How a bedsharing mama and dada ended up ferberizing

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.

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You’re Wiser than That

A black and white icon of a teacher in front o...

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My little brother didn’t have school yesterday because they shut down the school for a security threat. Apparently, one teacher made a threat against another teacher, and after he was asked to leave the building returned the next day for work. Third or fourth hand knowledge of the event (because the gossip mill in suburbia is surprisingly rapid) says that what he said was this:  “If you [believe that? argue that? say that?] I may as well shoot everyone and then kill myself.”

This particular teacher (if you know the school district, you can google and find a name — it’s made the national news) was a mentor of mine, especially as a newly transplanted freshman who hated all the “dumb people” she had to deal with day in and day out. He challenged me, encouraged me, and most of all was there for me — as any good teacher would be.

He is prone to hyperbole, and I know he had some frustrations with school bureaucracy. With the budget cuts, with the political climate, with some of the pedagogy, I can imagine him uttering the phrase that was interpreted as a threat as a way of expressing his extreme frustration. However, I can’t imagine him actually perpetrating that violence.  He once kept my freshman history class on lockdown because of rumored threats — not even ones that the administration was taking seriously. He was one of the teachers who told us what he would do to protect us in the case of school violence. He was also the kind of guy who would blithely tell anyone who would listen how he could kill a guy with a wrapped twinkie.

I can’t say for certain what happened. But as I was doing dishes I couldn’t help but think that it’s sad that most of our analogies for extreme disappointment and hopelessness are violent. “I felt like a little part of me died.” “I am dead inside.” “This institution is dying!” “You’re going to destroy everything we stand for!”

It reminds me that violence is the language of the voiceless — it is their last resort, as democracy or the lack there of, as bureaucracy, as the mental health care system, as the economy, as international relations and international trade have failed them.

I trusted my mentor to be wiser than that, to find other discourses and other ways. Be wiser than violence.