Thursday, November 18, 2010

Money and monkeys

Lilly's two favorite things: money and monkeys. She loves all kinds of money: coins, dollars, and credit cards. And she definitely loves her Curious George monkey.

(Lilly doesn't usually sit in a carseat in the middle of the living room - but we had an extra one here for a few days, and in a small NYC apartment we decided to make it a piece of furniture since there was no where to store it.)

My favorite thing about Lilly loving money and monkeys is when she mixes up the words and says that she "needs monkey" when really she wants a dollar bill; or when she wants to dance with her "money" instead of her monkey. Her monkey, by the way, is her favorite dance partner when reenacting Dancing with the Stars or Sound of Music. And he's great at kissing scenes.

Oddly enough, she's never seen the show Curious George and rarely reads one of his books. But I think it's just the fact that he's the right size to be a prop for her. And trust me, it's fun to hear her say: "Where's my monkey?" all the time. (And sometimes "Where's my money?")

Regarding the other favorite, money, Lilly is a huge fan of holding it, talking about it, paying for things, swiping cards, wanting to go to atms, and holding purses which must contain a little money. With her newfound interest comes my interest in making it somewhat educational. So last night, we took a cup of coins and dumped it on the ground. We sorted through it, looking for quarters. Lilly would see a quarter and say "quarter." Then we went to pennies, and again she says a good "penny." Then I'd hold a quarter and a penny and she'd name which is which. Then we made lines with them, and an "L" out of quarters for Lilly. Finally, I showed her how to put them on a piece of paper and pick it up and slide the coins into her cup. She loved it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Radio City Christmas Spectacular

Lilly's face lit up like a Christmas tree - her smile shining huge, her eyes bright with excitement. After every song, enthusiastic clapping, glancing over at Jon and I to make sure we found it as breathtaking as she did.

Lilly should be in a commercial for everything she does. Her passion for appreciating things overflows.

We got tickets for the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular, thinking it would be something fun to do while we're living in Manhattan. Lilly loves the theater, she loves the music and the dancing and the energy of it all, so we knew she'd have a good time. She proved that she's theater-worthy when she saw Lion King and Mary Poppins both on Broadway. And I knew she'd like the Rockettes because she loves the scene in Annie when she's at the theater watching them dance. But still, it surprises even me when Lilly surpasses my high expectations.

It helped that there were other children sitting around us, asking for snacks and if it was time to go yet, pretending that they had to go potty so that they could take a break from the show. It proved once again that Lilly's passion for live performances is not to be taken for granted; this is a four year old who really appreciates it.

The commercial for the show is a little girl beaming, with the Rockettes dancing behind her. It is cheesy, for sure; but Lilly was the image of that little girl. The show itself was really good; I even teared up as the live camels and sheep led the shepherds and wise men to Baby Jesus, as Lilly watched on, wide-eyed. And she loved the scenes with Santa - especially when he flew across the stage. But the Rockettes, with their syncronized dancing, and all the songs - captivated my little girl.

Afterwards we walked through Central Park and ate waffles at a sidewalk stand. Magical morning.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Sunday Afternoon

Lilly has a new friend. She and Lilly became friends on the playground and Jon and her dad did too; so now Lilly has an occasional little playmate for an afternoon out on the weekends. Yesterday they went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (of course - where else do little city girls go for a playdate?). This little girl is 5 years old, attends one of the best private schools, is learning three foreign languages, is enrolled in classes at an elite ballet school, and is Lilly's new best friend.

There is pressure in Manhattan, according to the dad, to do everything and expose your kid to everything - it sets them up to then attend the best high school and attend the best ivy league university. Which will get them an amazing career and life, I'm sure.

These are the pressures in New York, and possibly everywhere, although not to this extent. Which is why the better schools we looked at for Lilly were not accepting in NY - they looked at a little girl with Down syndrome to be the black ink on their white party dress. And this is why the ballet class we looked into denied Lilly access because, as the teacher explained, the other parents would be mad because Lilly would ruin their recital if she didn't perform perfectly. From our limited exposure to the NY education system, at the preschool level, it's all about setting the bar high - and in turn weeding out those who can't keep up with the crazy pace. Integration for kids with varying needs does not exist here; kids like my Lilly are bussed off to special education schools - separate but equal, right?

I sound bitter, but I'm not. New York isn't for us, on a long-term basis, and we made our peace with that months ago when the system started unraveling on us. A little girl who had incredible experiences in normal preschools prior to this year was suddenly categorized as needing to be in a highly structured special education class in New York - it's not Lilly, it's the system here. And don't get me wrong, I like Lilly's new school, the teachers, the principal - but for Lilly at her age with her abilities, it's not appropriate.

(Side note: When we brought up the point during Lilly's IEP meeting that she's always done great in regular classes and had great results in evaluations until this year in NY, a professional said something along the lines of: "Well, kids aren't as smart in the South." Really, said the neurosurgeon and lawyer, both from Atlanta...)

So it is what it is, for the next 7 months, but it's definitely interesting as a cultural study. I think everyone in New York is under intense pressure. The parents are all working stressful jobs to afford everything they can possibly provide to their kids so that their kids can get into the right schools and become high power people with high pressure jobs.

Jon said to me last night, that the dad of Lilly's friend was talking about the pressures to have his daughter in all the right things, and it sounded to me a little bit like creating the perfect resume - but again, she's 5, so it sounds slightly ridiculous to know that she's fluent in Mandarin, Spanish, and Greek. Right?

And then there's Jon and I, merely struggling to find a decent school in New York where she wouldn't get physically assaulted and bullied (again), a school that believes that Lilly is a valued member of the classroom and has every right to be there.

In some ways, we have it easier. I don't know what we would have been like as parents if we didn't have a child with Down syndrome. (Note the distinction, that I'm not saying I don't know what Lilly would have been like if she didn't have Down syndrome - that is a thought path we've never gone down, for good reason - Lilly is every bit the person she was intended to be, and even now typing this I couldn't begin to imagine her even slightly different than the beautiful amazing little person she is, and I wouldn't want to anyhow.) But back to the point: for Jon and I, if we had been parents to, say, ourselves - would we have fallen into the trap of overachieving our child before he or she was even tall enough to ride a roller coaster? Would we be contemplating the most prestigious colleges before he or she were even born?

I don't know. Lilly set the standards for parenting pretty high for us, and her priorities include making sure that she is happy, super loved, and has the best of everything - meaning great family and friends, fun vacations, tons of laughing. I wouldn't say that we haven't gone overboard the same way these NY parents have in our own way - Lilly's been in her share of extracurricular classes - music, ballet, gymnastics, sign language, horseback riding - and she's definitely been spoiled in the travel department.

But I think the difference is, all we want for Lilly is for Lilly to be Lilly's best Lilly. (You can read that twice - I think it does actually make sense.) I will encourage Lilly in her dreams, pave the way, provide the assistance and resources, and be her biggest fan. But it's on her terms. And that, my friends, is the most beautiful part of the journey. The beauty of watching her blossom. The pride she has when she does something (these days, everything) by herself. She is life's greatest gift, and most important lesson.

So Jon and his dad friend watched Lilly and her best friend at the museum, and at the playground. They explored books and exhibits together, they went on the swings and the slide, and ran around laughing. They held hands walking together down the street.

A 5 year old little girl with all the pressures of the world on her shoulders, who someday, if her parents push her enough and society grooms her well, will be at that Ivy League school, probably with a Master's or Doctorate in something. And a 4 year old little girl who, contrary to society's limitations, will thrive and teach the world more than they could ever learn in books. Hand in hand, enjoying the city together on a Sunday afternoon, each appreciating the best in each other. Unaware that they have just made the case for the importance of inclusion.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Mamma's Girl

Lilly's never had a "bad" age, but 4 is definitely my favorite so far. She is just so much fun!

She is talking so much. My favorite is when I say "I love you" and she says "I love you too!" Or when I give her a kiss and she spontaneously says "Love you!" The. Best. Ever. She's also so inquisitive - "What you doin, mommy?" And "Where's my daddy?" My favorite thing to do is, when I put her to sleep, we have a nice long chat about her day and it is such a sweet conversation. And I especially love the spontaneous things she says - "I want Lion King." (The broadway version, which she saw with Jon last month.) I reply: "Do you want me to take you to Lion King?" And she says: "No, I want daddy Lion King." (Daddy is her favorite, still.)

She is the perfect little four year old companion, too. Lately we've been cooking a lot (1 because we're on a new budget and 2 because I want Lilly to see what it's like to have family meals/cooking etc). And Lilly loves to help, especially if it's baking. She made delicious pumpkin bread last week, and cheese biscuits this week. And she made excellent pizza last week. She doesn't want any help with what she's doing. She wants to pour the ingredients in the bowl, stir it, etc. And she has such pride in what she does. I'm proud too!

Lilly is still the alphabet queen, and loves telling me what words begin with different letters, and says each letter she sees. She likes singing the alphabet and saying the alphabet and signing the alphabet and writing "L's" and "I's" and occasionally "Y's" (which are all important in Lilly's name, obviously).

She's still opinionated about what we do (i.e., bossy) but I've realized she wants to be in charge and make decisions, so we now give her lots of choices. Instead of telling her to put on her coat to go outside (which she won't want to do), I ask her if she wants her pink coat or her green coat. She picks pink, happily puts it on, and bops outside. If she really doesn't want to do something, the option is: "Do you want a bath or just go to bed?" She'll always pick the option that isn't going to bed. But she's good about bedtime too "Do you want to do stickers or read a book before you go to bed?" And we'll do the stickers (which she LOVES) and then off to bed easily. We're in a phase where she's not taking naps as frequently but we get a super early bedtime. Her new school gets out at 2 pm so it's much later if she actually was to nap. The only downside is that she's exhausted around 5pm, but we'll see how it goes. Without a nap, she's in bed at 7, which in theory is nice, but it makes me sad to not have a companion to watch Dancing with the Stars with me.

Miss Independent still loves her purse, and money, and on Tuesday I put $5 in her purse and we went down to the little gourmet grocery store around the corner and she walked the whole way, knew she was going to get milk, picked out which milk she wanted (with a little direction, she originally wanted whole milk because it was red - which is close to pink - but I convinced her we needed 1% instead, even though it was blue). We took it to pay for it, she gave the man her money, got the change, and she happily walked home, proud of herself.

She also continues to hail taxi's nonstop. Which is great when we need one, but when we're just taking a walk and she puts her arm up and says "taxi!" and one stops for us, it's a little embarassing. Spoiled little NYC girl! (She does like the subway as well, but moreso with her father. We can pretty much walk everywhere we want to go, which is good under our new budget.)

And her school adjustment: she's doing ok. She has separation issues so she's sad when I leave her at school, but I think she likes school when she's actually there and doing fun things. Unfortunately her class only has 2 other girls, but a few of the boys are very friendly so I think she's making friends. I can't say that I would hand pick this school out of every school I've ever seen, but it's definitely the best school that we saw in NY (actually I liked one better but they didn't have a spot). Lilly's previous schools in C-ville and New Zealand were definitely my favorites though; hoping we can find a school in our next city that is just as good. But I like Lilly's teachers and the principal and they do fun age appropriate things, and I think Lilly will have a good rest of the year here. She just started taking the bus this week - it's a mile and a half to walk to school, through Central Park, and I loved the walk, but with the cold winter weather and rain and snow, it's impractical to have Lilly out in that weather every day. So, she's getting on a school bus all by herself now - which breaks my heart a little - but she likes it, I think. She likes it less in the morning, but she really likes it in the afternoon and is proud of herself. In the morning, I've been putting High School Musical stickers on her shoes to make her happy and keep her busy while she's on the bus - she can look at "Troy" and "Gabriella" and smile.

And that's my Lilly. :)