Next week my toddler will enter a world that will be quite foreign to her: school, or pre-school to be exact! Several questions have been running through my brain recently: ‘How do I prepare my little one for the new adventure she is about to venture on?’ ‘How do I give her the confidence she will need in the coming weeks?’ ‘How do I take the fear of something new and replace it with excitement of a fresh exploration to come?’ I believe that these are questions that all Moms deal with, especially when their first born flies from the coop for the very first time.
My main goal is to make sure my toddler’s ‘fear of the unknown’ does not disrupt her pre-school experience; I must therefore make the unknown known. I have read that giving out information is quite helpful in such cases. I have been talking about ‘going to school’ for quite a few weeks now, building the anticipation like I would do with a birthday or special holiday. I also have told my little one her teacher’s names and let her know the sequencing of events on days that she will be attending pre-school. Just as ‘Dora the Explorer,’ (a favorite of my daughter’s), takes out her map and sings out the three places they will adventure off too, I took out a mini map and sang to my daughter: “car, school, mommy-time…car, school, mommy time.” This explains the sequencing of events in a way that my daughter understands it; she knows that I am not leaving her, that mommy will be back shortly after school is over. She even sings the song herself sometimes. I also told my little one: “Mommy is driving you to school, but your teacher is going to unbuckle your seat-belt. We need to remember to thank your teacher for helping.” By letting my little girl know this ahead of time, she will not be caught off guard when the teacher assists her out of the car. By making these ‘unknown’ events a bit more constructed within my little one’s mind, I am making the unfamiliar a bit more familiar, and with toddlers every little bit counts!
I will also make the day it-self fun and memorable. My little one attends an afternoon program, so I am going to make her a special lunch: a heart shaped peanut-butter sandwich, a heart shaped cookie, and I also cut strawberries in the form of hearts as well. I do this to remind her that she has so many people who care for her, and she is going to meet a lot of new friends on the first day of school as well. I also let my daughter pick out a special outfit at the store, so she will feel extra special on her first day; this also gives her a sense of control. And finally, I intend to be extremely calm, especially if any tantrums should arise on that first day of school, in hopes that my feelings of Zen will spread to my toddler as well.
It had been a while, 3 years to be exact, since my husband and I had made the trip into Pittsburgh for my grandmother’s mother’s Pernatozzi family reunion picnic. And yes, I said my grandmother’s mother’s side of the family; they’re 100% Italian, so to them the bonds of family, no matter how extended, seem to surpass time it-self. My father, (the Italian one of course), always emphasized the importance of family, no matter how distantly related; this taught me to treat everyone I met like a family member. Now, since I had not been to the picnic for a grand total of 3 years, (considered to be eons for the Pernatozzi side), it was ‘highly recommended’ that I make this trip. Italians can be so persistent! As my husband, 3 year-old toddler, and I drove in late on a Saturday night to attend the picnic, I wondered whether it was worth the extra effort. My answer was about to come.
When we approached the park site, a plethora of images ran through my head: I saw my Uncle Kevin leading the kid’s games like the egg toss or three-legged race. I saw the men gathered in a circle making gestures with their hands as they shouted out strange words like ‘due’ and ‘otto.’ I imagined my Grandmother and her sister swaying and singing along to Italian song, Funiculi Funicula. I envisioned figures in the distance tossing red and green balls toward a fixed target. And I could almost smell the sweet savory scent of smoked sausages through the intense summer heat.
We finally reach the picnic, and it’s as if no time has passed. There is still a spread of Italian sausage, fried eggplant, cheese, fruit and some American fare on the tables. There are still men within a circle playing the Italian hand game of morra. The competitive bocce game remains as distant cousins play games of horseshoe nearby. Dynamic would be far too temperate a word to describe the energy of the day; it was an explosive event full of life and energy. And that’s what I love about the Italian part of my family; they constantly remind me to live life to the fullest, although I think Laura Pausini sings it best in Andrea Bocelli’s song, Vivere,
“Try looking at tomorrow, not yesterday, and all the things you left behind. Oh those tender words you did not say, the gentle touch you couldn’t find. In these days of nameless faces, there’s no one truth, but only pieces. My life is all I have to give. Dare to live, until the very last. Dare to live, forget about the past. Dare to live, giving of your-self to others, even when it seems there’s nothing more left to give.”
This summer, like so many Americans, we made our annual voyage to the beach. For ten days, we planned to soak in the sun, play in the sand, and simply enjoy time away from the daily demands of life at home. Even though I grew up near the beach, I honestly don’t think there was a summer in my childhood that didn’t include a vacation on the water. For people throughout the world, there is something about time at the beach. Life seems simpler, calmer. Stresses melt away with the sound of the surf meeting the shore. It’s relaxing and exhilarating all at once.
In recent years, our annual trip finds us on the coast of South Carolina, in a small town my brother-in-law and his family call home. My husband Kevin and I chose the beach they live near as our wedding location. Who could ask for a better backdrop for reciting lifelong vows than the edge of life-giving water and the site of the renewing tide? Since that day, Kevin’s family has grown considerably. With a whole new crop of Phelan’s, beach trips have become a mainstay as a way to reunite when school is out and the sun sticks around for a bit longer. Our special beach is the perfect place.
And so this year we found ourselves headed to the coast with one small difference. We were bringing Annie P – toddler Annie P. Last year, Annie didn’t spend much time in the sand. She was still napping frequently and had just learned to sit. The inside of the beach house and a trip or two to the pool made up her first trip to the beach. Not so this year. As a beach lover, as this trip approached I grew nervous. I am the type of person who can sit from sunrise to sunset, reading a book (or two) and staring out to sea. What if Annie didn’t share my opinion? What if she hated the sand between her toes and found the waves alarming, even downright scary? I prepared as best I could. We came armed with an arsenal of beach toys, sunscreen in many forms, floats, snacks, and even a pair of water shoes in case she simply couldn’t stand the sand. If it took downright bribery, Annie P. was going to hang at the beach.
I’m sure you can guess where this is going. That’s right. All my fears were for naught. From day one, the girl was sold. For ten days we watched her jump in the surf, chase sandpipers, dig in the sand, and run along the shore as fast as her little legs would take her. Unbelievably, we only hit the pool a couple of times the entire trip. I personally found the daily trip to the beach exciting and new, like I was seeing it for the first time. Through my daughter, I saw the simple beauty and raw excitement the seashore brings. I used all of my senses to take it in, as I knew she was. It had been a long time since I played in the sand. It really is a great time.
Although we were sad when the trip ended, I am pleased with the outcome. Sure, the toys and snacks helped. But when we returned home, I found the water shoes at the bottom of a bag, seldom used and long forgotten. Beach lovers never mind the sand between their toes.