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Last week Zoe started school. No, she’s not in kindergarten, but this might as well have been kindergarten for the complexity, the exhaustion, and the stress it entailed. Sure, she loved school, but it was pretty rough for me. And not so great for the carpet in her classroom.

Today we enrolled her in a different school, which she will start on Monday. We are prepared for setbacks but optimistic that the adjustment will not be quite as steep since we’ve already adjusted in principal, and this will just be a new context.

Some background:

Last spring we applied to all four Montessori programs housed in Arlington Public Schools‘ elementary schools to which we were eligible, according to where we live. APS includes Montessori classes in most elementary schools. We love the Montessori model and thought that having that kind of education in a public school setting would be ideal. We were notified that we were on various places on the waiting lists at every school. We were #1 at our fourth-choice school. In June, we learned that we got a spot there. We were glad to get a spot, and took it.

Zoe started there last week and it was fine. Her teacher was a long-time veteran of the school and of Montessori and I had heard many many parents rave about her and how their children thrived under her watch. The school is half a mile away and a pleasant walk. I met some other parents who were extremely friendly and welcoming.

And yet, it was really tough. Perhaps it was just because going to school all day with big kids is that much different than going to two-day a week co-op preschool and two-day a week in-home day care. Zoe was completely beat by the end of the day. The first day we walked home. The second she insisted I carry her as she laid across my shoulder completely limp. The third day I wised up and brought the stroller.

Perhaps it was tougher for me than for Zoe. But there was definitely enough anxiety to go round. We each manifest our anxiety in our own particular ways. Zoe’s seemed to be by peeing in her pants several times a day. This did not go over well with the teacher. Sure, I could understand why dealing with this behavior was unpleasant for the teacher, but I hoped that in her many years of working with little kids, she had seen it all before and could roll with the punches. And she was, I suppose, but not without mentioning to me every day when I picked Zoe up, out loud and in front of the whole class, what had happened that day in terms of Zoe’s underwear. This, to put it mildly, frustrated me.

I am well aware of Zoe’s struggles with potty training and we have bought many many packages of 4T underpants from Target this summer because at any given moment there are 20 pairs in the hamper and 20 pairs in the wash. We have talked frequently with and seen the pediatrician about it and I have talked with a developmental psychologist about it. I have also talked with dozens of parents about it. We have concluded that the potty training has regressed because of all the change and stresses in Zoe’s life in the past several weeks, and that she will get it eventually. Even my pediatrician said her own kid took six months and had a big regression in there. The point is, we’re working on it. We’re doing everything we can possibly do as parents to facilitate an accident-free lifestyle for our child, but ultimately it’s up to her and her brain and her bladder to get this done.

So the effect of the teacher’s comments was I dreaded picking Zoe up from school (even though I was excited to see Zoe) because I was afraid of what the teacher would say. I did email the teacher and request that she say something interesting or positive about Zoe’s day instead of just offering the potty report, and to her credit, the next day she told me Zoe was really good at a counting game they had played. So it really wasn’t terrible, but it was tense. At least for me. Zoe seemed to be having fun, which I was thrilled by. So by the end of the second week I was feeling like we were settling in, and we were going to make the best of it.

Then yesterday I got a call from the principal of another school we had applied to. Surprise! They had a spot. This sent me into a mild frenzy. We were just trying to get used to this school. Zoe had made a friend. I was walking two miles a day. But there were enough less than perfect things about the school that we thought we might as well learn more about option #2.

This morning we visited option #2. It’s an 8-minute drive from our house. The school building was renovated 8 years ago, so it’s beautiful. There are sculptures and a garden out front. A giant banner on the front of the school advertised they had made Adequate Yearly Progress according to No Child Left Behind (which the other school had not). The principal gave us a tour and we observed both Montessori classrooms. The room where we were offered a spot was easily twice as big as Zoe’s current classroom. The teacher was friendly and easy to talk to. The materials in the room were mostly identical to those in Zoe’s current classroom because they’re Montessori, but there were nice touches like fish in a tank, a colorful rug, and photos of the students on the walls that made the room inviting. And the dealmaker is that the elementary part of the school is Spanish immersion and by being in the Montessori program there, Zoe will be guaranteed a spot in the immersion program, giving her a head start toward becoming bilingual and biliterate. The principal, herself bilingual, explained to us all the details of the immersion program and what the results are for kids who go through the program. As we talked, I kept thinking of how Zoe always asks me to read Spanish books to her at the library, and how she asked me to teach her Hebrew after we heard a Hebrew lullaby, and how she wants to know how to count in Chinese. The principal said that kids who excel in their native languages tend to excel in foreign language learning as well. Suddenly it seemed like this was a great fit for Zoe.

So we went home, talked about it, and signed her up. The teacher called moments later to invite us to bring Zoe over this afternoon to meet her and see the classroom. When we picked Zoe up from her old school, we told her we had a surprise. When we announced she’d be starting a new school, her eyes lit up. I guess she has enough positive associations about school at this point that the particular school doesn’t matter so much. Of course who knows what she’ll do on Monday, but we spent an hour and a half this afternoon exploring her new classroom, the rest of the school, and the playground, and she was delighted. And three other new kids are starting Monday with Zoe, so she won’t be the only new kid. She made a new best friend on the second day of her old school, so I am confident she’ll make friends here too. And I’m signing up to join the PTA and signing Randy up to play in the parent/teacher soccer game. We’re starting fresh, and I have a really good feeling about this one.

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