. When we picked Maia up at 12:30 p.m., we found out that Maia had had a little “accident” and had to change her clothes. She threw such a fit that Grandma Bev said, “I thought the roof was going blow off the house.” Sarah and I realized she had never witnessed the wrath of Maij. Anyway, once they got her changed she calmed down, so there was no need to intervene on our part. But when we picked her up she was exhausted and didn’t have a whole lot to say. She did say she wanted to go back though, and Bev didn’t tell us not to come back, so I guess we’re on for another adventure on Friday.
After picking Maia up, we went to pick up Keana. We were early, and just as Maia and Aliya were melting down, Keana walks out, in line, to meet us. It was great to see her huge smile and she seemed so grown-up. She didn’t want to talk a lot about it, but she did say she had a great time and it sounded like she really enjoyed everything. And although she keeps asking, “Why do I have to go to school every day?”, it was no problem getting her to school today. And the scene was way more manageable. Less parents, calmer parents, and the kids knew just what to do. Keana was visiting with a girl in another class and she started to walk in the wrong line to the wrong class, but I snagged her and got her in the right group.
So that’s it. School has begun. It is good, mostly. And with Keana getting to school so much earlier this year, I think it’s going to give me more time to get this website updated, water the lawn, practice my horn, etc. All things that would normally have to wait till after 9 p.m.
I’d say we officially started “back-to-school” last Thursday. We went shopping for Keana’s uniform stuff and a couple things for Maia. After work we attended Keana’s back-to-school night at her new school, Dailey Charter. It was weird. I mean, there were lots of levels of weirdness. For one, there was the weirdness I felt. I know I’m a grown-ass man, but something about attending our first “real” school event for our little 5-year-old made me nervous. I felt out of place and couldn’t believe that we were now responsible for her formal education and the choices we made would affect her success in this crazy world. I know all the decisions we’ve made up to this point also affect her success and happiness, but this was a new level of it.
It was weird to see all the other families and kids too and to imagine what Keana’s interactions would be like with the other kids and how these other grown-ass people in the room were just like us; nervous, concerned, excited, curious, etc. Actually, they weren’t just like us. I didn’t get the feeling at all that they shared our political views, sensitivities, and/or education. One of the downfalls of living in a place like Fresno I guess. I was happy though to see such a diverse room full of people. If I had to guess, I’d say only 15% were caucasian, but there were very few asians, which didn’t surprise me. But it was good to see so many different types of people represented anyway.
Which brings me to the next weirdness. The teachers did not reflect the population of students. 90% of the teachers were young, white women. Which is fine, but I think it’s important for students to see themselves in their teachers. Of course, our girls are predominantly white, so maybe it’s my issues…I mean, I guess they’re all my issues, because Keana certainly doesn’t think about race very much. People are people to her and she doesn’t blink twice at skin color. (Note to self: work on that.)
Then we visited the classroom. It was a very neat, new classroom, with all the desks grouped in fours, and the kids’ names already on them. The teacher’s large, black desk was at the front, in the corner, angled, overlooking the kids. There was a laptop on there and a pseudo-laptop for the kids. To the right of that was a SMART board and a projector hung from the ceiling with new speakers on either side. Fancy. In the back there was also a behavior chart, like a stop light. All the kids start out on green. Everything was labeled: scissors, crayons, pencils, desk, etc. The kids will learn to read and write. There will be homework, especially reading every night. There’s a field trip. It felt sterile in the classroom. We’re hoping it will warm up and gain some character as the year goes on (after all, it is a brand new school).
I think Sarah and I both wished the teacher had focused on welcoming the kids, but instead it felt like she/the school wanted to emphasize to the parents that they were a serious academic school, with strict rules and a dress code. So we’ll have to see. The fundamental principals of the International Baccalaureate program sound great, so as long as those really shine through, I think it’s going to be a great school for Keana.
Little Miss Maia will be starting preschool too at the school that their great grandma Bev runs. Keana loved it there, and Maia got small samples when dropping her off or picking her up, so I think she’ll love it too. She’ll be going two days a week for now and she will be one of the youngest kids there. So we’ll see how things go and we’re willing to be flexible. If she hates it, we’ll try again in January. If she loves it, we’ll increase the days in January (if there’s room).
Aliya has been growing, growing, growing into a little chuberoo. She’s 12lbs. now and 24” (95% percentile for both). It will be nice for Sarah and her to have some alone time with both girls at school, and I think it will be great for Maia to have her little sister to herself on her days off.
It’s really hard to believe we take another plunge tomorrow. Kindergarten. The beginning of formal education. And Maia in preschool. Damn!!! Where has the time gone? I’ll let y’all know how the first day goes!