The following post was drafted outside of Ramadan. It contains way too many syllables and words to be written by someone sleeping 3 hours a night during the last ten nights of Ramadan.
The 12+ inches of snow have melted into deep puddles and soaked earth. We all wear our rain boots and splash in muddy puddles. We wear extra socks. My daughter and I venture out into the backyard for treasures, but we find only deer poop. We make hearts in the snow with our shoes. We are, for a moment, adventurers in a vast wilderness of my suburban backyard.
I’ve started to teach again, to be mindful of what I need to plan and do with the children. There are a LOT of resources out there, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed. However, I have started to track progress by what I’ve done, not what I plan to do. I keep a simple chart of what subjects, and check off and detail what we’ve done each day. It gives me a sense of achievement in their education. I have a pile of books that is our Ramadan Basket, and we work through our materials every other day for ELA. For math, we have workbooks that we do not open enough. I discovered an app that they love, so we use what is simple.
I found Elizabeth Hanson’s Smart Homeschooler Academy course incredibly helpful in making the lesson planning bitesized. She insists that as a parent, I am the best equipped to teach my child. No one loves her more than I do. After 10 years in the social sector, as a funder of education initiatives and youth-led social change I have seen professionally that the caring adults for children are often outside the system of public education. The people who are inspiring the most change in their students are often not the ones being mandated by the state to meet certain standards. It is my opinion. I have met educators, community leaders, doulas, nurses, doctors, and caregivers who are shaping the lives of children.
Yet, truly, the role of the parent in shaping or breaking the child is the most profound.
The most vulnerable children face threats within their home. There are threats that are visible (malnutrition or neglect) and some that are invisible like a new trending app that sucks hours of time away from your child. I know that the most profound change happens because you either have present, attentive parents, or you don’t. I don’t believe now that the quality of time is better than the quantity. In the earliest years, it truly is the sheer quantity that gives them a sense of love.
Being there to comfort them when they fall; talking to them constantly throughout the day; listening.. The sheer volume of “actions” completed in the moment of their company. It does not change as they get older, because your constant and steady availability and guidance shape them. As parents, if we are working 60 hours a week, how can we truly be available when they need us? I found it impossible to be there mentally when I was drained mentally by work. That is not the case with every person who works 60+ hours. There are people who are energized by their work, and come home refreshed, happy, eager and attentive. I was not that person.
I will not forget who I became when I pretended to read emails in a happy voice to my child as a bedtime routine.
Play, of course, is my favorite.
I had a childhood of mostly book learning. I explored the world mostly through books, even as an adult.
I never slept under the stars. I never hugged a tree. I was forbidden from stepping into any muddy puddles. My mother did the best she could, as an almost single parent. My father was always working.
I remember the swim lessons with my dad, where I did not learn to swim. The time he tried to teach me to tell time, but ended up throwing the clock against the wall because I did not get it. I wonder if that has something to do with my inability to be on time. I remember my parents were too busy to play with us. This is the case for 100% of all immigrant parents. My companion was the television set, and my younger brother. Our relationships have evolved as I’ve aged, but asking them to be there for things is not their love language. My parents showered us with extravagant gifts, parties, and clothes. Their love was always evident because there was always stuff and experiences they gave me.
I want something different for my children.
I don’t want them rushing into the “academics.” I don’t believe in kindergarten readiness for 4 and 5 years olds. I believe in the science of the early childhood education, and yes the word gap exists for children of different socioeconomic conditions. The sheer volume of programs, services, and things that try to mold children into little adults, teaching them anything and everything at earlier and earlier ages — I do not believe that that is best for my kids. Maybe it is for your family. My experience on a team that invested $65M each year in various initiatives and programs made me feel like no one would use these programs or services. Working with the institutions, providers, or teachers, or the caring adults adjacent to the child just never made sense to me.
The only one that could do that profound job of caring was the nuclear family, and truly, that nuclear family had disintegrated in many communities, regardless of class. Money buffers the truly harmful effects of a broken family, but it does not shelter you from the emotional void.
Now that my kids are ready for school, I am not sure I am ready to send them. I am not ready to stop the weekday play dates, or weekly field trips, or the peacefulness of their sleeping in. I am not ready to change the routine. I don’t know where they will thrive the most — at home, or in school? What happens to my role?
You cannot give what you don’t have.
Imagine a young woman who grows up in a home with two doctor parents. The parents provide support, emotionally and financially, to all her dreams. She has the best environment — schools, community, experiences. She falls in love and marries a man. She has a child. Her husband cheats and leaves her and does not provide enough for child support. Now she has to return to work. The early years when she provided 100% focus and attention on her child because she always wanted to be a mother slowly erodes based on the struggles of her life. Her child went to the best ECE programs; the best schools — when she was married. The comforts that she grew up with, she wants to give to her child. Her self-esteem struggles post divorce. Her child struggles. Her child feels all her mother’s pain, no matter how much she shields it. This is why early childhood education has a negligible impact.
It is what constitutes “home” and a sense of safety and security in your heart that has an impact on the way you respond to stressors. Divorce does not end childhood of course, and children grow up to be caring loving adults despite the stress of a single-household. Yet, there is a critical need for two-gen solutions — such that both the parent and the child is helped, supported, elevated.
Providing love and guidance is a lifelong job description.
The AAP — one of the most trusted and venerated institutions of the ECE space — felt irrelevant to me as a millennial parent. Sesame, the Y, the partners I worked with– none of them seemed to really help the parents heal themselves from the trauma of their existence. We all experience trauma in different ways.
We have to be willing to jump into the messy puddles and figure out how to move forward. And none of the traditional education in the world prepares you to do this.
During Ramadan, I am relishing the fact that we can paint and read after breakfast. We cane get up later. We can do things that we wouldn’t be able to do outside of this special time, and without my special role.