Dear Friends of Switchback,
Four years have gone by since the polar vortex of 2014 and the birth of my daughter, Áine. In a lot of ways, I now measure the years by her growth. It’s been fun to line her up with the well-traveled bass case and see the changes. And, so far, she has been willing to cooperate with these yearly pictures. I don’t know how it will go when she turns 13.
The big change this year for Áine has been preschool. Preschool did not exist when I was a kid, and so it was sort of an odd thing to have to enroll in it to begin with. Growing up, kindergarten (what was considered formal education) did not start until age 6. In our family, the years of three to five were spent doing things that made sense, like eating and learning how to flush the toilet.
Mom had courses for us, like Diaper Folding 101, which was an advanced study of taking a diaper out of the dryer and folding it. I got pretty good at it by the time I was four and so I was advanced to Sock Mating. This course I flunked out of and still to this day am a remedial sock mater.
So with Áine heading over to preschool, I was befuddled by having two more years of education prior to kindergarten. And, since we enrolled her in Catholic school, two more years of tuition. But Annie and I reasoned (and our calculators confirmed) that in some ways it was more reasonable than a nanny or daycare.
I was all for the idea of taking her on the road with Switchback and letting her education start there. However, Annie felt that pre-K (the technical term used nowadays) was the way to go. Brian and I do not have the best track record for keeping the Switchback van clean. We also lose things from time to time, like microphone stands and well, whole vans. It would be “Two Men and a Baby” meets “Dumb and Dumber.” So, Annie won out and we enrolled Áine where she would be able to eat something other than trail mix.
She was excited to be going to school and became part of a class called the Caterpillars. Now, anyone who has a kid born in the last 20 years would quickly recognize that this is a reference to the Eric Carle book, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” This is staple pre-K reading. Carle has built an empire on it, and for us parents, that translates into “Hungry Caterpillar” videos, stuffed dolls, games, and the like. A slew of spin-off books by Carle have also become “must haves” in this weird Pre-K world. My book is going to be called “The Empty Wallet.”
There are about 20 kids in her class and already the dynamics of personality are emerging. Some kids are “popular,” which at almost four means that you get hugged by the other kids and asked to be a friend. Some kids are lone wolves, hanging out by their cubby holes where the books, coats and shoes are placed. Áine is very social and both types of kids are confusing to her. She just wants everyone “to be my friend.” And so tirelessly she will go around hugging kids, occasionally getting bitten or hugged in return, depending on the kid.
Dropping her off at school last November, I was very proud when she approached a new child crying by her cubby hole. Áine put her arm around her and said, “Don’t be scared. I was scared too when I started here, but you will like it.” Already an old salt in the Pre-K world. The little girl hugged Áine back, excited to have a “new friend.”
Some kids get weepy when leaving their parents. Áine walked into the classroom and did not look back. She is very happy to see us at the end of the day but already a streak of independence flares up, especially as I try to get her buckled into the child seat, ask her to eat dinner, go to bed, blow her nose, or say her prayers. Already she is starting to write songs and cuts me off if I start singing with her. “Poppa, I am singing.” So I sort of know my place in the music business around our house.
The hardest part is seeing the child emerge from the toddler. Pre-K is not a toddler world. The kids are learning how to write (cursive as well, thank God) and do some simple math, read a bit, and oh, run a computer program. So much for folding diapers.
One thing I could not wrap my head around was being asked to attend “parent-teacher” conferences. “C’mon,” I said to Annie. “What are we going to talk about? I am not going to discuss her macaroni and glue art!” But sure enough, I went dutifully to meet her teacher. I suspect this was a ruse to train me instead. Annie and I sat in the little chairs and discussed seriously her writing skills and social skills and looked at how many stickers she had by her picture for good behavior. That last one is a good idea for Switchback.
Still, this veteran of Pre-K is our little girl, and so great to hold, carry and play with. I think of how Brian talked of playing the board game “Candyland” with his daughter, Siobhan. And now here I am, purposely losing to Áine as he did to his daughter.
We spent the Christmas vacation building pillow forts, seeing a movie (her first), and watching with delight as she reveled in the magic of the holidays. She was a star in the nativity play. Literally a star, as in starry night. I think that was less of an acting challenge than the kid who was the donkey. But those roles, like donkeys and shepherds, are for the Butterflies, who are a year older and wiser.
I realize as she grows and I age, the gift of now, of what time I get to spend with her is so precious. As Bil Keane best put it, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.”
American Roots & Celtic Soul