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Ms. Kristen's Two (hundred) Cents on a Crazy Year...

Updated: Jan 9, 2022

Hi Friends… So – I wanted to reflect on this past year and tell you a few things that I have observed from MY end – as a mother, a teacher, and someone who has had the unique opportunity to interact with over 200 children throughout this past year. Everyone is worried if our children are going to be OK after this pandemic… I don’t know about other people’s kids, but OUR kids? The ones I see each week? They are thriving. Here’s how I know this to be true…

Among my Rhythm Kids and “music makers” here’s what I have seen: They take turns, they express themselves beautifully, they share their ideas, they laugh at and with one another and me, they are eager to learn, try and show me what they know. They can follow my crazy line of thinking and complete a lesson successfully – and from what I hear from their parents, they’re practicing all of it outside of class. They write me letters and send me pictures and are able to socially interact in appropriate ways. My Rhythm Kids are doing alright.

Among my preschool aged students in Mixed Ages, I’ve observed that The children are SO EAGER to learn – there is a level of attention and eagerness to participate that seems stronger than I’ve ever seen before. One interesting thing I’ve noticed is a really beautifully strong bond between the 3 and 4-year-olds in my studio and their grown-ups, whether it’s a mom, dad or nanny. It really feels like the last year has brought children closer to their grown-ups in a MEANINGFUL way – and it tells me that if these young children have any memory of the past year, it will be that they spent more quality time with the people they love.

Among the toddlers in my studio, I’m seeing an exuberance that’s hard to contain – they are EXCITED to be someplace new and different. I’m seeing them do EXACTLY what they’re supposed to be doing – they’re testing limits, they’re exploring, they’re curious – and they’re FAST! But they’re also most secure when they’re with their grown-ups. Even the friends who run to my blanket to be with me seem to return to their grown-ups sooner than in previous years. This is in line with what I’m seeing in the toddler classroom of the preschool where I teach… It’s taking them a little longer to warm up to the idea of a guest (the music teacher) in their classroom. I think that may be a reflection of the fact that toddlers today are NOT used to being anywhere without their parents and maybe have their walls up a little higher as a result of it.

The most striking observation I have made about toddlers isn’t about their behavior at all – it’s about their parents’ behavior! Because so many of the indoor places we’d typically take our toddlers to are simply not safe to go to right now, these kiddos haven’t had many opportunities to be toddlers out in public. And guess what? Their grown-ups are not as accustomed to PARENTING TODDLERS out in public. What we have on our hands here is a good old fashioned learning curve – not for the toddlers – but for the parents who are, for the first time, leaving the house with these pandemic babies. Parents are learning how to set boundaries in public, how to discipline in public, and how to enjoy each other in public. This learning typically takes place slowly, over the course of many months, as the child grows, the parent learns, and it’s a constant pull/push with toddlers out in public. But I think what I’m seeing is parents trying to accomplish a year’s worth of “figuring this out” in a 10-week session…and that’s just not realistic. You haven’t been taking these kids to the grocery store every day, to the indoor museums, to the play centers – most of these places were shut down for the first half of your children’s lives – including music class! Because of that, your children are making quick work of testing the limits – EVERY PLACE THEY GO and you may be feeling like you’re chasing your tail to keep up.

I ask that you, the grown-ups, give yourselves grace as you learn how to parent a toddler in public for the first time – it’s not for the weak of heart, even in the best of times! My advice for this…? Pick ONE behavior that is a threat to their safety (like climbing on tall things) and really make THAT a goal to work on each week. Reward your toddler for “no climbing” and see if, in 10 weeks, you can curb just that ONE behavior. Reward your little climber by taking him/her to an open gym at Flips4All or Infinite Gymnastics where climbing is not only safe, but encouraged! Set mini-goals for yourself, as a parent, to find what works for YOUR child…at this age…we have to find the magical mix of the RIGHT approach combined with your child’s learning style that will help set boundaries.

And for my little babies….I have noticed two interesting things in the past year. 1. For all the people who were worried that babies will not be able to read social cues due to masks – I can tell you with certainty – the masks don’t make ONE BIT of difference. I can smile at a baby from behind my mask and 100% of the time, I get a smile back. It’s simply amazing and so so reassuring that we are not, in fact, damaging our children in any way by doing what we can to keep them safe and healthy. These masks are protecting them, and they do not seem to be doing any harm, as far as I can see. Secondly, I have observed that the babies INTENSELY CUED INTO ME more than perhaps I’ve observed in the past. They are DRINKING UP their environment at an astonishing pace, and it shows in their growth and development before my very eyes. They are modeling my behavior with tapping their thighs and using the instruments appropriately WAY earlier than I’ve observed babies do so in the past. Kind of amazing…

SO – what about us, as a community? What have I noticed? Because, I have a secret to tell you – while I sure do love to sing and teach, the thing I love almost as much as that is building a strong community of friendship and support for new parents. I used to host little gatherings before or after class for the sole purpose of helping my families get to know each other – and with the pandemic, I just need everyone to clear out of the space so I can clean – it’s SO FRUSTRATING!!! But, we’ll get there…and I’m starting to see you all chit chat before and after class – I’d LOVE to see you all continue your mornings together with a walk to the park or a stop for coffee…just pick someone and introduce yourself and let’s do it. I’m going to start singing the grown-ups names into the hello song – silly as that sounds, it will help, I know it. Look – one thing that I discovered in my early days as a parent – your “mom friend” (or dad friend) doesn’t have to be your new best friend – you might not have everything in common…you might not want to go out together alone on the weekends – but you may just enjoy eachother’s company enough to take a walk or meet up at the park – and that is good enough! Having a person to share the parenthood journey with is a game-changer. Especially if you don’t have relatives in town to help.

I have to be honest with you all – Ms. Kristen is TIRED of all of this. I’m tired of it as a mom…I want my kids’ lives to go back to the way it used to be. I’m tired of it as a daughter…my mother’s health has deteriorated so much over the past 2 years…she’s now living in Memory Care – she just broke her hip, …it’s been a YEAR. I’m tired of it as a business owner – constantly pivoting, the added stress and worry of not only keeping my own family safe, but keeping the hundred-plus students that I have come to love safe. Having to make and communicate last-minute decisions about circumstances I have no control over, such as the weather, my own children’s health, school closures, and THE STATE OF THE WORLD. There have been a few moments when I ask myself…WHY am putting myself through all of this stress? Maybe I should take some time off. And then I wonder what could POSSIBLY bring more light to my life than this business? Making music with your families makes all of the stress and worry disappear – the moment we begin the Hello Song, time just disappears (That’s why I have a clock in class – I have to have a visual reminder that time is actually ticking away!). It’s like a magic tonic for me – And I imagine and hope that maybe that’s what it’s like for you, too. I can not imagine a situation where the reward of teaching is not worth the stress. So…I’m not going anywhere. SO – with all of that…my two cents are just a drop in the ocean of opinions about the state of the world right now. Take it or leave it – but what I do want you to know is how very very much you all mean to me. My business is an extension of my soul – my passions are given space to run free as a result of your willingness to be with me on this journey. I am here for you, and you are here for me and together we’ll figure it all out…and have some fun while doing it!

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