Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Tale of Two Train Trips

“I love you more than trains and Caltrain.”
-James on his card to Mona on her last day with us

Our last field trip of the year at Mountain View Parent Observation Preschool in May 2013 was an excursion on Caltrain. The previous field trip involved taking a city bus to the Palo Alto Children’s Museum and Zoo, but because James was afraid of the bus we had to skip that part and meet the class at the zoo. He thought there was no light inside the bus, and he had mentioned the same fear about trains. (I think it’s because from the outside both appear dark inside.)

Since I didn’t want to face a two-kids-don’t-want-to-board-a-train-while-I’m-on-my-own situation, I decided we’d try a dry run a few weeks before. While in the car on the way to the Mountain View Caltrain station, James suddenly got excited to get on the train, and pretty much everything went smoothly after that.

The kids were excited to “help” Daddy get his tickets from the machine. They boarded and they looked out the window delighted as we zipped along. They particularly liked going to the upstairs section of the train, mostly because they love to go up and down stairs.

James helps Daddy get the tickets.
Here comes the train!

We chugged about 20 minutes to the Menlo Park station. Stepping down from the train, I held Julia’s hand and couldn’t reach James’s so I asked Mark to take his hand since there was a large gap between the step and the platform. He announced that James was just fine and then a moment later James’s leg slipped into the gap. He was okay but still, Mommy 1, Daddy 0.

The other hiccup when we disembarked was when we walked ahead of the train because when it pulled out of the station it was VERY loud which frightened James. But I explained that it was because we were in front of the train and next time we would be sure not to be, and he was okay with that.

We only had a little over an hour in Menlo Park. Our excursion began with a several block walk to Jeffrey’s Hamburgers for lunch. 

Julia makes her grand entrance into Jeffrey’s Hamburgers...

...And then lies down.

The many faces of James

The kids liked their food (Julia always loves French fries), and James tried a root beer float for the first time. With each bite he looked like he was in heaven.

James likes his milk.

Julia likes her food.

Daddy likes his root beer float.

James is in ecstasy as he tries his first root beer float.

On our way back to the station we stopped in Kepler’s Books, and the kids had fun playing with puppets with Daddy in the children’s section.

Playing at Kepler's Books

Julia and James enjoyed the ride back and everyone wanted to ride upstairs on the train. 

James and Julia play at a fountain near the Menlo Park train station.

Mommy waits with Julia at the station.

“A train! A train!”

Going upstairs on the train
Meanwhile in preschool to prepare for the field trip on Caltrain, Teacher Mindy lined up the chairs to resemble a train and had each child sit and hand her a pretend ticket. 

First row: Julia and James, Second: Melina (her mom Manisha is in the background) and Ethan, Third: Luciana and visitor, Fourth: Brody and Phoebe, Fifth: Ellen and Scarlet, Sixth: Jamie and Harper, Seventh: Lyra and Zachary, Eighth: Everett and Zoe.
Julia gets her ticket.
The following week we met the class at the Mountain View Station. James and Julia got super excited seeing the train pull into the station, and they loved riding the train all over again. 

My kids kind of look like they were transported from the 1920s for the day. You know, except for the ever present jeans.

Pointing at the train, still far away

Everyone in hats!

They play with their friends on the train:

James looks at Everett.
Everett looks at James.

Melina and Luciana show off their talents.
Phoebe and Tracy watch from upstairs.

We disembarked at the Diridon Station near Downtown San Jose and the class walked to the playground at the Arena Green next to the Shark Tank, home of the NHL’s San Jose Sharks. After eating a snack there really wasn’t much time on the playground, and soon it was time to make our return trip. 

James eats a cupcake at the park for Luciana’s birthday.

Teacher Mindy put on her Conductor Mindy hat and walked the aisle of the train pretend-taking each child’s ticket. I think James and Julia actually handed her our parking pass. Sucker!

Conductor Mindy returns James’s ticket.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Mtn View Parent Observation Preschool - 1st Year

Thanks to Sharon who took this photo for the class placemat.
James and Julia started attending Mountain View Parent Observation Preschool (MVPO) - or as they called it “Teacher Mindy’s School” - in mid-September 2012 when they were 2 ½. This was actually their second preschool since Bright Beginnings Preschool began 2 weeks earlier. Both are parent participation schools so I attended with them. I fell in love with MVPO the first time I saw it. Before applications were due I visited four more parent participation schools but this was easily my favorite. (My detailed Yelp review can be found here.)

James and Julia were the oldest kids in the class, and they already knew classmates (and twins) Zoe and Zachary from 16 months of playdates together. (There was one more set of twins that we knew from the park making three total sets in the class.) On the first day of school James and Julia followed each other from activity to activity. They did this less as the school year progressed but outside they always seemed to gravitate toward each other.

About to leave for their first day at Mountain View Parent Observation Preschool

There was a theme for each day (“fish!” “camping!” “trains!”) and the inside toys and activities reflected that. There was always a sensory table, an art project (often two), an outdoor easel for painting, a dress up area (with new costumes each week), play doh, and - when it was warm - a water table. 

Julia put all those pegs into the board.

The twins loved Lite Brite at school so much that Bubby bought it for them.

Julia and James play in their favorite place - the kitchen. Here James is taking the pizza out of the oven. Right after this picture was taken he shouted,"No, Julia! It's not ready yet!" and then banged the pizza with a frying pan.

Ethan, James, Julia, "Other James,” and Ellen around the sensory table filled with leaves, lizards, and a little water.

Julia adds copious amounts of glitter to her fish.
On the first day of school they loved the water table so much they were the last ones to leave it by about 15 minutes.
The outside play area included a large grassy area ideal for chasing bubbles, a play structure, jumping boards, swings, a tunnel, a play garage, a stationary play car, a sand area, ride-on cars and trikes, basketball hoops and soccer goals, and a little schoolhouse. James particularly liked playing in the garage where he would look through the window, talk on the pretend phone, and “fill” the other kids’ ride-on cars with gas. Their very favorite place to play was the little schoolhouse which was full of sand and kitchen toys. Here they delighted in asking parents resting on the bench outside the schoolhouse window if they’d like some coffee. The parents got a literal cup of (dry) mud.

Julia on the play structure the first day of school

At the top of the slide
Julia on the tire swings with Luciana and Lyra

James doesn’t need anyone to push him.

Julia makes another boy push her in a ride-on toy. This time it's Brody.
Gaga and Papa watch Julia and James make them their patented sand coffee.
The twins enjoyed their first visit here during the March open house, but the event that stood out the most in Julia’s mind was getting paint on her hands while painting on the easel. Apparently this was so traumatic that Julia refused to use the easel again at school until the spring. James painted the first day (twice!) but not again for six months. (Teacher Mindy commented at the time how great it was to see “a boy who likes art.”) Halfway through the year I discovered that the key to getting the twins to participate in art projects at school was me having them do art projects at home.

James enjoys some en plein air painting on his first day.

James's favorite part of art: washing his hands in the bubbles.

Later in the year he returns to painting.

Julia fingerpaints, too.

Mid-way through class was circle time when Teacher Mindy lead the parents and kids in music and movement. James and Julia sat on my lap - one on each knee - which was a fun challenge for fast moving songs like Little Red Caboose and The Noble Duke of York. These two were some of the twins’ favorite songs as well as Open Shut Them (which involved tickling) and the Halloween song Little Witches. They also really liked Jack-in-the-Box, where they lie on the ground and cover their eyes until they heard “Will you come out?” and jumped up to respond, “Yes, I will!”

James during circle time the first day of school

The kids dance with their fishies.

Hiding during "Jack-in-the-Box"

Because the twins - especially Julia - were active participants during circle time at their Gymboree class (blog post), I was surprised when they ended up being more subdued during class. They would sing the songs and do the motions to the song at home (especially Itsy Bitsy Spider which Julia loved), but at school they were little observers.

After circle time was snack time which is when Teacher Mindy read to them while the kids noshed. Birthdays were also celebrated during snack time, and on James’s and Julia’s third birthday, Teacher Mindy had them each blow out a candle while the class sang Happy Birthday.

Snack time starring Luca, James, Julia, and lots of headless mommies

James blows out a real birthday candle in a fake cupcake with an assist from Teacher Mindy.
Since it was a parent participation school, I stayed with James and Julia throughout class until near the end when it was time for the mommy meeting. (The mommy meeting consisted of the mommies going to a room at the adjacent high school with a “mommy snack” and gabbing for 30 minutes about the parenting topic of the week.) The twins did well with a similar separation at Bright Beginnings Preschool so I expected separation at MVPO to go well. But then an incident at the other preschool resulted in my not being able to leave for the MVPO mommy meeting for months.

What happened was this: Julia was upset while I was at the mommy meeting at the other preschool and proceeded to cry for 20 minutes, which can feel like a lifetime for a 2-year-old. Even though the other moms comforted her, nobody got me like they’re supposed to do, and as a result Julia had intense issues with separation for about 4 ½ more months.

As a result she was upset at MVPO if I left her for a second - I couldn’t even get any pictures of her for a few classes because she was literally attached to my leg. Walking across the room to get something in my purse or not being next to Julia during snack time (when all the kids sit together and the parents are a short distance away in the same room) brought her to tears. Teacher Mindy really worked with us to get Julia accustomed to separation again. I definitely couldn’t go the entire mommy meeting, but I would go away for a few minutes each week while Teacher Mindy or other moms comforted and distracted her so she’d get used to being separated again. Eventually in February we got to the point where I could attend the mommy meeting and Julia was content staying behind. And the following month they started drop-off preschool elsewhere so separation at MVPO stopped being a big deal.

Mommy with her clingy puppy dogs at Mountain View Parent Observation Preschool on Halloween.

James on the other hand generally did really well with separation. Only a few weeks into the school year I was a work parent who helped on the art project inside. Meanwhile, James happily played in the sandbox on the opposite site of the play yard without checking in with me once. However, one time at a mommy meeting I got a call to return, and that James was crying. When I returned I comforted James and heard that Julia had given him a hug (her idea) to make him feel better. I praised her afterwards which made her very proud of herself and she told me repeatedly how she helped James feel better.

After every class one of the work parents or Teacher Mindy vacuumed the classroom. This was very distressing to James who did NOT like vacuums. I ended up sitting next to the door and had everything ready to go so at the end of class we could race through the door. However, trying to grab bags and art projects and get two kids through a very crowded area to the door was a difficult endeavor and made me feel like a salmon swimming upstream. As we moved at our glacial place towards the door I would see the vacuum wheeled out and hear the foreboding strings from Psycho in my head. I wanted to yell out a slow motion “Nooooooo!”

Even though James usually really liked adults - especially women - who were friendly with him and gave him attention, James was standoffish the first several months with Teacher Mindy because he associated her with the vacuum. Julia on the other hand really liked Teacher Mindy and even once sat on her lap during circle time.

Mark stayed with the twins at MVPO once while I ran out to visit a potential preschool for the following year. Papa and Gaga (and sometimes Papa on his own) visited throughout the year when they were in town. Papa was very popular with some of the boys in class who followed him around the schoolyard while I was at the mommy meeting, and Mark had a similar Pied Piper-like experience. Gaga often got stuck pulling Julia in the wagon around and around the schoolyard. 

Gaga helps Julia feed babies on Julia’s second day at Mountain View Parent Observation Preschool.
Papa tries to kiss his “Jewel” on the tire swing.

Julia hasn't seen Gaga in a month. Guess who surprises her by showing up at preschool?
Sorry, Mom, but it’s nice having someone else have to pull the wagon for once!

James and Julia liked going to school, and together decided they really liked an adventurous little girl in their class named Lyra. This was their first time really choosing a friend, as opposed to Mommy giving them playdate friends. What was funny was that my parents independently took a shine to Lyra, too, and enjoyed watching her try to go head first down the slide in her angel costume on Halloween. Lyra’s mommy Elizabeth told my parents that Lyra’s called the rather apt “Mudpuppy” at home. During circle time Lyra often danced in the middle while the rest of the kids were on their parents’ laps. One day my two kids - who were often fairly reserved during class - decided to join her.

James with his pal Lyra
Lyra danced in the middle during circle time so James and Julia decided to join her.

Holidays were a big deal at MVPO. All the kids dressed up for Halloween and decorated cookies at Christmas. For Valentine’s Day the kids dropped valentines into each other’s bags, and at Easter there was a big egg hunt.

Julia makes holiday cookies.

Distributing valentines

And they’re off!

The school year included three field trips. The first was to Hidden Villa which happened to be a day of nonstop pouring rain. James, Julia, and I got a private tour by one of the volunteers. We must have been the most unexciting group ever since my kids were scared of farm animals. Even a sheep in its pen taking a few steps towards us drove my kids to hysterics. (Incidentally, when I was considering preschools, asking them if they had chickens was a real question I had to ask. Some nearby schools have chickens and I wanted my kids to feel safe and comfortable in a poultry-free environment.) The next field trip was a municipal bus trip to Rinconada Park and the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo. James wanted no part of the bus (for about a half year he feared buses because he thought there was no light inside) so we had to meet the class there. 

James gazes into a fish tank during a field trip to the Palo Alto Children's Museum and Zoo.
The final field trip was on Caltrain. Because James was afraid of trains (again because he thought there was no light inside) we decided to do a dry run a few weeks before to Menlo Park, and the kids LOVED it. The class rode to Diridon Station and walked to the playground at the Arena Green near downtown San Jose’s Shark Tank.

Conductor Mindy returns James's ticket.
The last day of school was at Shoup Park, and as a thank you gift to Teacher Mindy we gave her a collage I’d assembled with hearts that each child had taken home and decorated as they wished.

Teacher Mindy with James and Julia

The finished heart collage. James’s heart and Julia’s heart are respectively the first ones in the third row.

When our Wednesday morning class didn’t meet during spring break there was an unofficial playdate at Marymeade Park. We also got together for a summer playdate at the same park and Teacher Mindy showed up and surprised the kids.

Our class lost some kids and gained some mid-semester - a list of kids who attended the whole year or half the year are included below. You’ll note we had three James’s in the class, though one went by Jimmy. My kids called the one who went by James, “Other James.” Classmates included: Melina (Manisha - mom), Makena (Katy), Lyra (Elizabeth), Harper and Scarlet (Nicole), Ethan (Deeana), Ellen (Viviana), Linnea (Susanne), Luciana (Kenda), Brody (Lisa), Everett (Anna), Phoebe (Tracy), Jaimie (Leigh), Zoe and Zachary (Sharon), Jimmy (Erin), Alex (Bea), Luca (Masako), Yuki (Akiyo), and “Other James” (Rosie - grandmother).

Taken at Shoup Park this is the closest thing we have to a class picture. On rock: Everett, Ethan, and Brody. On bench: Zachary, Teacher Mindy, Julia, James, Harper, Linnea, Makena, and Ellen. Standing: Sharon with Zoe, Nicole with Scarlet, and Kendra with Luciana. Elizabeth is behind the other bench.