It’s no secret that in the last year or so, my family’s been tentatively parked at a crossroad. Our year of living off the grid in Montana was coming to an end, and while it was a wonderful experience for us as a family, it just wasn’t sustainable to continue especially now that Toby was going to enter first grade. It was an hour and a half drive to the kids’ school, but since he was in kindergarten and Elsie was in preschool, three full days at the Montessori school in town was sufficient and we just worked with them at home the other days. But elementary school is a different ball game, and I couldn’t do that drive every day. I strongly considered home schooling, but living in a community with no other children and not going to town and seeing people would have been pretty isolating. We were ready for something different, and we needed to make the decision where we were going. I work online and my husband works in restaurants (which are, you know, everywhere). The world was our oyster.
Let me tell you, that freedom to create any opportunity anywhere with nothing really guiding your direction other than finding a home with good schools and a safe environment is surprisingly paralyzing and incredibly stressful. West? East? Abroad? City? Small town? We were inching closer and closer to just throwing a dart at a map. We’d come up with an idea for relocating and immediately, like a dog noticing a squirrel, turn our heads toward something different and possibly shinier…but what if we did that?
The one thing I felt for certain: I wanted to go home for the summer. After losing my mom, I wanted to go back to Lake Michigan where I grew up, I wanted to be with my dad and stepmother, to put my feet in the water of my childhood and ground myself. Wherever we were going to land, we could do it after the summer. So we loaded up our 1967 Shasta caravan and drove across the country, first stopping in Seattle and the Puget Sound to visit my best friend, the kids’ godmother, and decided: yes! This! We’ll go back to Michigan, find ourselves a rental or something online, and we’ll come back here. Done, decision made, hands wiped.
The next two months: Beach time. Scouring Seattle’s Craig’s List and online newspapers. Family dinners with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Sending out droves of emails searching for a house. Nature preserves, farmers markets, sailing. Receiving droves of rejection emails- already rented, no pets. Searching for Petoskey stones and beach glass. Giving up. My kids racing around the farm on which I grew up, helping their grandpa and granny muck stalls and pick blackberries. Realizing we could just stay put. Realizing how wonderful it is that my kids are part of their grandparents’ lives, that their grandparents are part of theirs. Every day. Signing them up at the same Montessori School I went to.
So here we are. Somewhat by default, somewhat by choice. There was a deadline, which was school starting, and how amazing was it to find out that the Montessori School here is now considered a charter school, part of the public school system…read, it’s tuition-free. We moved into a converted schoolhouse on the lake that’s generally a summer rental, so we have it until June, and we’re ten minutes from school.
The kids started school – Toby moving up into the elementary program, Elsie sliding right into the primary class, and both loved it (Toby-maybe a little overwhelmed and intimidated by the complete switch-up, becoming the youngest in the classroom that goes up to grade five, and full of an entirely different set of materials). And four days into the school year, I kept Toby home with a cold.
Now Toby has viral-induced asthma, he was diagnosed at age three and a half. He can run up and down the soccer field all day and never be affected, but as soon as he has a runny nose, it’s game on. He started wheezing. We gave him his inhaler, followed by his nebulizer. It didn’t help. He turned pale. We packed him up and took him to urgent care (thankfully, from our new schoolhouse, just about a mile away). They took one look at him and sent him directly to the ER. The rest is a blur- severe respiratory distress, pneumonia in his lungs, doctors and nurses running around, poking him and hooking him up to machines, my baby lying on that big hospital bed, silent and listless. I just…I can’t even describe how awful it was. They admitted him, and we spent the next three nights in the hospital, with steroids IVs and oxygen and antibiotics and nebulizer treatments round the clock. The whole pediatric ward was full of asthmatic kids with the same symptoms, and we were all in isolation rooms- everyone that came in had to put on a mask and coverall. They took a swab from his nose and sent it to the CDC, assumed but couldn’t confirm the virus that’s plaguing the midwest right now. We’ll hear back in a couple of weeks probably, after he’s hopefully fully recovered. Anyhow, they finally sent him home on Friday, his beautiful, exhausting, six-year-old energy returned to him, but we have a cocktail of meds to keep administering all day and all night- my husband and I are taking turns doing night duty- and he won’t be going back to school any time soon. But he’s home. It was the longest he’s been away from his sister, and they missed each other so much. She wasn’t allowed come into the ward to visit, and so she spent the time with her grandparents (how fortunate to be so close, no?) and my husband walked her to the outside of his window so they could at least wave at each other. It was surreal.
It’s been a lot of time lying in bed, a lot of time to read. We finished the latest Magic Treehouse book, and started The Wizard of Oz- Toby loves it, the scarecrow is cracking him up. As for Elsie, her favorite book of the moment is what I’m going to talk about here, Z is for Moose, by Kelly Bingham and Paul O. Zelinsky.
As someone who generally rolls her eyes at alphabet books (I mean, they’re all conveying the same thing, pretty much- A is for apple, B is for ball etc.) I realize I post about them more than I should. This one, however, is so unique and so funny; she reaches for it every night and says “Let me read this one to you, Mommy!”
The zebra is directing this joint, supervising each item’s role in the alphabet show with a clipboard in, uh, hoof. Oh, it starts out unremarkably enough with the requisite apple.
But there’s this moose, see. And he is so freaking excited about being in this show, he can’t wait for his turn. He starts messing up the zebra’s program.
Unfortunately for this dear moose, there’s been a change of plans.
Well, this is devastating news. This sweet, innocent, enthusiastic moose is furious. He spends the next several letters pummeling the pages, eventually just adding moose antlers onto each performer out of spite.
He finally collapses, just before the end of the book, dejected and heartbroken. And Zebra throws him one last bone.
What I love about Elsie reading this book to me is that even while when I read it to her I say the alphabet letters, when she reads it back to me, she uses the phonetic sounds that she’s learning at Montessori. Buh is for ball, fuh is for fox, luh is for lollypop, etc. Her recitation of the dialogue, too, is a complete mimicry of the way I read it, which I think is just hilarious. It was named a Notable Book for Children by the American Library Association in 2013.
I hope all of your children are staying healthy now that school has started. What are you all reading these days?