I did not sleep well last night. I tossed and turned. slipping in and out of sleep, startling awake several times, my sheets soaked with sweat, shaking off the strange dreams that haunted me throughout the night. I dreamt that Leah missed the bus on her first day of kindergarten. I dreamt that Thomas forgot to bring his laptop to middle school. I dreamt that I was completely unprepared for this school year. When my alarm went off at an ungodly hour (I’m still on a summer sleep schedule), I rolled out of bed and walked over to the bathroom sink to wash my face. Gazing at myself in the mirror, I saw a tired forty something mom with swollen eyelids and hair that is about two weeks past it’s due for new color!
As I dressed myself, Leah wandered into my room, rubbing her sleepy eyes and crawled into my bed, watching me brush my teeth.
“Good morning sweetie. Today is a big day.” I said.
She smiled, lifted her arms above her head and stretched. I helped her off my bed and got her dressed. She picked out her pink and black striped Hello Kitty dress and asked if I would put a pink bow in her hair because she wanted to wear it down instead of in a pony tail. We chatted about how much fun she would have on her first day of Kindergarten. She will ride the bus with the kids from our neighborhood, meet lots of new friends and learn lots of new things. Leah is my adaptable child. My active, head strong, adventurous girl always ready to try something new.
As I finished brushing her hair, she clapped her hands together saying “I’m so excited. Can I have cereal for breakfast?”
We made our way downstairs, as her brother continued to sleep in (his bus pick up is much later). She immediately made her way to the wall calendar, took out a pen and made a check mark on today’s date. She has been counting down the days to Kindergarten and this has been her morning routine for a couple of days now. She ate her cereal, slid on her new sparkly, glittery, light-up sneakers and posed for pictures on the front porch. She was chatty, happy and ready to go. As she gathered her heavy backpack onto her shoulders, she stumbled backwards a couple of steps as she adjusted to the weight.
“You okay?” I asked reaching out to help steady her.
“I’m fine.” and she was off, reaching for my hand as her father and I walked her down the street to the bus stop.
She saw a little girl from the street, with whom she often plays, and gave her an excited hug, posing for pictures. We chatted with a few of the parents until the bus was visible. She quickly made her way to the line, her happy little feet danced as the soles of her shoes flashed pink, purple and yellow. One quick wave to her father and I and she never looked back.
And that was that. My adventurous, adaptable child was off to elementary school and I did not shed one tear. I don’t consider myself sentimental but that is not why I didn’t cry. I did not cry because I know she will be fine. Isn’t this what parenting is all about? We provide, nurture and teach so our children can spread their wings and not need us as much. Leah is one of those kids who will merge into the culture of school with very little effort. Her elementary school is one of the best in the county and she will be safe. Her teachers will not only teach her how to read and write but they will teach her how to be a good citizen, they will encourage responsibility and acceptance of others. That is why I did not cry.
As Mark and I walked back toward our house he turned to me and said, “Thirteen more years.” and reached for my hand. And I realized that we are just getting started with Leah’s education and she will be just fine. I suddenly felt very fortunate to have such a supportive partner in parenting.
Back at the house, I made a cup of coffee for myself as Mark went upstairs to get Thomas out of bed. My 11 year old boy wandered downstairs, half asleep, hair askew, rubbing his eyes much like his sister did earlier this morning. That is when my throat tightened and my eyes grew damp as I struggled to swallow the anxiety and fear that began to rise. My first born is starting middle school today.
My boy is on the edge of puberty, tip toeing around manhood yet still clinging to childhood. He is my sensitive, uncertain child. He is the one that worries about new adventures and what might go wrong and today I sent him off to middle school!
He ate breakfast, devouring a banana and a waffle in a matter of seconds. He changed into his clothes and made his way to the dining room to gather his backpack and school supplies. Mark and Thomas chatted briefly about his new block schedule, as my forehead wrinkled in confusion. I have no idea what that is! I have studied that stupid weekly middle school block schedule and I still don’t get it. On Mondays, he sees every teacher for a shorter amount of time. On Tuesdays, the kids are on a different schedule with students staying in classrooms longer. I thought to myself, But today is the first day of school, will it be like a typical Monday schedule even though today is Tuesday? Will he know where he is supposed to go after his homeroom morning class?
We talked about what time his bus will pick him up and he seemed a little unsure. We had about a half an hour before his pick up time so we decided to take the dog for a quick walk down to the bus stop. As we walked, he chatted about random things, and I noticed the nervous energy exuding from his body as his feet danced around nervously on the pavement much like his sister earlier this morning. I remembered Leah’s happy dancing feet at the bus stop and suddenly felt sad because I wish Thomas could feel more happy and excited about this new adventure. I know he is worried, I know he is scared, I know he is uncertain about what to expect and there is not much I can do about that.
I asked him to take a few deep breaths with me and he willingly obliged. This boy that I have provided for, nurtured and taught over the past 11 years took several deep breaths and listened as I gave a few pointers and suggestions.
“You can do this buddy. Just take it one day at a time.” I told him and he nodded nervously.
We reached the bus stop and I pointed out where he could stand and then we made our way back to the house. He slipped his hand in mine briefly before realizing that someone might be watching and then he pulled away. I did not react, I just continued to walk pretending to be occupied with the dog. As we reached the house, we continued to talk for several more minutes. He paced around the house, heading up to his room once to rummage through his things. I smiled to myself as I recalled the kid things currently inhabiting his bedroom, thousands of Legos, dirty stinky socks, an iTouch, books, a box of match box cars, most of which are rusted with chipping paint. This boy on the edge of manhood remains on the edge of childhood. He is surrounded by boys of various sizes, some beginning to hit their growth spurts and some who still have a long way to go. At the pool this summer, I noticed that the girls his age tower over the boys, and their bodies have begun to round out.
This boy of mine will still snuggle on the couch with me and likes to watch cartoons with his sister but today……today I sent him to middle school.
About five minutes before his bus arrived, I prompted him to grab his back pack. I followed him out the front door and asked for one more picture and this man-child of mine obliged once again.
After the picture he swung his incredibly heavy backpack onto his thin shoulders, and stumbled backwards a few steps much like his littler sister did earlier this morning. I did not offer to steady him but instead watched him settle into the weight on his own. He gave one last quick wave and headed down the street to the bus stop. He never looked back.
I sat there on the front steps watching him walk away and tears rolled down my face. This is my sensitive, uncertain child and I’m not sure what will happen today. How well will he merge into the culture of middle school? Although I have no doubt that his teachers will do their best to encourage good academic skills, teach him about taking responsibility and accepting others, I am also keenly aware that middle school is a time when he will be exposed to things that will be overwhelming, confusing and maybe a bit scary. That is why I cried.
It feels strange to be at this juncture in my parenting experience. To have two children at very different points in their childhood can be a bit overwhelming at times. Some days I wonder how I will be able to do this for another 13 years. Then I remembered the advice I gave my man-child this morning. You can do this. Just take it one day at a time.