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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Kindergarten: breakdown, heartbreak and a few smiles

The good news is that the first day is over.

The bad news is that the crying hasn't exactly let up. The quick rip of the band aid has left a sting that has yet to abate.

Oh, what a day to let the sun set on. A hot, sticky, 100 degree day when both our babies went to school.

Did I mention that we had decided to have Maya's first day of preschool on the same day? A sort of get-all-the-anguish-done-at-once approach.

I stayed up late and woke early to get everything in order, lunch packed, Maya's 3 changes of undies and clothes packed, kitchen clean and set for a family breakfast. We ate, we brushed teeth, styled hair, snapped photos and everyone was happy and ready to go!

Mostly happy.

Spirits high, smiles big, moms with fingers crossed hoping for easy transitions.

First stop: Maya.

Who looks impossibly small on the steps of Hilltop Preschool.

Just in case we needed an added element of stress, Maya has to be potty trained to attend school. This has been a 70% success rate at best. Then there is her constant whining and misbehaving. We weren't at all sure how it would go.

We were pleasantly surprised when she hit the playground running. We hugged her and the three of us moved to leave and she frowned and started, "I want to-" and I was sure she was going to say "go with you" but instead she said, "I want to go back inside."
One down. Phew.

And then on to big kid school.

We had a plan. It could have worked.
Ella was doing great- a combination of excited and nervous but settled down to do some projects. It was a perfect exit time for us, about a 10 minute stay. However, we had promised her we would stay until her friend Haley got off the bus. Big mistake. The bus was 20 minutes late which meant we stayed long enough for it to all fall apart. The crying and clinging began, the deep belly sobs and unintelligible words. In the end, we left before Haley got there, having waited for nothing, because it was time for a clean break. The teacher had to kind of hold Ella back from lunging for us as we parted.
I would rather have had someone break my arm in 3 places.
I have so many things to say but I will try to distill it down: sending your child to Kindergarten is unnatural for a parent. It goes against your instincts to push them, unwillingly, from the nest. I will say this is especially true for a stay-at-home-mom whose main job/purpose is caring for her children. I try to remind myself that I'm more than a mom (running a marathon, writing, carving out space where I am still just Suzanne) but the majority of my waking hours are spent as "mom." What does that make me when one of my charges is gone for the bulk of the day in someone else's care?
Also, Ella has been an more dependent child and so we have spent the last 5+ years in nearly constant company. Is it oversimplifying it to say that I worry no one else will take as good care of her as my own mediocre parenting?
Sandi and I, free of kids for three hours until Maya was to be picked up at noon, had planned a little date. The gym and then Starbucks. And between all the crying and sniffling, we managed to pull it off. Romantic? Not so much. But we took the time just the same.

My poor, bloodshot, puffy eyes. It was a day for a venti for sure.

The ridiculously ironic part of the whole thing is that the majority of time I want more time for myself. I want to drive alone, grocery shop alone, shower alone, check my email or make dinner alone. And here we were with all this time and I felt someone had stolen my babies from me. Ripped them right out of my arms. It made me want to reverse time, slow it all down, and have my kids (non-fighting of course) back where they were the day before. Innocent, fun-loving, unencumbered, and all mine.
When we went back to pick up Maya, her teacher Miss Lynn, told us some astounding things. Maya had no accidents. "She was a delight," Miss Lynn said. We wondered if she'd been drinking. I mean, we haven't gotten our hearts set on this preschool thing because we feared she might not be able to stay. First child to get kicked out of preschool.
(I will say that Miss Lynn is going to be my new best-friend in parenting. Maya didn't want to go potty when we left school. "Miss Lynn says you need to," I told her and she obeyed immediately.)

Then, finally, 3 o'clock came and we went to get Ella. Maya was anxious to see her big sister.

She had a great day. She was proud, happy, sweaty and relieved.

Off we went to celebrate with hot fudge sundaes.

Which was really nice until Maya threw her ice cream and fudge covered spoon at me and had to be taken from the diner kicking, screaming and crying. (I told Sandi to please remind me, when I lament Maya's growing up, of the times that we couldn't take her out in public.)

I want to tell you that the story ends there, happily, with one hard first day and only smiles and ice cream to follow.
But, alas, climbing in to bed last night, the tears began in earnest, the heaving, hiccuping sobs that wrenched my heart. Ella said all the things I feared she thought. "Why did you just leave me there?" "Why is it so long?" "Why do I have to go back everyday?" "Is the weekend the day after tomorrow?" "I was crying for you and you left me." We lay there together, arms wrapped around each other, both of us crying, me wiping her tears and burying my face in her yummy, child-smelling hair, until the sobs lessened and the heartache seemed manageable.
And then today Sandi is back at work and its time to go back like this is normal and okay and acceptable when everything in me feels I am working against my maternal instinct to send her back.
This morning, before we left, she cried for a long time again in my arms: "I've had enough Momma. I have. It's too much." "One day was enough but two days is too much!" "Pleeeeeease don't make me go back." "I am sick. My stomach hurts." "I love you and home is comfort place and you are my comfort. Please, Momma, please don't make me go."
Good thing I know she needs to go, otherwise I would sit in the house with her and wait for the truancy officer to come knocking on my door.
And the truth is, like it or not, Ella needs to grow and be independent. She IS a kindergartner. Just look at her!

And I am at home with just Maya, trying to mend a broken heart. Sigh.

3 comments: said...

oh god, the photo of ella hugging you when you said goodbye.

you have done an excellent job with this, and you are of course doing the right thing by remaining consistent and calm and loving. what else can you do? the hardest thing about this is knowing that we can't fix their feelings, but the best thing is knowing (KNOWING) that they are going to be fine, great even, and love school. it's a big adjustment for everyone, and having friends like you (who also bake pie and put it in your fridge) makes this whole thing all the richer. i love you, carvers.

Christine said...

Deep, deep breath, Suzanne! You're a fantastic mom doing just what you should be doing for your two beautiful daughters.

Have no worries about the importance of your work as a stay-at-home mom being diminished by your children attending school. I think that our work continues and even intensifies as we continue to guide our kids and help them to navigate the external influences that from now on we won't be able to control. You've given Ella and Maya the gift of unlimited time with you since they were born and it will serve them well. Rest assured!

Anonymous said...

I think what you're going through it so, so normal. When Emily started preschool (and she was/is super-duper attached to me) the house was it total turmoil for a week. She'd cry at night, cry when she woke up, cry when I dropped her off, but it was SO good for her to separate and get in school. What calmed her down was singing Frosty or Rudolph (she started in January). And I don't sing, but I sang a lot of those drives to school. It'll get better and easier...


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