The Land of the Purple

Noah has drama class after school on Wednesdays now, so those afternoons are tight. It was easier last year. I would take him his old nursery school where the class is held and wait there, playing with June and socializing with other parents in an unused classroom until the class was over. Then we’d walk home and he’d do whatever little bit of kindergarten homework he had while I heated up my designated quick dinner of the week.

But now he’s in first grade and his homework takes forty-five minutes on a good day. That’s how long it would take most nights if he was consistently focused, and well, not Noah. But he’s not a robo-child; he’s my daydreamer, my wool-gatherer, my highly distractible boy-child. Sometimes it takes an hour and a half. We get home from drama around 5:30. You do the math. Or better yet, do the language arts worksheet, because that would be one fewer thing that Noah has to do. On Wednesdays he has to read or be read to for fifteen minutes, to practice two lists of spelling words (the class’s common list and an individualized list created partially by the teacher and partially by himself—recent words learned: “Antarctica” and “kaleidoscope”) and he has to do a language arts worksheet. This week’s was an open-ended writing assignment about Martin Luther King. They listened to the “I Have a Dream Speech” at school and he had to summarize MLK’s dream and describe one of his own dreams. A lovely assignment, really, but my heart sank as I read it. This was going to take so long. It was exactly the kind of assignment Noah drags out. Give the boy a math worksheet and it’s done before you can say Jack Robinson, but ask him to think about his dreams and you’re in for a long ride. Well, there was no helping that now, I thought as I stood in the living room examining his homework folder. The best thing would be to get at least some of the reading done before we left for drama. It was now almost 3:25. He was using the bathroom. We needed to leave by 3:35. We could read for ten minutes, then we might be able to finish up at the school while we waited for class to start. We’d have one task complete by the time we got home. We settled in on the couch. I read him two stories from a library book of myths about the formation of the constellations from different cultures and we left.

Noah skipped and ran and chattered happily all the way to drama class, just as he had the week before. As if limbering up his imagination, he started every other sentence “Let’s pretend…” We were explorers seeking the fabled “Land of the Purple.” (The nursery school is painted bright purple with lime green trim. Students and parents call it “The Purple School” as often as by its real name.) Noah loved attending this nursery school. He loves the drama class, which he’s taking for his third straight year. He loves the teacher who teaches the 4s class and the drama class. Noah has been in daycare or school since he was sixteen months old. He’s had some wonderful teachers (as well as some not so wonderful ones), but in her respect for children and in her innate ability to enter their social, intellectual and imaginative worlds, Lesley has no equal. Last spring when Noah was having so much trouble at school, drama class nourished and replenished him. So it was no surprise when after a fall of no after-school activities he chose drama when we offered him a choice of up to two extracurricular activities for the winter and spring. (He will start after-school science, also a favorite from last year, in March.)

We arrived at the school at 3:55, just in time to finish our last five minutes of reading. We walked around to the playground behind the school. June took off running toward the slide. I motioned for Noah to sit on the steps as I dug the constellations book out of the diaper bag.

“I don’t want to hear that book,” Noah protested. I stared at him dumbly. We’d been reading it after school all week. I thought he really liked it. “I only want to read two stories from that book every day.” At once, I understood. It so happened that on Monday and Tuesday two stories came to roughly fifteen minutes. It doesn’t take long for Noah to notice a pattern and insist on its repetition. I tried to reason with him. We hadn’t read for fifteen minutes yet and this was the only book I’d brought. I tried to bribe him. If he’d listen to the next story I would buy him a treat at the convenience store on the way home. (This isn’t quite as bad as it sounds. I had already committed to stopping there after drama “some day.”) He wouldn’t budge. I gave up. There wasn’t time to convince him. He played on the seesaw with June until it was time to go inside.

June and I stayed on the playground, despite the cold weather. The equipment is toddler-friendly and she was having a blast going down the slide, crawling in the tunnel and playing with the toys scattered on the ground. All the time we were playing I was irritated at Noah’s stubborn insistence on doing things his way. I know my own irrationally intense desire to get the fifteen minutes of reading done before class wasn’t much different, but knowing you should let go and actually letting go are different things. We’d had what Beth calls one of our “Taurus moments” and it wasn’t quite over.

After a while we went inside. The nursery school is full of books, puzzles and other toys (June is especially drawn to the felt board) so it’s a great place for her to play. I was hoping the mom I’d talked to last week would be there. Her five-year-old son took yoga with Noah at the Purple School two falls ago and he was excited to see Noah. She and I started talking and I learned her son also has Sensory Processing Disorder (a more serious case than Noah’s) and also had difficulty in kindergarten, so much so in fact that they switched schools and they were already planning to have him repeat kindergarten next year. This week, though, she didn’t stay. There was a nanny and a mom there, but the nanny was talking on her cell phone and the mom was engrossed in her PDA. I found myself missing Kathleen and Chris, whose daughters took drama last year and who were always good for companionable conversation. I read to June and played with her until 5:00.

On the way home Noah updated me on the ongoing story they’ve been acting out. It’s about a jewelry heist in a castle. Noah is a guard. He’d built a spider web-trap and was granted the super-power of being able to yell so loudly people thousands of miles away can hear him. (It’s not such a stretch, that last one.) When we passed the convenience store I couldn’t stop myself from sighing loudly and saying what a shame it was we couldn’t get a treat. (Did I mention how sometimes I can’t let go?)

We got home. I preheated the oven for potpies, changed June, and we got to work. I read Noah a story from a book of Cornish fairy tales. He practiced his spelling words. I sat at the dining room table and listened to him whine that he didn’t know what to write, he didn’t have any dreams, etc. I asked some gently leading questions about what might make the world a better place and finally he came up with people not littering. He wrote a paragraph and drew a picture of someone throwing trash into a trashcan. Somewhere in between assignments we ate dinner. Eventually, the homework was finished.

This morning, Beth and I were back at the Purple School to observe the 2s class. We are in the midst of preparing June’s application for next fall. Because Noah’s an alumnus, we have a reasonably good chance of getting in, but competition for the twelve slots in the class is intense. When June and I were at the rec center’s community playtime a few weeks ago, I overheard a conversation about getting into the Purple School. The mom in question conceded that she probably had little chance and outlined her second, third and fourth choices of preschools. We don’t have any backup plans. I wondered if we should.

The children in the 2s class were predictably cute. I recognized a few (including Chris’s son) who’d had older siblings in drama last year or from seeing them on the library-circle-time-community-playtime toddler circuit. I watched the teacher and the co-oping mom calmly handle routine crises (a tower of blocks knocked over, a child pushed). I noticed how rapt the children all looked when the teacher read a story about a princess who takes on the dragon who has made off with her prince. During the Q & A afterward, Beth and I had few questions (“How is the 2s class unique?” was the best I could do) while the other parents nervously peppered Lesley, the 2s teacher, and the membership committee representative with questions.

Later that day, Beth sent me this email: “I actually ended up catching a ride with the woman who was also observing this morning. She’s stressed out — about getting in, about how to handle naps if both kids get in, etc. It is so much nicer to be in our position.” I asked Beth if by “our position” she meant having widely spaced kids (the woman in question is applying for slots for two kids, one in the 2s and one in the 4s) and therefore not having to co-ordinate the two classes, which meet at different times, or to do double committee work, or if she meant feeling more relaxed about our chances of getting in. She said both. If I had to give that woman advice, I would tell her the logistics are worth it. The Land of the Purple is not an easy place. It demands a lot of your time, in the classroom and on committees, and it can be hard work. You don’t always love other people’s children on their bad days. But it’s also an enchanted place, a place children run to, a place that gives them super-powers.

  • I’ve missed the drama classes, but my daughter has been so insistent on having super minimal after school activities.  She hasn’t got as much homework as you all.  In fact, 2nd grade has been the best by far of the MCPS for us – it seems like she is finally old enough to be doing such academic work instead of playing.  I look forward to seeing you at the Purple School with June – I can’t believe she’s that big now!

    –Chris

  • Steph

    Actually, you won’t be seeing us there.  We didn’t get in.  I’m very sad about it and working on a blog entry about it right now. It should be posted this weekend.

    I think Noah’s been challenged at school from the very beginning, partly because he had to do everything in Spanish last year and half his work in Spanish this year.  It’s his English teacher, though, who is really gung-ho on the homework, more than I’d like, though otherwise I really like her.