Room Seven

>> Monday, September 24, 2007

We scored big-time at Costco, yesterday. We snacked on bagels with cream cheese, fresh fruit, and chocolate brownies with vanilla ice cream on top. Oh, baby.

As I carted the girls around, stuffing our faces and dripping ice cream onto the floor, an older gentleman walked up to us, smiling.

“Ah, twins?” he asks.

“No -- she’s four and she’s two,” I say patting the girls on the head, one at a time. Elizabeth concurs, “Yes, I’m four and she’s two.”

“Oh, how nice! Beautiful. You look like twins,” he laughs and walks away.

Elizabeth watched him fondly, and then suddenly remembered an important piece of information and shouted, “I’m in Room 7!” -- as if everyone knows about Room 7 and what an accomplishment it is to be there.

Of course, it is an accomplishment. It’s the culmination of 3 years of daycare and preschool, not all of which was easy on either of us, emotionally. It’s the final room before heading off to the big world of kindergarten. It’s where toddlers become kids and first friendships are formed. Room 7 includes Sharing Day, Spanish Day, and Wood Shop (believe it or not). Once a month, they teach Yoga. Room 7 rocks.

I was nervous about Room 7 at first. In the past, Elizabeth didn’t transition well going from one room to the other. She cried each morning after she transferred from the warm and fuzzy Room 1, where a low teacher/student ratio meant hugs when they missed their mommies or couldn’t find a puzzle piece; to Room 6 where the higher teacher/student ratio meant lonely children were encouraged to “buck up” and deal.

Going from Room 6 to Room 4 as a three year-old was somewhat easier but not perfect. While it lacked morning tears most of the time, sometimes we found Lizzy sitting by herself in the corner of the school yard watching the other kids play. In the beginning, she often chatted with her teachers instead of making friends with her older, more confident classmates. But by the end of the year, she found her confidence, made friends, and often corralled the younger students into spontaneous reading groups where she was the teacher and “read” to her pupils.

None of these experiences prepared me for her enthusiastic transition to Room 7.

Prior to her official transfer, she visited Room 7 for two weeks. I expected a luke-warm response at best, but Lizzy was charged! I wondered, What the hell goes on there, anyway? Do they get pacifiers at nap time? Watch Cinderella all day? Eat chicken nuggets and Tootsie Pops for lunch? What caused her to exclaim, I LOVE Room 7! and to announce to strangers at grocery stores that she was going to ROOM 7?

Of course, it didn't hurt that many of her friends were there -- friends she's known prior to the formation of long-term memory. They share pinata memories from birthday parties. They've survived sugar highs and potato-sac races. There is comfort in their familiar faces. But was that enough?

We had to see for ourselves what all the fuss was about. The room was nice, but actually smaller than her prior room. It had a nice play yard outside, a piano (very cool), and three computers for the kids to use. There were little things I noticed: a cart of library books that the kids to check out and a sign-in sheet for them to write their names. All of which was great, but was it I’m in Room 7! great?

We talked to her teachers. Once a week there would be homework. Nothing too strenuous, but homework nonetheless. They had to earn certain privileges in the class, such as a movie on Friday. We listened as the teachers talked to the children. They expected the kids to understand and respond appropriately. These guys weren’t baby sitters -- they were teachers who liked their jobs.

Finally I got it. Room 7 gives Elizabeth respect. Her teachers expect her to do well, so she does. They challenge her and she responds to the challenge. She's not there to be watched -- she's there to learn.

In many ways, she’s better behaved at school than at home. How many times have we asked her during dinner, "Lizzy, what do your teachers do when you leave the lunch table and bother the other kids?" only for her to respond, "I don't do that at school." But I’m not too worried about it. Her teachers and friends are not required to love her, so she has to prove herself to them. It makes sense. At home, we love her no matter what. At home, she is free to be her complete, goofy, wiggling-at-the-table, singing-too-loudly self.

But whether she realizes it or not, her teachers aren’t the only ones who respect her.

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