For the first time in about seven weeks, I am sitting at my desk in broad daylight with nothing but the droning of the fan behind me as background noise. I have a million things to do, of course, but I have a solid six hours before I have to talk to anyone else, get anyone something to eat, settle a squabble, or decide whether or not we can go swimming now.
First day of school, baby. How do I love the public school system? Let me count the ways. No; scratch that. That would take up precious minutes that I could spend eating cookies because there’s no one here to see me.
Make no mistake—I’m thrilled they’re back (as early as it is) and my expectation is that this will be a great year, but I worry for them, too. I worry for both of them in different ways and for different reasons, but they’re my babies and that’s my job.
Monkey bounced out of bed this morning, all excitement and bedhead. He’s more like a goldfish than a monkey, sometimes, because his memory is blessedly short about many things. For example, he doesn’t remember that yesterday at Sunday School he had a gigantic, spectacular meltdown and was in hysterics when we came to get him at the end of the service. I never really did figure out what that was about; something having to do with the craft they were doing and something he wanted done a different way (of course). He was furious and heartbroken all at once, and—as is his anxious, overwrought way—was yelling at the teacher about how she wrecked it, even though she was trying to help him.
I calmed him down as best I could. I talked quietly to him about why we don’t have outbursts, how the teacher was trying to help, how we don’t use ugly words and be mean. I managed to get him to settle down a bit and apologize before we left.
I was mortified.
Back home I tried to talk him through how reactions like this will get him in trouble at school, and how the other kids will have little patience for a second grader who throws tantrums. He wasn’t interested in reason until he calmed down, and by the time he calmed down he was Mr. Reason and assured me he’d be perfectly fine because he knows the rules and he wouldn’t misbehave and I love you so much Mama and I’m going to go play Pokemon now.
He was fine, and I felt sick.
I mean, this is him. This is how he is. His anxiety gets a choke hold on him over the dumbest things and he goes all Hulk except for the big muscles part. When it’s over, he sort of glances around at the carnage and says, “What happened? Oh, nevermind, I see something shiny over there,” and goes on his merry way.
At the beginning of first grade he freaked out so often that none of the boys wanted anything to do with him. The girls sort of took him under their wing, but it wasn’t until after Christmas that he had a boy buddy. He never seemed to mind that much, frankly, but everyone’s another year older, now. The boys may not be so forgiving if it takes him a long time to settle down. The girls may not be so patient. His memory might not be quite so brief.
So I worry about him.
Chickadee was clingy and quiet yesterday. I sat on the edge of her bed at bedtime and stroked her hair. When I asked if she was excited about today, she said that she was “feeling a little nervous.” I told her the truth, which is that she makes friends easily and teachers love her because she’s a hard worker and that by the end of the week I fully expect her to feel right at home. That fourth grade is the beginning of all the good stuff. That it’s normal to be a little nervous but that I hope she’s excited, too. That I am proud of her no matter what.
This morning she turned off her alarm and I found her with her head under the pillows, and she complained that it was too early. She perked up a bit at breakfast but still insisted she did NOT want Otto to come to school with us. (Chickadee’s favorite game: Control Twister! Put your left foot on Write A Note For My Lunch, Mom! Put your right hand on Make It Clear To Your Stepfather That You Don’t Want Him To Be Here! Put your left hand on I Demand Ponytails At Precisely The Height I Specify!)
She will not say what she’s feeling, she’ll only lash out all around in an effort to recreate the discord she feels inside on the outside. She’ll suffer in silence and resist all attempts to soothe her. She’ll bottle it up and then let it loose when we least expect it.
So I worry about her.
By the time we were outside taking pictures, Chickadee seemed to be relaxing a bit. We walked over and hung out with the neighbor kids for a few minutes (they go to a different school, and let’s just pretend I wasn’t completely wigged out by their 10-year-old daughter having been allowed to both dye her hair and wear LIPSTICK) and wished them a good first day at their school. After I sent the bus on its way (why yes, I AM a sucker who’s decided to drive the kids every day), I told the kids to get into the car. They were only too ready to comply.
It was a total zoo at the school, of course, but we got Monkey situated and then wound our way over to Chickadee’s class and stood outside her classroom’s door. “Do you want me to come in with you or leave you here?” I asked.
Her brow furrowed. Certainly, it would be cooler and more befitting a child of her advanced age to walk in without me. She fiddled with her backpack and then held out her hand, so I walked her in. She chose a seat and deigned to give me a kiss goodbye. As I walked out I saw another girl saying hello to her, and a small smile sneaking up the corners of her mouth.
I’m back home, ready to get a ton of work done, hoping the phone doesn’t ring with news from the school that one or both kids is having a problem. I’ve got the whir of the fan and the tapping of the keyboard to accompany my unspoken prayers that this is everything they need—that there will be friends and awesome teachers and a slow, yes, probably slow but steady progress towards the forging of a life they can claim and fit into and find so natural that soon this will be their home.
They have no idea how much of me they take up, and that’s as it should be.
Pay no attention to the mom behind the curtain. Just go be kids. I promise to be here when you get back, and you don’t even need to know that part of me never really left you.