The Cutoff Kid

A few weeks ago, I was slicing up a pizza for the kids for dinner, Millie by my side watching intently. I sliced it once and Millie piped up, “You made two halves!” I replied, “Very good, Millie.” When I sliced it through once more, Millie said, “Now you made four quarters.” Thinking I would be able to stump her because besting my kids brings me great joy as a parent, I then made two more cuts and asked, “Alright, smartypants. What comes next after four quarters?” Casually, she replied, “Eighths!”

I’m exceptionally bad at math so I was super surprised that she knew the answer which, was probably less an inherit ability to do complex math and more of a working knowledge gained from an iPad app. But still, Millie’s bright.

Millie has always shown an early aptitude for school. And, by “early aptitude,” I basically mean she was preceded in birth order by two boys. Henry and Charlie are both intelligent, eager and highly skilled in many areas but they certainly weren’t demanding to do homework at three years of age or crying unconsolably at four because they didn’t know how to read. Millie was.

Whether Millie’s aptitude is the byproduct of being third in line in succession behind two boys or true, unbridled genius, I can’t yet tell. Regardless, she has always had this Matilda-esque ability to pick up new skills, revel in novel ideas and master concepts that often times leave Bob and I sort of staring at each other, slack-jawed.

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Obviously the work of a genius. Just look at those jazz hands.

I can’t remember exactly when – probably at some point when I was researching schools during our move to Northern Virginia – I came across the Virginia regulation that mandates incoming students must be five years of age on or before September 30 to be accepted into kindergarten. The boys’ birthdays fall nowhere near the cutoff date so I guess I just hadn’t paid attention to the language before but with an October 12 birthdate, Millie would miss kindergarten admission by 12 days. No exceptions, it would seem.

This means, for the past couple of years, as Millie’s abilities have become more apparent, I have absolutely fretted about her kindergarten start. That is the only word to describe my anxiety over when and where and how this would all play out.

There didn’t seem to be any way around the September 30 regulation and, because so many preschool programs also abide by local school system policy, we kept running into it, like a brick wall. When we enrolled Millie in preschool at almost four years of age, she was the oldest in a class of mostly young three-year-olds. She deeply enjoyed the curriculum and we adored her school but her overarching daily complaint was that several of her classmates didn’t “behave,” were always in her face and “annoying” her. It was simply an issue of maturity but I bemoaned the cutoff date responsible for her placement.

As the months marched on towards her fifth birthday, I stopped asking for kindergarten advice when the responses were, “Don’t rush her.” Or, “You should just enjoy this time.” It was hard to explain but in actuality, it wasn’t that I was pushing her, it was that I was trying to keep up with her. There is a huge difference between the two.

Millie was academically and socially ready to be with her peers. She’s been ready. It was endlessly frustrating that twelve days made such a huge difference.

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Wedding anniversary tribute. Missing that pesky silent E.

Everything came to a head this past fall. With a kindergartner ready for kindergarten but no kindergarten to attend, we were left with three options:

  1. More preschool.
  2. Private school.
  3. Homeschool.

My least favorite option was private school. Not only does our rural setting make the getting to and picking up from a traditional private school in the nearest major town logistically impossible, the tone deaf suggestion of, “Well, you could always private school!” consistently enraged me.

While additional preschool would have given me the brief respite I needed from the unrelenting care of three children, I still didn’t feel like it would meet Millie’s needs best. She adored all of the art projects and circle time at her preschool but had been pushing us at home to do more of the work she had seen her brothers doing for school. I knew her preschool wasn’t offering that type of enrichment.

So, in the end, I felt that Millie’s needs could best be met by homeschooling her for kindergarten. Bob concurred. If there wasn’t a spot for her at our school, we’d have to make do at home.

We’ve been making do at our little ad hoc at-home kindergarten since last September. Our curriculum consists of workbook time, artwork time, inappropriate wearing of pajamas all day, occasional coffee with friends, extensive field trips to Target and A LOT of iPad learning-to-read apps. It’s the most relaxed syllabus in kindergarten history. Millie also plays for hours in her room with all of her toys and dolls and little treasures. She’s doing a lot of imagination building this year which, I tell myself when life gets in the way of our schoolwork, is a key component of kindergarten.

I have put zero pressure on myself to accomplish huge things this year with Millie’s education. I’m not a trained teacher so my main goal was to keep her engaged and interested in learning through this odd gap year. I think we’re achieving that goal even if she’s still frustrated that she can’t yet read Little House on the Prairie.

There are some states that address cutoff kids with Transitional Kindergarten programs to help fill just such a gap year. Targeted specifically at children that fall in the months right around that cutoff date, they offer classroom experience with less rigorous curriculums. Something like this would have been ideal for Millie.

But, we had to settle for our dining room table instead.

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And, as much as I’m sure Bob would prefer to stop talking about it, the dilemma over Millie’s education isn’t over quite yet. We have additional decisions to make this fall about whether to place her in kindergarten again or test her into first grade.

Even if she is academically and emotionally ready to rejoin her peers in first grade, I have serious reservations about her being the youngest in her class as she advances through middle and high school. Since “redshirting” kindergartners has become more commonplace, Millie could potentially be starting high school with kids that are much older. Not to mention, entering college at 17. I quickly run off the rails with what-ifs.

My concern isn’t without precedent since I lived this exact scenario. I tested into kindergarten at four years of age and was successful throughout middle and high school but burned out spectacularly my freshman year of college. I rebounded but have wondered, as I’ve walked this path with Millie, if having an extra year under my belt would have made a difference down the educational line.

However, holding her back because of her age and not ability is exactly what we’ve been railing against for two years. This is all so confusing. And, the decisions seem so momentous and long-reaching. Wanting to do right by your kids sure is emotionally taxing!

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Millie says this is me. At least I’m smiling?

While there are still moments when I wish this year would have been different for Millie, when I wish she could have joined a classroom that she so badly wanted to be a part of, I’ve mostly treasured our time together. She is an eager learner, game for almost any adventure and, just this week, emptied the dishwasher for the first time all by herself. In summary, she is a superb student.

Making Memories

Nothing signals the arrival of that most magical time of year quite like me yelling at my kids to stop messing with the Christmas tree.

Millie and I decorated the entire tree this year while the boys were at school. We saved a few of Henry and Charlie’s favorite ornaments for them to hang when they arrived home. Which was a fun process for all of approximately four minutes before all three of them started rearranging ornaments (NOPE) and then started dropping things through the branches of the tree for fun (SUPER NOPE). Ornaments were falling, kids were fighting, my patience was quickly evaporating. So, naturally, I hollered at them to CUT! IT! OUT! with the tree (I might not have used such judicious language).

Then, like some kind of rookie, I wrapped all of the presents super early. I was really proud that I was winning my Christmas to-do list but my eagerness was rewarded with the kids digging into the pile of precariously stacked presents under the tree, searching for names and shaking boxes (“DEFINITELY LEGOS!”). Some of the wrapping paper on the oddly-shaped presents started to rip and, listen up, I certainly didn’t spend three afternoons locked in my bedroom watching The Good Wife reruns just to have my kids destroy all of my hard wrapping work. So, naturally, I hollered at them to STOP! TOUCHING! THE PRESENTS! (I might not have used such judicious language).

I’m so happy my kids will have such charming memories of a warm and loving holiday season to reflect back upon when they are grown.

There is glitter wrapping paper mixed in there and let it be known that glitter wrapping paper is always, always a bad idea.

There is glitter wrapping paper mixed in there and let it be known that glitter wrapping paper is always, always a bad idea.

I spent a lot of time this year carefully selecting presents for the kids that I thought they’d really enjoy (as opposed to just grabbing random things from the clearance endcaps at Target). Some were requested (LEGO! always, until the end of time), some will be a surprise (Snap Circuits!), some are throwbacks (Rubix Cube! Twister!) but there’s an awful lot of thoughtfulness and love and time and effort and money underneath that tree. I mean, I learned how to replace the ribbon in an antique typewriter for Charlie this year. They better appreciate it, is my point here, because I took my gift game up several notches. If any of my children look even REMOTELY disappointed with their presents on Christmas morning, I swear I will do a Real Housewives table flip, walk out the front door and find another family to celebrate with.

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I don’t want to brag or anything but Bob casually mentioned he was going to take the kids to the Walmart in West Virginia on Saturday so they could pick out a few things to wrap and place under the tree for me. You can probably guess my delight. Obviously, Bob and the kids are taking just as great care in selecting my presents as I took in selecting theirs. I can’t wait to unwrap my new spatula!

ALSO, Bob turns 57 years old today! Happy birthday, husband! Hope you treat yourself to a little something extra special from the cafeteria at work because I’m pretty tuckered out after all of the tree policing, present wrapping and kid hollering.

Having two December birthdays in our family, one five days before Christmas and one five days after Christmas, I can definitively state that pre-Christmas birthdays are rough. Everyone is in stressed out, frantic, pre-holiday mode. By the time Henry’s birthday rolls around on December 30, the holiday work is all over and we’re in more of a celebratory mood. Bob explains every year that he was never supposed to be a December baby and was actually born five weeks early. He also claims that he was dropped on his head as an infant by his sister and, coupled with his premature birth, offers it all up as an excuse whenever I question some of his purchasing decisions (the BB gun, the bow and arrows, the slingshot, shopping at a West Virginia Walmart on Christmas Eve). Anyway, every year I try to make Bob feel special on his special day. I’m not sure if I always succeed but I’m pretty sure he should just be grateful that he didn’t have to plan for, budget for, shop for or gift wrap any of the presents underneath the tree.

In other news, our basement renovation is scheduled to begin the first week of January. That means, we need to have everything currently located in our basement located somewhere else entirely within the next two weeks. We’ve been planning this project for a solid year so you’d think that we would be on top of the basement clean and clear but you would be wrong. Procrastination is my superpower which means we’ll be spending Christmas Day hauling things up and out of the basement and placing it all… somewhere else. I just assume we will chuck things in every available corner of the house, which means I’ll have to step over a camp stove and seven empty suitcases just to crawl into my bed at night. The boys are really going to enjoy the loveseat and ottoman we’re adding to their room!

To summarize, EVERYTHING IS HAPPENING ALL AT ONCE.

Also, you cannot watch this without smiling and dancing a little in your chair. You can try to resist but it’s futile. CHRISTMAS, LET’S DO THIS.

A Whole Hand

She was one.

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Then, two.

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Next came three.

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Followed by four.

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And, now five.

img_9225It’s Millie’s fifth birthday today. She was once a baby and now she’s not. She’s five.

At five years of age, Millie’s favorite thing in life is stuff. Food also ranks pretty high up there but mostly it’s her “stuff” that she treasures most. It seems like such a distinctly Girl Thing (the boys aren’t like this) but Millie surrounds herself with little odds and ends from every corner and crevice of the house. She fills her bedroom with random cardboard boxes, an array of Lego pieces, torn slips of paper too important to toss, broken toys, extra blankets, costume jewelry, innumerable barrettes and hairbands, bread bag ties, instruction manuals, rocks, flower petals, stuffed animals, American Girl catalogues and an assortment of other flotsam that all takes up valuable real estate in her small space.

I’ve never known a child to be so content surrounded by so much chaos. But, Millie is. And, although we certainly try, I can’t fault her for her belongings. Millie has an incredible imagination and each of her treasures has a place in it. Her mind turns an Amazon delivery box into a three part play and a lowly piece of wobbly furniture becomes a fully stocked writer’s desk. She spends hours upon hours in her bedroom creating a world with all of her special things. Everything makes sense to her even if the rest of us find the accumulation of crap maddening.

Sometimes, when Bob and I check on her at night before heading to bed, we find she has relocated to the floor to sleep; a selection of her favorite items surrounding her head. Sort of like a halo made entirely of junk from the recycling bin. We try to tuck her in the best we can, removing the piece of cutlery from beneath her arm and the produce rubber band from her wrist.

A couple of months ago, I tried to get Millie to tackle her messy bedroom. As I stood there, chastising her for the condition of her room, she looked at me, pointed a finger in my direction and said, “But, Moooo-oooom. This is my fun zone.”

Indeed, Millie. Happy birthday to the biggest fan of fun I’ve ever known.