Lanternen Abend

Benjamin’s school hosted a “lantern evening” tonight.  Other than assuming that lanterns would somehow be involved, we really didn’t know what to expect.  I suspected there was going to be a performance of some kind, because Benjamin had been talking about “practicing his song” at school this week.  Excited about B’s first school “concert”, we went to the school this evening and assembled in the garden to see what would happen next.


IMG_2431The teachers had made paper lanterns for each child (complete with real, actual candles!) and each of the kids had helped to make his or her own costume.  They all lined up and then got arranged in a circle, and began to sing.  There were three songs, none of which I understood, but each of the kids had a part to play in the performance, which mainly involed the kids taking turns walking around in a circle and the teachers doing most of the singing.

It was great.  Benjamin was a cat (the cutest cat EVER, for the record) and was part of the first group to perform in the first song.  He did great during “his” song, but when the props came out for the second song, he burst into tears and cried for me, so I ran around the circle to hold him for the last two songs.  (Turns out, in the dark, he hadn’t been able to see me and was “worried about me”.)  Liam wanted nothing to do with the singing and spent the entire performance toddling around the playground with Dan in tow (on the plus side, as long as he was wandering, he was relatively quiet).

IMG_2448I’m so proud of my little guy.  I know it’s a “mom thing” to be proud of our kids, whatever the situation, and there’s definitely that aspect to what I’m feeling, but I’m also truly impressed by him.  I know plenty of adults who would balk at participating in a performance where the entire show (and much of the direction) was in a foreign language.  Until relatively recently, he wasn’t too thrilled about school at all, so to see him out there, participating in his class activity, and enjoying it (at least the first part) was really amazing.

After the show, the kids all got to run around the garden in the dark and play, which was a lot of fun for them — Benjamin particularly seemed to enjoy getting to show us all around his school play yard.

(This evening also brought back very fond memories, for me, of a tradition called Lantern Bearing which we celebrated at Sweet Briar.)

IMG_2450Apparently, these “lantern evenings” happen in schools all around Vienna, across Austria and throughout Europe.  It’s part of the celebration of the Feast of St. Martin (who I had never heard of, apart from the island) which is seen as the first part of the Christmas season, the beginning of a 40 day period of fasting or an excuse to drink wine and eat goose, depending on your view.

Benjamin did great, and we all had a great time.  This was another very Austrian experience, in that we don’t (to my knowledge, anyway) particularly celebrate St. Martin’s Day at home, and at the same time, really universal — my pride in watching B, his excitement, and even his tears, are the stuff of preschool performances, wherever they happen.


School is great

For the first 6 weeks or so, when I would arrive at school to pick B up, he’d look at me (rather forlornly) and say, “I want to go home”.  For the past few weeks, I’ve suspected that this has been more of a habit than an expression of actual sadness — if I sneak up to the window in the classroom, I can get a peek of him playing happily with the other kids, and the teachers have been reporting that he’s been joining in the group activities and playing enthusiastically with the other kids.  Lately, on the way home, when I ask him how his day was, he invariably says “It was great!”  He’s been adding to his list of friends almost daily — he recently told me that he has the same number of friends as he does fingers.

Today, when I got to school and peeked in, he was playing with a little girl, building a Lego train.  When the other kids alerted him to my presence (they always do, which is why I have to be sneaky if I want to see what he’s up to) he turned around and said, “Mommy!  Come see!”  It was the first time he’d ever beckoned me into the classroom, rather than running to meet me at the door.  I went to check out his Lego train, and got to meet his new friend, Felicity, and then I told him it was time to go.  At which point he asked if he could add just one more car to the train . . . and then just one more . . . and then just one more . . . at which point, the effort of fighting to keep Liam in my arms (he wanted to play, too) caused me to pull the plug on his fun.


On the way home, he told me all about his great day and how he wants to go back tomorrow.  Later, over lunch, he told me he was a little sad.  I asked why, and he told me, “I didn’t have a much time at school.  I wanted to stay a bit longer.”

I’m so glad he feels this way.  This is what I’d been hoping would happen — that he wouldn’t just tolerate school, but would actually look forward to it.  That he wouldn’t count the minutes until I came to pick him up, but he would want to stay a little longer.  I want him to have fun, make friends, a learn a little.  I feel like we’re starting to get there.

The field trip that wasn’t

Benjamin’s class went on a field trip today.  They took a bus to a farm and picked out pumpkins.  I’m sure they had a great time, but I wouldn’t know:  Benjamin didn’t go — he stayed home with me, instead.  When his teacher first brought it up to me last week, she explained about the trip, and then immediately suggested that B not participate.  Her thought was that, since he’s just now starting to be enthusiastic about being at school, they were worried that a trip away from the school, without either of his parents, might prove to be traumatic to him and undo the progress we’d made.  Although I completely understand her perspective, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad — his first school field trip, and he was uninvited.

Benjamin, however, shared none of my sadness.  After leaving school that day, I asked him if he wanted to go to the farm with his class.  He said no.  He said he wanted to stay home with me for the day — which was absolutely fine with me.  I’m more than happy to have him home, but if he had wanted to go, I would have done everything I could do to make it happen (offer to go along and chaperon, offer to travel separately and meet them there).  As it turns out, though, every time it was mentioned in front of him (like on Tuesday, when I was confirming the date with the teacher) he would look at me and ask, “Am I going to stay home with you?” and when I assured him he was, it would make him happy.

So, today, we stayed home:  Benjamin, Liam & I.  We had a quiet day.  I’d had thoughts of gonig out, doing something special, going to a park or on a trip of our own, but it was chilly and threatened rain all day (which only materialized for a few short moments).  Instead, I bought him the Disney Pixar “Cars” movie on iTunes and we watched that together (twice).  He loved it.  (We went to see “Cars 2” in the movie theater, but hadn’t seen the first one yet.)  We all curled up on the couch, or on the floor, had snacks, watched movies and read books.  It was a good day.  I got to be with both of my boys today, and that’s better than a field trip to me.


Tonight was “parents night” (Elternabend) at Benjamin’s school.  When we found out about it last week, Dan suggested I be the one to go (since we were supposed to go without kids).  I jumped at the chance.  I was so excited to go — a chance to learn more about the program of instruction at B’s school (we know it’s a Montessori program, but only have the vaguest knowledge of what that means), to meet some other parents, and have a few hours out on my own.  Excellent!

Somehwere, in this fantasy, I apparently forgot that I DON’T SPEAK GERMAN.  Right.  Oops.

I understood less than 10% of what was said — mostly numbers, dates, and words that are the same in English.  There’s a picture day coming up (I don’t know when), there won’t be any field trips until spring (I don’t know why) and there’s apparently a significant issue with where parents park in the morning when they drop their kids off (that was the part I understood the best — VERY helpful, since I don’t have a car).  The teachers were a little surprised I had come.  I was the only parent there who didn’t have a working knowledge of German.  (I suspect the others just didn’t come, since I know there were some English-speaking parents who were absent.)

It was a one hour and twenty minute lesson in humility.  I paid close attention, and tried to pick out everything I could.  I participated as best I could in the get-to-know-each-other game they had us play (which involved reading and writing in German).  I’m definitely feeling more empathy for Benjamin and the trouble he’s having adjusting to kindergarten — even though everyone means well, not speaking the language is a huge challenge, and it’s very isolating.  I understand, even more, why he feels lonely at school.  I felt lonely and I was only there for a little while.

One of my biggest concerns with Benjamin attending public kindergarten here in Austria is that I will have trouble communicating with his teachers.  One-on-one, we seem to do fine, but in a group setting like this, I’m definitely not keeping up.  I’m just going to have to trust that they’ll make sure I know what I need to know.

I’m glad I went.  As hard as it is to go and be clueless, it’s much better than staying home and being isolated.  At least I was there, trying.  I want the teachers to know that I want to know what’s going on — I want to be involved.  I definitely think they got that message from my being there this evening.  At the end, I stayed and talked with one of B’s teachers.  She said there wasn’t anything that I missed this evening that I urgently needed to know.  We talked about how he’s adjusting to kindergarten, and she told me how much he likes snack time, and how sweet he is with they other kids, and they with him.  (Apparently, the other English speaking children look out for him, and if the teachers misunderstand him, there are several that jump in and make sure he’s getting what he needs . . . which is AWESOME to hear.)  The teachers really like him, the other kids seem to like him, all that’s left is for him to like being there.

Loneliness and big hugs

Benjamin has had two relatively tear-free days at school.  He seems to be adjusting to the concept, enjoying himself more and making friends.  This morning, however, when I mentioned it was nearly time to get dressed for school, he got sad again.  He started crying.  (My poor guy.)  I asked him how he was feeling, and he said, “I don’t want to go to school.”  Upon further questioning, I got answers that progressed to, “I don’t like the kids”, “I don’t want to go”, “I don’t like it there” and finally, “I’m all alone there — I feel lonely.”

That’s the real issue, I think:  I’m pretty sure he actually does like the kids, and he does like the school.  He’d stay there all day if Dan, Liam & I were there with him.  (Actually, I think he’d probably be pretty happy even just with me.)  I am so proud of him for being able to voice how he feels.  I am so impressed that he understands why he feels that way.  I want to reassure him that his feelings are normal without feeding them.  I want to validate the way he’s feeling, and I want to encourage him to continue to be honest about his feelings, but I’d rather not have it turn into tantrums about going to school.  It’s hard.  I tell him that it makes sense that he feels that way, that I understand, and that when I started school, I felt lonely, too.  And then I tell him that some of my best friends, even now, are people I met at school.  (That’s actually pretty cool — I have friends I’ve known since kindergarten, and he’s played with their kids, so he knows who they are.)

I think that helps him a little, but getting dressed for school, he was still a little sad (although no more crying).  Just before it was time to go, Liam toddled over to Benjamin, fell against him, then took his arms and wrapped them around him, giving him a big hug.  He let go, smiled up and Benjamin, and then tucked his head against him and hugged him again.  And again.  Benjamin smiled and hugged him back.

Then they lost their balance and fell in a heap on the floor, laughing.  (No injuries.)  I told Benjamin, that if he feels lonely today, he should remember Liam’s hug and remember that Liam and I will be there very soon to pick him up.  As he was leaving, he said goodbye to all of us, and said, “Bye Liam!  Liam loves me and I’ll see you soon!”

I love my boys.  I am so happy that I have them in my life, but even happier that they have each other.  Liam isn’t even 1 yet, and he’s already loving Benjamin and providing emotional support.  I feel so lucky to be their mom.

Self-feeding and going to school

That’s it — I’m not really needed around here anymore.  Liam can feed himself Cheerios.  He can’t open the box, or get them from the store, yet, but really, that’s just a matter of time.  He is delighted with his new ability, and I really don’t think there’s any turning back for him.  From here, it’s on to catching, skinning and preparing his own meals.  He’ll also be walking any day, and is quickly figuring out how to work Benjamin’s tricycle at the same time.  He’ll probably be driving and looking for his own place by the end of the month.

016On the other hand, Benjamin is having a hard time with his latest chapter of growing up.  He tells me he loves school, and that he wants to keep going, but he wants me to be there.  Tonight he told me that if we go to school tomorrow, and Liam & I leave, then he’ll “be all alone there”.  And then he cried.  My poor, sweet, little guy.

Liam is quickly progressing down the path which takes him to independence (as he should) while Benjamin resists his progress down the same path (also appropriate).  Liam is too little to be worried about what things he might be giving up in order to gain some independence, and he doesn’t yet worry about losing the special things that come with being a baby.  For Liam, progress is all positive.  Benjamin revels in the “big kid” stuff he can do, like riding his bike, running really fast, eating ice cream on his own, reading his numbers and some letters or getting to sit on a “real seat” on the train.  But, he’s also holding tight to things that make him feel like a baby:  wearing diapers, drinking from bottles, staying home all day with me and Liam.  He’s concerned, I think, that by making progress, some things are lost, and right now he’s unwilling to let go of those things.  He wants to make sure he’s still my baby — that he’s still special and treasured and will be protected and kept safe.

I know, of course, that the love I have for my kids has nothing to do with their ages or maturity.  Benjamin will learn that he doesn’t have to give up the comfort and security of “mom” and “family” by extending himself into the world.  He will know that we will love him, and that he is special to us, regardless of how grown up he is.  (Liam will learn that, too, but not for a while.  It will never be the issue for him that it is for Benjamin, because he will have seen it happen with Benjamin and will understand, without having to experience it, that it will be true for him, too.)

Both of my boys are growing up.  Liam is always trying to keep up with his big brother, but right now, Benjamin’s trying to go back to what Liam has.  I love them both a phenomenal amount, and I want to do everything I can to give them the most happiness possible as they take this journey.  Right now, Liam wants Cheerios.  I think Benjamin wants hugs and cuddles.  Luckily, I can provide both.


Please come console your brokenhearted child

So, today, it happened.  Just over an hour after I had left him, I got a phone call from one of the teachers, saying, “Ben is very upset and is crying a lot.  We think you should come and get him sooner than we had planned.”  (They all call him “Ben” all the time — it doesn’t bother me, but I’m surprised at the 100% assumption of using the nickname.)  As I was only 15 minutes away, having coffee, I was happy to oblige.  When I got there, he was hysterical — “Mommy!  Mommy!  I want my Mommy!”  I could hear him in the hall.  I walked in, Liam in my arms, and sat down on the floor in front of him and gathered him up in a huge hug, Liam and all.  His face was wet, red and swollen from crying.  My poor guy.

I asked him, and the teachers, what it was that had upset him so much, and they all said it wasn’t anything in particular.  The teachers surmise that after watching a few kids have tearful goodbyes with their own parents, he decided he ought to find out where I was.  He was happy immediately upon my arrival.  A few minutes later, I asked him how his day had gone so far, and he smiled and said, “It was great!”  I told him we were going to go home, and he wanted to stay.  The teachers recommended that we go ahead and leave early today, and then come in later tomorrow (hopefully missing most of the tearful goodbyes between other kids and their parents) and keep it short.  We’re also making sure to plan for his time tomorrow to coincide with outside playtime, which, so far, is his favorite thing.

My poor little guy.  It breaks my heart that he wanted me and I wasn’t there.  For my entire walk there, I kept thinking, “He needs me and I’m not there”, and I kept reminding myself, “No, he wants me, he doesn’t need me –he’s actually safe and fine.”  I’m encouraged by the fact that he still characterized his day as “great” and that he wanted to stay.  I asked him, later on this afternoon, whether he wanted to go to school tomorrow.  He said yes.  I told him that Liam & I would take him in the morning, and drop him off, and then come back a little while later.  He didn’t like that — he wants us to stay.

I’m not entirely sure if this is the right thing for him.  I see the way he desperately wants to play with the other kids, and I am happy to hear him tell me about the fun he has.  But, he misses me.  I know that, eventually, he’ll have to be without me, even if he misses me, but I wonder if he isn’t still a little too young for it to be forced on him.  I do like the fact that he likes school, he just wants me to be there.  For tomorrow, we go back to school.  From there, we’ll see.

On his own


Today was the second day of school for Benjamin.  Liam and I went with him and got him settled in, just like yesterday.  But once he was set and playing happily (about 20 minutes after we got there) the teachers suggested that we say goodbye and leave him to play without us.  I was nervous — I was sure he was going to fall apart when I said I was leaving.  Nope.  I went to tell him and I had to drag a hug and a kiss out of him before he turned around and headed for the “grocery store”.  Sigh.

006 (2)So, off we went.  I met Dan at his office and joined him for coffee.  Liam dozed off, Dan went back to work, and I sat.  I was so certain I’d get the call on my phone — “Please come console your brokenhearted child”.  Nope.

When I went to pick him up, a couple of hours (!) later, he was a happy camper — playing outside in the big yard with the other kids.  Turns out, Benjamin cried twice today.  The fiirst time was while I was away — when he jumped out and yelled “BOO!” at another kid and she yelled, “NO!!!!” right back at him (apparently, he fell apart and it took several minutes for him to calm down).  The second time was when I showed up and told him we’d be leaving soon.  He didn’t stop crying until I assured him that we’ll come back to school tomorrow and he’ll be able to stay and play.

While I was gone, he ate a snack, did an art project, played, cried, played some more.  I’ve never been so glad to see him sad as when I told him it was time to come home.  It would have been much worse if he’d been relieved — then I would really be questioning the decision for him to be at school.  As it is, he’s having a good time — and as long as he is, I want him to be there.  I do think he’s having experiences he wouldn’t get otherwise.  (Even just learning that not everyone enjoys having “Boo!” shouted in their face is a good life lesson, and an easier one to learn now than later.)

I miss him when we’re not together.  I may get to a point of enjoying the time — the ability to get things done, or to relax, or to spend one-on-one with Liam.  But for now, I just miss him.  The fact that he enjoys it makes it easier, but not a lot.

First day of school

005 (2)Last night, after the kids were in bed, I completely fell apart.  Heartbroken, sobbing.  Wishing to be able to replay sections of the past 3 years of my life and make different choices — play more, cuddle more, read more, clean less, never be frustrated, irritable or too worn out to play.  I don’t want to give up any time with Benjamin every day — not even 4 hours.  I want to be with him.  I want to be able to play with him, kiss his boo boos, read stories, do art projects, go out and see things.  My sadness is almost completely selfish.

And, so far, completely unfounded.  Benjamin’s first day of preschool/kindergarten was fun, short and without trauma.  We even managed to arrive on time!  He played (mostly by himself, but a little with the other kids), talked to the teachers and got nearly every toy in the place out to play with.  His attention span was about 4 seconds long — every time he started doing something, he got distracted by something else.  He literally gasped with joy over the puzzles with pictures of Lightning McQueen, as well as the grocery store section of the classroom, complete with pretend food and a shopping cart.  He built train tracks, played with play dough (first time!) and started several art projects.  I stayed with him, but he only checked in with me a few times.  At one point, I left for a few minutes to feed Liam, and he was so busy playing that he didn’t care to hear where I was going and didn’t seem to notice my absence.


On the teacher’s advice, we kept things short — we only stayed for a few hours, with the intention of leaving him interested enough to look forward to coming back tomorrow.  It seems to have worked.  He wants to go back tomorrow, especially because he didn’t get a chance to play outside in the big playground.

038The original plan was for us to repeat this pattern, of Liam and I going with Benjamin to school, every day for the rest of this week.  The only downside to today going so well is that his teachers think he’s ready to move on to the next step (and I agree).  Tomorrow, Liam and I will go with him and get him settled in the morning, and then we’ll go out for an hour and come back to join him for a while, before heading home.

Today, the hardest thing about being there was wrestling Liam (many of the toys and games had small parts that Liam wanted to, but shouldn’t, play with, so I had to keep him under close watch the whole time — not the idea of fun for an 11 month old).  Tomorrow, I actually have to leave B at school for a little while.  It’s going to be harder for me than for him, I expect.