Thursday, August 14, 2014

Moving On (With Mixed Emotions)

I never thought I’d feel anything but pure, unadulterated joy when I no longer had to pay for childcare  - but as I dropped my son off for his last day at A Child’s Garden, those were not tears of joy seeping from my eyes. Turns out, I’m really going to miss that place. As will my son!

Eli has been going to A Child’s Garden since he was five months old. Like most parents, when we made the decision to put our kid in daycare, we felt guilty, thinking, “No one can give our kid the same love and care that we can,” – but they did. So much so that we still felt guilty, only it changed to, “We can never provide as much fun, education, interaction as they can!”

On rare days off, it was a constant struggle to keep up with what he had come to expect from the day. By lunch time, I was the one needing the nap. And we only had the one kid! I still have no idea how they did it, but I was continually amazed at what he came home with, be it artwork, a new skill, vocabulary, even mannerisms. He wasn't just being watched, He was being raised. By people who loved and appreciated him almost as much as we did.

Each new year brought a twinge of trepidation, as every time Eli was transitioned up, we worried that the next room’s teachers could never be as good as the previous ones. But from Miss Jane in the baby room to Miss Kim with the toddlers and Miss ‘Sette in the 3-4-year olds up to Mr. Ben in with the five-year olds, we were always happy and comfortable with who was taking care of our boy. And there were MANY more, but I don't want to start naming them, as I’m afraid to leave someone out. Suffice to say, we loved EVERYONE!

On the days when I picked our son up, I always tried to sneak into the room so I could catch him in action (otherwise, he’d drop what he was doing and rush over to give me a big hug), and I was always impressed with what they were doing. I’d often walk in to find over a dozen 3- and 4-year olds seated around a table, conducting an elaborate science experiment – and NO ONE was ever arguing, or messing with things they weren’t supposed to, or clamoring over who was next. They were always fully engaged and active learners. My wife and I are both veteran elementary school teachers, and it was eye-opening (and a bit embarrassing) to see the staff getting pre-schoolers to cooperate and participate with such interest, while we struggled to get our 6th graders to simply stay in their seats!

And not only did they have fun, they learned! I’ll never forget bringing Eli to visit my mom one summer afternoon when he was around three. A thunderstorm came rolling through, and when Eli jumped at a particularly loud rumble of thunder, my mom tried to calm him by saying, “Don’t worry, that’s just the angels bowling.” Eli looked her dead in the eye and said, “No, it’s not. It’s the sound of a warm and cold front coming together.”  My mom looked at me, as if to say, “Where does he get this stuff?” But I knew right away. It was Miss ‘Sette!

There are so many examples of things my son learned without our assistance. Sure, we helped, but it was at A Child’s Garden where he first started to dress himself, use the potty, clean up after himself (still has not mastered THAT one at home!) read and write, count money, tell time, play fair, share, show compassion, use his manners, draw, color, feed himself, walk a balance beam, celebrate the holidays (even ones I never knew existed), dress up, dress down, cut, glue, pedal, meet fireman and policemen and magicians and Santa, nap, build, climb, jump, dance, sing, and smile, smile, smile. We have an entire wall in our kitchen cover with photographs taken at school (and the other three walls covered in artwork created there) And in every picture, and on every drawing, is a smile.  

Here’s proof, in case you don’t believe me:

Five years of smiles and support and sincere concern for my child’s well-being. Five years of Open Houses and family picnics and holiday celebrations. Five years of summer camps and Back to School nights and birthday parties (OMG the birthday parties! I’ll shed no tears if I never step foot in Bounce U again!) Five years of making multi-course lunches and making sure the backpack was packed (and ALWAYS making drop-off and pick-up on time, but only because they open early and close late!) And most importantly, five years of never having to worry about what was going on with my kid between the hours of 8-4, M-F, as I knew he was safe, happy, and engaged. 

Five years that felt like five months. And now my son is off to kindergarten. I KNOW he’s prepared. I KNOW he’s ready. I KNOW he’s excited. And I know just who to thank for it. A Child’s Garden.

I just never knew I’D be the one so sad to say goodbye L

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Man Behind the Counter

These aren't exact numbers, but for the past twelve summers or so, on my twice weekly bike rides to the beach, I’ve been stopping at a little mom and pop deli to grab a sandwich on the way.  It’s called Armon’s (pictured above), and back when I was writing for the Connecticut Post, I submitted a column on it, but my editor said he never heard of it, and therefore, neither had the readers. I tried explaining to him that I thought that was the point of a newspaper: to inform readers about things they didn’t know about, but he refused to run it (and may be one of the reasons I started this statement with “when I used to write for the Post!”)

But, as much as I hate to admit it, he was sort of right, for on my route, I pedal past people lined up outside the popular Pickle Barrel, go right by the wonderful Gaetano’s (and completely ignore the Subway directly across the street) in favor of Armon’s, where there’s usually not much of a wait. A few minutes later, I’m out the screen door, sandwich in hand, heading for the shore.

Unfortunately, this is not my overdue review of the deli. Nor is it a plea to check them out (but you so should!) Sadly, it’s a tribute to the owner, who I just found out, passed away at the age of 53.

Every time I set foot inside, I was greeted with a hearty, “How are you?” by a man I always assumed was named Armon, who was assisted by his ever-present (and equally pleasant) wife.  And even though we were both New York Giants fans (as evidenced by the numerous plaques and posters on the wall) we never talked about sports. Or current events. We talked about our kids.

I learned all about their son’s hockey skills and school exploits. They got an earful on my dealings with a pre-teen stepdaughter (and later newborn son) and later still that same stepdaughter all grown up and off to college, and that same son coming in with Daddy for lunch.

Twelve years of “How are you’s,” and his insistence that I put down the Diet Snapple in favor of his hand-crafted ice tea, and Maria sneaking homemade cookies in with my sandwich (thus necessitating the Diet Snapple!) Twelve years of school photos of their son, Mathew, on the wall. Twelve years of simple yet sincere, interactions with two people whose names I didn’t even know, yet I felt like I knew them well.

I didn’t make it down there this summer until around July 4th, when I walked in, and for the first time, neither of them was there. The counter was manned by two young “kids” (guessing in their 20’s) who, while nice, seemed confused and out of their element. My first thought was that “Armon” and his wife sold the place, but a closer look at the hot food case showed her unmistakable macaroni and cheese (with shredded ham and full slices of cheese on top) so I assumed they were just on a well deserved vacation.

Summer continued to fly by, and for a variety of reasons, my beach trips were fewer and farther between, so I did not get a chance to stop back in until just last week. I was meeting my family at the beach, and stopped off to get sandwiches for me and Julianna. The same young girl was at the counter, but I was relieved see “Armon’s” wife manning her usual spot behind the deli case. And even though we had not seen each other in close to a year, she immediately set out making my sandwich (ham and cheese on a Portuguese with lettuce and mayo) while asking about my kids. I got her caught up on Eli heading off to kindergarten and Julianna returning home from Uganda, then mentioned how surprised I was when I walked in back in the beginning of the month to find strangers in their spots. I was in the middle of saying how glad I was the she and her husband didn’t sell the place, when her face went all white and she informed me that he had passed away on July 10th.

I was shocked and saddened. I felt horrible, and told her so. Adding that I wanted to come around and give her a hug, but I was all sweaty from my bike ride. She went on to say that he was diagnosed with cancer back in January, and six months later…

I left heavy-hearted. Even though it was a bright sunny day, I pedaled the rest of the way to the beach in a fog. Such a nice man. So energetic and full of life. Someone I had little in common with, and knew very little about, but someone who added a little something to my day. And not just me. He made everyone who walked through his door happy, with his homemade iced tea and Giants memorabilia and “Sure, sure…” in response to every request. People appreciated his work ethic, and refusal to take an extra single, as he always insisted on rounding down the change. And on a more subtle level, I’m sure customers recognized the lovely relationship he had with his wife. I know it can’t be easy working with your spouse (every day, that is! Love you, Honey!) but you could see the love and respect they had for each other. And suddenly he was gone. And I felt terrible.

When I got home, I looked up his obituary, and learned that “Armon” was actually named Asadollah Khorasani,  He moved here from Iran (I sort of thought he was Greek) and was the former owner of Mr. T’s. I have no idea where the name Armon came from, as he was “Ozzie” to his friends. And while I was not fortunate enough to call him friend (or Ozzie, for that matter!) I am honored to have made his acquaintance, and greatly saddened by his passing.