Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Walking the education balance beam

On Monday my daughter graduated from Mini Star 1 gymnastics. I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand I'm proud of her. On the other hand she seemed happy to stay in Mini Star 1 forever until her friend Sylvia moved up to Mini Star 2. I know it's the beginning of a long line of graduations and keeping up with her friends.

She's always loved gym. However when she started, she was terrified of the balance beam. She wouldn't walk across it unless someone held her hand. Passing Mini Star 1 requires her not only to walk across the beam unassisted, but to tiptoe across it.

She used to laugh and giggle at gymnastics. Now she looks more serious. I don't want to push her, at least not about gymnastics. I've talked to parents around here who sneer at parents who say they won't push their kids. I have a more nuanced view. I think sometimes we all need a little encouragement, a little nudge to do better, strive more, at the right time, because the balance beam, life is scary and discouraging. But I never want my kids to feel my love is conditional on their performance. I also think kids need unstructured play time or they will grow up as adults unable to sit down and relax.

I personally was a product of parents who pushed me too much. When we moved here from London, I was attending a boy's boarding school. My parents thrust me into sixth grade at age ten. I had a fair degree of social intelligence, but even the most socially saavy ten year old can't navigate the intriacies of twelve-year old social networks. I was lost and they knew it. It was also a small class of about fifteen girls. I made one friend each year. Then that friend's parents would notice she only had one friend and she's get transferred to a different school. Now my parents tell me not to worry about my children's education. It's terribly ironic.

And here we reach the crux of the matter. Twenty five some years later and I worry I'm not recovered enough from my horrible educational experiences to make choices based on what my daughter needs. Actually worry is too strong a term. In the grand scheme of things that concern Thida, this is a 2 where 10 was serious worry that my son would die. I know my daughter will be fine and I'm conscious this is a land of plenty problem. But nonetheless I want the very best for my daughter and my son. And it's something I can endlessly discuss with my husband, because we're deluged with choices.

But you know gymnastics is part of my recovery process. I'd never take it in a million years. It's the type of thing I'm spectacularly bad at. It requires eye hand coordination and good balance which I don't have due to my movement disorder. Horrifying stories of my youth buried and forgotten surround gym. The first time she was tested, I clenched my fists half convinced they'd flunk her.

Of course they didn't and it's all worked out beautifully. We took it because her friends were taking it. If I take that lesson to her education, we'd move to Los Altos. All her friends were living in Mountain View, but almost all are moving to Los Altos school district. Problem is Los Altos doesn't have as good special needs resources and I don't want to live in a town without sidewalks. But still I'm trying to learn to walk the education balance beam without being so scared. I'm not my parents. And while school was a place of horror for years, I did eventually go to a wonderful college and get an MBA from UC Berkeley, so my parents did pretty well after all.

We've tentatively decided to put my daughter in Spanish Immersion in the local Mountain View district. She's four this year and already doing Kindergarten math and learning to read. She has asked us to learn both. I hope learning Spanish will keep her interested enough that she won't get bored. I think the mix of students will be enough of the achievers. I think she'll do fine as long as she's not with girls who think it's good to be dumb and pretty. You know the type of girls I mean. I actually don't care about test scores so much as the social mix and not getting bored.

I have no idea what to do with my son who's almost two, but has multiple physical delays, speech delays but is socially advanced and seems bright. I think he'll catch up with his speech in the next year, but he'll need occupational therapy for his arm for years and years. We think about moving to Palo Alto, but with the money we'd spend we could pay for so much therapy. Plus we really love where we live. It's walking distance to the library, park, shops. And two of the neighbors have boys my daughter's age.

Sometimes it sounds silly to me to be thinking of education now when the kids are in not even in kindergarten, but if we change our minds, the waiting lists are long and moving, well, that's a whole other nightmare. How are you walking the education balance beam?

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