Because Norah's elementary school has so many kids, traffic is an obvious problem. Drop off isn't that bad once you figure out the complicated flow of cars, but pick up really, really bad. It is the school's responsibility to get every kid to the right place (one I am grateful that they take so seriously), but the logistics don't make for the most efficient process. You pull up to the school and get in the line of cars waiting to pick-up kids. If you want to be anywhere near the front of the line, you have to be there by about 2:00 (kinder gets released at 2:35, everyone else at 2:45). You put a sign on your passenger side window with your kid's name and one teacher calls it out when you get to the front and then another teacher calls for that kid (who is sitting on the hot sidewalk, waiting...waiting...waiting...) The teachers work their asses off in this 100+ degree heat and are doing their best, there is just no better solution.
I work from home on Mondays and have Fridays off, but on Tuesday, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, I work downtown. Which is a good 25 minutes away from the school with no traffic, and close to an hour away in rush hour. It's obviously not feasible for me to pick her up on those days. Bubby has both kids on Tue/Wed/Thur afternoon when I am at work, but the problem is that she has BOTH kids, one of whom naps right smack in the middle of the time Norah needs to be picked up from school. It was definitely a dilemma.
The most reasonable solution? The bus. The policy in our district is that you have to live two miles away from your school in order to qualify for bus service. Of all the kids who go to this school, our neighborhood is one of the farthest away (our neighborhood is sectioned oddly and is divided between two separate school DISTRICTS-not just schools), so we qualify for service. There aren't a ton of kids who ride the bus, so my hope was that it would be a smooth, non-chaotic process.
I picked her up Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday (I left work at 1:00) and then on Thursday it was bus time. It drops off at the mailboxes literally 100 feet from our house. Bubby left a soundly sleeping Lou and walked the 15 seconds to the stop. I was at work in a quiet panic (would she get on the right bus, would she know where to get off, would anyone give her a hard time, would the driver be nice to her?) Bubby texted me this picture the second she got off:
She loved it. She had a lot of apprehension about it (so I played it cool even though I was dying inside), but it was a piece of cake. The kinder kids get walked there by the teacher, they get to sit right up front, and she recognized our street immediately (not to mention Bubby). It was a success. Her only complaint it that it's hot. (I had been warned this by all the parents I grilled about their bus experience--for some unknown reason the buses do not have air conditioning and for August/September and again in May/June it can be tough). She was ready for ice water and one of her shows, but couldn't have been happier about it. I was so relieved we went out to dinner to celebrate (that and it's 103 degrees still and taking the kids out for pizza is about all I can handle at the end of the day).
You can't possibly imagine how jealous this dude is that she gets to ride a BUS every day.
I was there to meet the bus on Friday, and again, piece of cake.
I love it when the easiest solution actually works out. Such a relief.
So, it happened. Norah went to kindergarten. And it was awesome.
I figured it was going to be a big adjustment. She went to pre-school everyday, but only from 8:45'ish to 12:30. Kindergarten officially starts at 7:45 and goes until 2:35. That's a long time to be at school. Plus it requires a very early wake-up, which is not routine in the GVZ house (our departure time was always 8:30).
The school is big (950+ kids) and so like most elementary schools, the lunch times are staggered. Since the kinder kids are low man on the totem pole they eat the earliest. And the earliest is 10:00 am. That's right, they eat lunch at 10:00 am. The folks doing orientation warned us that this definitely takes some getting used to and we shouldn't expect them to eat much lunch the first couple of weeks. And then for the rest of the year we should expect them to need to eat at 10:00 am on the weekends.
Norah's celiac means that at least for the time being (until there are viable options at the cafeteria--here's hoping for someday), we pack everything that she eats. I got her this awesome Yumbox a few weeks ago and she has admired and carried it around daily. I wouldn't let her use it for the last few weeks of pre-school as I wanted the allure of it to be associated with kindergarten only. Here's our first bento attempt:
GF brown sugar ham, cantaloupe chunks, homemade GF pizza strips, GF noodles, dried cherries, and edamame. We also have to send a snack for the afternoon, so she got grapes and a GF granola bar. (Don't worry, I am not going to take a picture of her lunch every day, just this one. I promise.)
I had heard horror stories from neighbors about what a mess the traffic situation can be at the school. The school encourages parents to drop off kids curb-side, rather than park, but there was no way I was just dropping her off the first day. Our plan, on the advice of the administration, was to get there early, park in the stadium parking lot across the street, and walk to the school. The doors open every day at 7:15, with the first bell at 7:35. We left our house exactly at 7:00. It was very early for this girl.
The sign says "First Day of Kindergarten" and the date and then I asked her what she wanted to be when she grows up (the illegible words in red). She said a veterinarian. I have never heard her once mention anything about wanting to be a veterinarian.
We got to school and even though it was crowded there were lots of spaces in the parking lot so we didn't even have to go to the stadium. This is her new backpack. We chose it because Ruby got the exact same one. If they can't go to school together, at least they can be backpack twins.
This is the outside of the school. It looks like a state prison.
There had been a lot of anticipation and anxiety in the days leading up to the first day of school, but on that morning she was calm, cool, and collected. She was more excited than nervous, which is exactly what I was hoping for. She kept having to pee, which is the only way I knew she still had nerves about the whole thing.
This is her friend Daniel who lives in our neighborhood. They are not in the same class but see each other at recess.
The school doors open at 7:15 and everyone enters through the office. Parents were allowed to go to the classrooms on the first day only. After that, no parent is allowed anywhere except the cafeteria where the students convene until they are taken back to the classroom areas (safety concerns). I appreciate their efforts and interest in keeping the kids organized and safe. I would love to just drop her off at the front curb and watch her walk in (so I don't have to get Louie out of the car), but so far that's been a no-go. I asked her when she will be comfortable with me not getting out and walking her to the cafeteria and she told me "third grade."
The classes are grouped according to grade level and each level has a "neighborhood" where you will find science tables, computers, a kitchen, tons of library nooks, etc. There is a warm and welcoming feeling to it. The model for learning is open, communal, "it takes a village" and the kids do a lot of their learning outside of their primary classroom. The school itself is less than five years old and it's really impressive. There is a theater arts classroom with a full sized stage, a giant computer lab, a library, an enormous art studio, an independent music room, plus the multi-purpose room (where they do PE when it is 103 degrees outside), and full service cafeteria.
This is the entrance to the kindergarten "neighborhood:"
Norah outside of her new classroom. I really like her teacher--she is older with a lot of experience, but still very energetic and enthusiastic. She seems (from what I was able to tell from the meet the teacher night and what Norah has said) to have a really good control on the class, which is great for Norah who excels in a calm environment. The teacher is also very technologically savvy and we get email updates and notifications, which I certainly appreciate. I can't deal with 12 million sheets of paper.
She was one of the first kids there, so she found her assigned seat and immediately went to work on the first assignment--making a crown and coloring a dragon.
The classroom is bright and cheerful and fun. The kids say the Pledge of Allegiance and the Texas Pledge every morning. I grew up in the Texas public school system and never remember there being a Texas pledge. Maybe it's a new thing.
She was seriously stoked to be there.
I gave her a hug and a kiss and then that was the end of it. I ended up hanging out at the school for a while because of some of my PTA duties (have I mentioned I am on the PTA board this year? Because my life is not over-committed at all already...), and I caught a glimpse of her a few hours later walking to the multi-purpose room.
Louie and I waited anxiously for the time we could go pick her up. And by anxiously I mean my stomach was in knots and I paced back and forth a lot. Lou just ate cereal.
Pick-up is kind of a nightmare (hence the post about the bus to come soon). It took about 45 minutes from the time I got there until the time I was driving out of the lot with her in my car.
She had a great day on Monday and has had a fabulous week. She loves her teacher and the structure of the day. She is pissed she doesn't yet have any homework. She is making friends and being kind. She loves, loves, loves music class and likes PE even though they spent the entire time the first session just talking about the rules. She is afraid to try the monkey bars on the playground but wants to practice on the ones at home. I asked her what her favorite part about school is and she said, "learning and having fun at the same time." I couldn't ask for anything better than that.
The other best part? She goes to bed by 7:30 pm at the latest (this was a kid who could push 10:00 pm some nights) and is eating like a teenage boy at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Here's how her first day lunch came back (noodles were "too sticky" apparently).
She's my smart cookie. I can't believe she's in kindergarten, but I am grateful we are off to such a positive start.
I have always been pretty anti-HOA (home owner's association), but it is pretty much impossible to live in the Austin area without being a part of one. I have to admit, at least in our limited experience, the pros have definitely outweighed the cons in our particular neighborhood. Our HOA maintains two big and beautiful neighborhood pools, hiking/biking/walking trails, and two parks with play-scapes. They also host and organize various neighborhood activities usually associated with holidays. A few weeks ago was some national neighborhood safety night and so our HOA organized an event that coincided with that as well (promoting personal safety and the importance of looking out for your neighbor, but thankfully no emphasis on vigilante justice....) Anyway they had food trucks and bouncy houses and a vendor selling personal tasers for only $30. The biggest hit for our family (other than the live music) was this barrel train that was pulled by a tractor. Two of Lou's favorite things. He was really excited waiting in line and then freaked out when he realized I wasn't getting in with him. Luckily, Norah took over and he ended up having a good time. So good in fact that whenever we drive by the park area he screams that he wants to ride the tractor train RIGHT NOW.
Getting this guy to eat anything but crackers is still a daily struggle. So when he asked for strawberries as soon as they came home from the store, I couldn't say no. The 30 seconds it would take to wash them pretty much would guarantee his lost interest. At least they were organic.
He loves baths to the point where we might have to stop taking them. That would be because he refuses to get out. Like, kicking and screaming refuses to get out. About 10 times a day he will beg, "I NEED to take a bath."
I dream of the day that the kids will wake up on their own on a Saturday morning, get their own breakfast and watch cartoons. All while I am still asleep. We are getting close.
Half of the time this is where I find Louie in the morning.
A few weeks ago Norah went to a birthday party at a Michael's craft store. It was to be a 'drop-off' party, i.e. parents not welcome to stay. I wasn't quite ready for that to happen because it as a school friend and we did not know the parents at all, and it was a public place and I had no idea how secure the location would be. It was far more secure than I was expecting, so Louie and I went next door and walked around the grocery store for an hour. Killing time meant he got a new fire truck and a 90 minute DVD of a garbage truck driving around. He loves them both.
I started an Austin chapter of my cooking club last year and it is going really well. We've got a great group going and everyone is really stepping up their game. I have taken a picture of every single dish we've had and not done a thing with them. Someday. This was a watermelon gazpacho.
Norah's drawings are getting more elaborate every day. Louie's preschool has a theme every week and their crafts and activities follow the theme. Last week was outer space and so Norah drew an alien for him one morning at breakfast. The blue thing is the moon.
Speaking of Norah, she has always liked stuffed animals but lately she has really been into them. She has an elaborate bedtime ritual that involves changing them into pajamas and arranging them in various sleeping configurations. Minnie is wearing goggles here because she contracted Meddlesome Myrtle (a made up version of poison ivy from one of Norah's shows) and she can't itch her eyes.
I was hesitant to get Norah a scooter for her birthday because I feared it would go the way of her tricycle and bicycle. In other words, I figured she would fall and get scared and then refuse to try again. I am pleased to report that she has in fact crashed and fallen several times, but gets right back up. She is a scooter maniac. She goes incredibly fast and can take corners like nobody's business. Unfortunately it is still so hot that most of the riding gets done inside the house.
It is very possible that Louie is a sociopath. What gives me hope is watching him with Baby Camilla. He is sweet, loving, protective, and gentle. Pretty much the opposite of how he is at all other times. I hope she continues to bring out the best in him.
There is a local restaurant that has a huge outside space for live music. It also has two playscapes. I cannot wait for the day that I can sit on a patio and drink wine while my kids play by themselves. That day is coming, I just know it.
This kid. He's so demanding. In attempt to teach him some manners and make him think about what he's saying before he actually says it, every time he orders me around or demands something I make him stop, repeat his demand in the form of a polite request, and then add "beautiful lady" on the end of it. For example, he will say "get me my milk!" And I will require that he re-phrase and say, "may I please have some milk, beautiful lady?" I am hoping it makes him just a little bit nicer. Plus, it makes me laugh.
Tonight he insisted on sleeping on the floor, not his bed. It wasn't a battle I was willing to fight, so I let him. About 20 minutes later I heard on the monitor, "put me in my bed!" I ignored him. He did it a few more times and then screamed, "I need to get in my bed. Please. Beautiful lady?"
We had professional photos done a few weeks ago and here are some of the highlights. I was very pleased with the results, especially given the fact that it was 12 billion degrees and I still found it necessary to wear a cardigan. BVZ is also wearing long sleeves. Clearly we have no idea how to dress appropriately.
There are lots more, but some that just might show up in a Christmas card this year. If anyone in the Austin area is looking to get some family photos done, I can't recommend Kelly at Happy Soul Photography enough. She was awesome. Next time we're doing this in December.