Thursday, October 7, 2010
THE LONG, LONG LEARNING CURVE
If I decide to learn something that’s rather inconsequential, such as how to use a new feature on my phone, for example, it doesn’t take long. Well, compared to how fast my kids adapt to new technology all the time, I guess I’m kind of slow. But within a few minutes, I can master a new simple widget, for the most part. Piece of cake.
But that’s just for the easy stuff. Learning the important lessons in life is harder and takes WAY longer.
I remember when Emily was three and we signed up for the parent participation preschool. I had high hopes and shining ideals as a young parent. I expected this to be a wonderful experience, and anticipated many fulfilling moments as Emily and I experienced “teachable moments” together.
Unfortunately, the first few months in this new endeavor were not exactly as rewarding as I had hoped. When I look back on that time, I still feel the deep frustration that I seemed to be experiencing constantly. Poor me. It was hard. I imagine it was hard for Emily too.
Emily was not at an easy stage at that time, and she readily shared her frustrations with me. She went in and out of “separation anxiety,” or whatever you call it when a three year old gets upset when Mom leaves. Starting school that year, she loved Teacher Diane immediately. (It would have been hard not to: Diane was wonderful.) But every time I was supposed to drop her off at school, she screamed and fussed and I felt like the only parent who had a child with “issues.”
Even worse, on the days it was my turn to stay at school and work in the classroom, Emily was like a very loud and incredibly irritating ball and chain. She wouldn’t leave my side, and she hung on me, cried, whined, and made it almost impossible for me to do my job or interact with the other children. I began to dread school days. To add to the chaos, Audra was about 13 months old at the time, and was also fussy.
After a few weeks of constant struggle, I was ready to give up. But then, I would talk to other moms who had older kids or who had already been through this type of thing. They encouraged me to hang in there, and insisted that things would get better. Teacher Diane and Teacher Konne both informed me that I would soon find that the struggle was well worth it. So we stayed, and I persisted in my duties as a preschool mom, even though I wasn’t a very happy or effective one. I hoped that my inability to function and my daughter’s annoying behaviors weren’t ruining the experiences of other kids and parents in the school.
Further conversations with the teachers began to give me more inspiration and hope. I remember when Konne told me that I was giving my daughter a very important message when I hung in there even when she fussed and clung to me at school. She said I was conveying to her that her education is so important that I will stick with it, even when she makes it frustrating. Konne taught me that it was very important for my child to see that I could be more persistent than she was when it came to something important. But honestly, even though I believed all this in a cognitive sense, I was still in a very emotional place, and continued to struggle for quite awhile.
But then, magically, things did gradually begin to improve. (Now I know that it wasn’t magic. It was helpful mentoring that made the difference.) Towards the end of the first year in the preschool I began to understand what we would have missed if I had given up months ago. And I was able to reflect back over the year and see real growth in myself and in my kids. (Yes, even the little sister was benefiting from all these experiences.)
The learning continued into the next year and the next. In spite of normal ups and downs, and inevitable frustrations, I found myself KNOWING that I was learning and growing in important ways, and I was equally firm in my knowledge that my kids were gaining lifelong learning from our preschool experiences Gradually, Emily and I both began to really enjoy preschool. We both began to look forward eagerly to school days instead of dreading them.
I had felt so impatient in those first months. I wanted to learn it all NOW. I wanted to rush through the hard parts, and get on to the fun. But guess what: that’s not how learning works. At least not when you’re learning some really important things. I understand this now, because 20 years of parenting and teaching since then have given me many educational experiences, and this lesson has been reinforced over and over.
The most important things take the longest to learn. Patience is often hard to come by, but will always pay off when we find the strength and persistence to allow our learning to unfold over time.
Now my girls are young adults and I still see in them many reasons to be thankful for and appreciative of the wonderful start they had at preschool. They will always be curious, self-motivated learners, and I credit their first teachers for helping them begin down that exciting path.
I’m just glad I didn’t give up. Waiting it out was worth the struggle. Learning takes time.
Posted by ANNIE CASTLE DECKERT, M.ED.PSYCH.