It has been some time since my last post, and all of the previous year I found myself wanting to blog, but feeling the need to play catch up for those who have followed along with me for awhile. The past several years have been big and busy for me, with the growth of our (now officially complete) family and the birth of our community program turned small business. A lot has shifted in our lives, as is normal for a growing family finding their groove. Before I get back to sharing some of our world again, I want to talk a little about how we’ve been making things work over the past year or two, lest I leave familiar readers with the sense that I’m steering and keeping this crazy ship afloat on my own – something I have now realized would be entirely impossible for me.
As a review, or an introduction, depending on your familiarity with our story, my family moved to the Washington, DC area from the magical island of Guam about three and a half years ago. Back then it was me, my husband, two-year-old Annabelle, and the 33-week-old fetus that would soon grow into an adorable baby boy called Elliot. Before marriage and Annabelle, I had been a Montessori teacher, and when we got to our new home Annabelle was nearly the age of the children I had long worked with. I wanted her to have the Montessori early childhood experience, so I began looking for a school for her and quickly discovered that we’d be looking at either a daily commute and a very pretty penny for tuition, or waiting another year to apply for the lottery and dealing with the disappointment if she didn’t get one of the precious few spots. I decided to create another, more workable option, and I found some like-minded families in our cozy new neighborhood. By later that year (just over three years ago now) we had a little co-op going. Slowly that co-op grew and changed to meet the needs of the families involved, most of whom are still involved today. We bought a house that was perfectly suited to support it, and our little program is now a thriving home-based Montessori program for 3-6 year olds. It may not be a co-op any longer, but it wouldn’t continue to exist without the support of the families who helped bring it to life, and who I still can’t believe I’m lucky enough to know and call friends.
One of my goals in starting our program was to create a life for us that involved balance between work, family, and individual pursuits. I figured that working from home would allow me to be with my children as I had always desired to be while also maintaining a professional life in my field. Sticking close to home would keep the pace of our life slow enough that I could also take care of the needs of our house and continue to cook delicious vegan food from scratch. Perfect, right? It sounded that way, but my expectations were unrealistic.
As Elliot grew, he was no longer content to hang out in his own space during our school day and do his own thing away from the preschool materials, but giving him free reign in a classroom not designed for his age group was both dangerous for him and frustrating for those it was intended for. Just as I was seeing that the environment could not continue to meet his needs as a toddler, our littlest, now 20 months old, came along. Nora gave me the motivation and a perfectly reasonable excuse to slow down and shut the doors of our school for a little while (luckily it also happened to be summer break, or close enough). By the time she was three months old and we were ready to open our classroom yet again, Elliot was that much older and more mature. He was a little over two, and I’m accustomed to folding children into the 3-6 classroom anytime between 2.5 and 3 years of age, so I decided that starting him a bit early would be no big deal. He would join the class, and Nora would take over his workspace. At the same time, a toddler room had opened at a nearby, reasonably priced Montessori school and they offered a two morning per week program. I enrolled Elliot and planned to send him there on Mondays and Tuesdays and have him with us for the rest of the week.
This.did.not.work. The work in a toddler environment and the work in a 3-6 classroom are simply different. Toddlers combine. Toddlers dump. Toddlers destroy. Preschoolers are different. Trying to work in both spaces within each week, especially while being young for our space, was stressful for Elliot, and trying to meet his needs was stressful for me. Nora may have been manageable on her own, but when Elliot was upset and needing my attention, she often needed the same, and there were a few mornings that school year when both of them were screaming at once and one of the 3-6 year olds would start covering their ears while trying to work. I had to face reality, so that October I hired a nanny. She took care of Elliot and Nora both on the three days that he did not go to his Montessori toddler room, and on the other two days Nora hung out in her own little corner of our classroom while Elliot was at school. This year Elliot is three, so he has outgrown the toddler room and is participating in our class full time and doing fine, but our beloved nanny still works full time, coming even on the mornings when Nora is in the Montessori toddler room Elliot once attended. She folds laundry and sweeps up while Nora is in class, and takes incredibly good care of our girl when she’s home. This allows Nora to be in an environment where she has what she needs, and it allows me to focus– and as a bonus, it prevents laundry mountain from growing and taking over our house, so it’s a win on all accounts.
As our class grew, I decided I couldn’t handle the care of our little school alone either, so at the start of this school year, I hired a part-time assistant who helps me keep things in the classroom running smoothly. At this point, I’m still able to be around my children for a large portion of my day – Annabelle and Elliot for virtually all of it, and Nora for less than I’d ideally like, but still quite a lot. I’m still able to avoid dedicating time to a commute. I’m still able to enjoy a professional life, too, but much has fallen by the wayside. I can’t tell you the last time I made a loaf of sourdough bread from scratch. My starters both died, actually. Over a year ago. I sometimes hurriedly eat fig bars from Costco for breakfast, in contrast to the fresh, whole foods I once lovingly prepared. My kids eat a lot of cereal. I promise I buy the kinds with very little sugar, at least. Even with the help of our incredible nanny, our house is almost never clean. I have had to let a lot go, which I’m okay with in this season, and I have needed a lot of help. Thank goodness for help. It’s not just the nanny and the assistant teacher, either. It’s neighbors, friends who take a child or two when I need an extra hand or help me get my freezer stocked with home-cooked meals, and my husband who is truly a partner in caring for our household. I like to think I help them all, too, but some days I feel like I’m withdrawing more than I’m depositing to my relationship accounts. I’m grateful that no one has started charging me overdraft fees, and I’m shifting things around a little more still, by going to half day hours in our school next year, so I can start to pay some of that back and keep life even more in balance … perhaps. I suspect the craziness will continue through the early childhood years, and very likely beyond, if in different ways, and I’m pretty okay with that.
Now, if you see me post pictures of our classroom or the from scratch meals I do get to make sometimes, you’ll know that they’re the wins in our wild, messy household, and I was only able to put work into them because I have so many people to lean on. Together, we make it all happen, and it’s nowhere near perfect, but I love it.