Rocketship started school the first week in September, the same as mommy (i.e., me). She entered a Montessori Toddler classroom, her first time being cared for in an institutional setting for more than an hour and a half (though, I’m not sure that the church nursery really counts as “institutional”).
The first week was great — the teachers told me how much they loved having her in class, loved her personality. The second and third weeks, she came down with a cold, and ran a fever on and off, becoming sluggish and not quite herself. The fourth week, she cried every nap time. And that Wednesday, the last day of school for the week, we were told that Rocketship cried so long and so hard that she woke up the other children. They didn’t mind that Rocketship wasn’t sleeping, though they wanted her to, but it was a problem that she was keeping 8 other children from having their nap.
Rocketship was sent home with a note. I called it a kind, positive riot act, which told us that for our daughter to get the most out of her classroom community, she would need to learn to be more independent. That would mean that mom and dad would have to change their behaviors. We would have to carry her less, and have her sleep by herself.
I sprang into action. Right after receiving the note, Rocketship and I went shopping for her big girl bed. I let her pick out sheets and a blanket and a pillow for her big girl bed. I helped her pick out big girl pjs. I helped her pick out a special big girl bedtime book. And we moved the Montessori floor bed (that she has never slept on, but played on often) out of the nursery to master bedroom we had all been sharing since she was born.
My partner and I knew that Rocketship was probably ready for this, and had been talking about it. But we weren’t ready. We liked having her in our bed, our little snuggle bug. We liked her relying on us for comfort, and her being with us. But now that had to change.
That night, we did the bedtime routine, with the addition of three stories (including the new special big girl bedtime book) and nursing with the lights on. I laid her down, and tucked her in, and walked out of the room. The door was left open, but we had a baby gate on the door so she couldn’t run out to us. And she cried. We did “gradual extinction” — I went in after 3 minutes, 5 minutes, and 10 minutes until she fell asleep without us. An hour later, she fell asleep leaning against the baby gate, and I led her to her bed, where she slept through the night.
I was sad after she fell asleep. She did it all by herself, as a big girl, even if it was hard and we had to help her.
A couple of people have asked me how it felt to have a teacher tell us to change our parenting techniques, and I have to say that I was resistant at first. One of the first notes home that hinted at a problem asked us to pick her up less when she was whining — which I was indignant about doing. “Why would I want to not respond to my child’s communications?!” I asked. So I didn’t do anything different.
But, when it became clear that Rocketship’s behaviors were affecting other children, I sprang into action, even though the same advice was offered. Why?
Because one of our family values is responsibility. This is a reference to the story by Harlan Ellison called Paladin of the Lost Hour. We view responsibility — cleaning up after ourselves, behaving correctly according to the situation — as a bridge to respect. That’s how we can respect ourselves and others, by being responsible.
Rocketship needs to act responsibly at school — she needs to behave correctly. And as her parents, we need to help her do that. And in that sense, the note home from the teacher wasn’t about changing our parenting techniques so much as reminding us about our values.