Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings...

Okay, so I tried to write this post yesterday but two little people had other plans for me, and Yousuf worked late, so it was all me all day and by the time I sat down at the computer all I wanted to do was use it as a pillow.  Which I didn't, because that's just weird and so I jotted down some stuff and went off to bed later than I should have but hey, it all worked out eventually so hooray and huzzah for me!

Anyway.  Because I promised you that I would talk about the ways in which we helped Inara prepare for her first day of school, here is the most boring, not funny, self-indulgent post EVER.  Don't say I didn't warn you.  And if you were here for a post about snot, poop or other hilarious bodily functions - go away and come back tomorrow.  I'm sure there will be something here for you then.  As for the rest of  you lovely people - don't say I never do anything for you, mmmkay? 

Truthfully though, I'm happy to share more about many of you have asked about it, and if it will help any of our little buddies out in any way, then I'm all for it.  Even if it will pain me to not mention poop and snot.  Poop!  Snot!  There.  Now it's officially out of my system.  Maybe.

So...we went gangbusters with the School Prep for Inara, mostly because I am an extremely loving, nurturing and intuitive parent who is not anal AT ALL about things like this.  Hah!  Actually, the truth is that for her whole entire four some-odd years of life, we've always prepared Inara for major life changes.  She is the sort of kid who is insanely bright, but needs to be handled with kid gloves when it comes to new situations, people or routines (And that last part is not like me AT ALL either...oh man, I can feel my Pinocchio nose growing by the second.  Poop!).

Probably the most over-prepped child for the first day of school ever in the history of the universe.  Woot!

We did a lot of things together before school started, but throughout it all I was just never really sure if what I was doing enough, or if Inara really understood what school was all about, or if she had any anxiety about the whole thing.  I mentioned that to one of my dear friends, Candice (she of raising money for Haiti fame).  Now the thing about Candice is that in addition to her smokin' hot post-baby body (not that I'm just the teensiest bit jealous or anything), she is also raising four beautiful, intelligent, well-adjusted and down-to-earth little girls. So whenever we're together and I'm talking to her about how hard I'm finding it to deal with something, she inevitably goes: "Oh, yeah.  That's just like what (insert mini-Candice's name here) used to do.  Don't you worry about it, doll.  Here's what you have to do..." and Whammo!  Just like that, your problem is solved and you're out the door with a spring in your step and usually some free food too. Because she's thoughtful like that.

So the last time Candice problem solved for me, she sent me on my merry way with some gum and a little notebook.  I remember thinking that the gum was great but what the blazes was I supposed to do with the notebook?!?  And then I looked back at her house and thought about going in again, but I'd already walked away with too much free stuff and I didn't want to seem like a mooch and THEN I thought that I was a Mom and even if I didn't have a smokin' hot post-baby body surely I could figure out what to do with a bloody notebook.  Something about feelings, Candice had said.  Feelings, and school and writing.  And pictures!  She said pictures!  Did she say stickers too, or did I just make that part up?  It's possible that I had made it up because I was too distracted by the fact that I have more fat in my right earlobe than Candice has on her entire body...but wait!  Back on track, girl!!!!  Feelings.  Notebook.  Writing.  Pictures. School.  Possibly stickers.  I could handle it!

And that's how the Feelings Notebook was born.  Out of confusion and chaos, gum and girlfriends.  I bet every problem in the world can be solved this way - just get a bunch of mama girlfriends together in a room and give them some free junk food.  Voila!  No more poverty, war or first day of school jitters.  Because we ROCK (Well, most of you Mamas rock.  All except me, because I'm just along for the free food).

The thing that I really love about our "Feelings Notebook" is that you can totally run with it and make it work for you and your kiddo in whatever way you'd both like.  Case in point:  Inara HATES the name "Feelings Notebook" - I have no idea why, but she gets all irritated at me whenever I call it that, and right when she got her little hands on it she very promptly had me rename it with a title that makes complete and utter sense, but only to her: "My Favorite School Notebook".  Whatever, dude.  It works for her and so we're going with it.

So what exactly is our Favorite School Notebook? Well for us, it's a whole lot of things.  It started out with me sitting down with Inara and asking her, openly, what she thought about going to school.  We wrote down everything that she said (well, I wrote it all down and sometimes she helped, while other times she drew faces or stuck stickers) and then talked about each feeling.  I was surprised at how articulate she was once we got talking about things - she said that going to school made her feel brave, that she was looking forward to trying out new things, and she also talked about her apprehension.  We wrote that down too, so that she'd know that all her feelings were valid and that I would listen to everything she had to say.

It's hard to hear your kid talk about negative feelings, but I think that for Inara and I, the FSNBook is a great thing. What ended up happening was that talking about Inara's feelings  would lead into a discussion about how to address that concern.  So for her "Not sure what will happen" feeling, we started talking about what she could expect at school, and the next few pages of her FSNBook are filled with notes about her routine (get to school, put bag away in my cubby, say hello to the teacher and my friends, Circle Time, etc.) along with pictures of each event, or a little positive reinforcement (Have fun!  Create & Imagine!  I love Art!).  Really anything goes.

Inara's picture of playtime (with her Mama if she got lonely) and a heart because she was going to love that part.

The other thing that's great about the FSNBook is that everything just starts unfolding so logically.  When we started talking about her daily routine and playtime, Inara pointed out that she didn't know how the other kids would play with her, and how that made her feel nervous.  That led to a great discussion about sharing and playing with friends, and I asked her about the kinds of things that made her feel good when she played with other people. Again, I was struck by just how well-spoken and thoughtful she could be when she was given the chance to open up about her feelings.

And when we talked about going home, she asked what time that would be at and how long she would have to stay at school.  This was kind of tricky because she is still learning to tell time, but I think we worked it out:
So basically whenever we broached a topic that made her feel apprehensive we expanded on it, and there was no shame in talking about feeling nervous.  Also, writing down clear answers to her concerns eventually eased her anxiety, because everything she was worried about had a solution if we just thought about it together for a little bit - and honestly, once she got the hang of it, she was pretty good at coming up with the answers all by herself.  

Other things that I love about the FSNBook:
- I love that it's small and portable and that Inara can easily take it to school, or read it in the car - sometimes I can hear her back there, repeating her own little positive mantras ("The playground makes me feel like dancing!"), which makes me smile every time.
- I love that it's not finite. We did a first day of school entry where I wrote a note to her and she read it to herself at school, and we just did another one today where we talked about her first week of school, sharing, and the things she can do when she feels like a classmate isn't playing kindly. I can't wait to see what else comes up.
 We actually do write down all our ideas...even the silly ones!

- I love that it inspires creativity, for both Inara and I.  All of a sudden I have tons of ideas for other things to add to the book to make it even better for Inara - and totally kick-arse for when we do it with Nissa (like printing out tiny pictures of her first visit with her teacher, as well as one of us as a family and then pasting them into the book so that she can see them and remember that we love her and that she can ask her teacher for help anytime).
- I love that it forces both Inara and I (and of course I'm including Yousuf in that as well...he's been in on all of this from the start) to come up with a solution by working together. 
- I love the dialogue.  I love hearing what is really on her mind - sometimes she'll talk about things that happened days and days in the past, and I love that eventually everything that's on her mind comes out.  
- I love hearing Inara.  Like really, truly, not just listening but hearing her out as well.  I love that the FSNBook is more than a rehashing of events, it's everything that she feels in any given moment.
- I love that we are going to be able to look back on her first school experience in an honest way; that we're not going to gloss over the bad parts, and that we are going to have great memories about all the wonderful things. 
- I love that Inara is proud of her book, proud of herself, and proud of facing the uncertainty of a new situation and figuring out how to work through it.  It's really, really cool and gives me so many warm fuzzies to see her that way.

I hope that being open about all her feelings now will help Inara deal with all sorts of situations in the future (But who am I kidding? This post will probably do nothing except set Inara up for therapy for the rest of her life: "And then my MOTHER had the AUDACITY to show my drawings TO THE WORLD!  She said that it would be 'helping people'. How COULD SHE?!?!"). 

I guess the take home message is this:  I have no idea what I'm doing with my kids.  I just hope that the bright colors and cute pictures in the notebook make for A Happy Inara.  Which at the end of the day, is all that Yousuf and I really want.

And that's it.  I swear that I can hear the collective sigh of relief from most of you...I know that this post went on for way too long and was probably mind-numbingly boring for a lot of you.  I'm sorry!  See, this is why you should never ask me to write about serious things relating to my kids...I can't ever stop once I get started!

Back to Poop and Snot and other hilarious posts in which I repeatedly make a fool of myself (Hey, wait.  That happened today too, didn't it?  Bonus!) tomorrow.  I promise!
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