Tuesday, August 30, 2011

On balance

If you follow my Facebook page, you already know that E survived the first day of kindergarten. And thank goodness, because this morning the outcome wasn't entirely clear. She emerged all giggles and hugs and as the afternoon progressed, bits about her new friend A. and the sandbox and the scary part of circle time came dribbling out until I had a pretty good picture of her morning.

But just as I felt caught up, her anxieties re-emerged. She want to sleep crying again, just moaning. It's different. It's too hard, it's different. It is different, I agreed, but different doesn't have to be bad. Different can be good. Different IS bad in THIS different! she cried, and fell asleep sobbing in my arms. So I don't have the highest hopes for tomorrow's drop-off.

But, still. A new friend. And a birthday party invitation. And an increasing familiarity with the building, and the expectations, and the teachers who have been nothing short of amazing with her. She will probably still scream tomorrow, but I have a higher degree of confidence that I won't cry.

There's been a lot about E in this space the past two weeks. I want to tell you something about her sister. Just because I haven't been writing much about the younger two lately doesn't mean they haven't been just as present in our minds and planning for this full-family transition. G is still just young enough to be fairly oblivious to the details of our new arrangements, but I have been concerned about how L would fare. She and her sister were in the same mixed-age 3-5s preschool classroom. They were together all day, every day. L's sister disappeared, L's best friend moved to a preschool closer to her home, and several of E's co-graduates have also left this past week for kindergarten.

So despite E's 48-hour panic attack this past weekend, on Sunday night I made sure to give L some extra-long snuggles so we could talk. I gave a gentle introduction about how change can be scary, or it can be exciting, or it can be barely noticeable. I let her know that if she was worried about school without her sister or if there was anything bothering her, I'd love to talk with her about it. I asked her how she was feeling about being the biggest Noteverstill in her school as of the next morning.

Oh, I'm fine, Mama. Now please kiss me and leave so I can go to sleep.

Sometimes I ponder how much those two look alike and feel so differently. And sometimes I ponder how L likes to kick my behind with her behavior all day long and then turns out to be the easiest kid in the things that matter most. And sometimes, like right now when I really need it, I like to remember that they're awesome, all three of them, even though they make me feel so unskilled and tired.

Completely unrelated, I keep forgetting to give you my book club links. Have you read Amor Towles' Rules of Civility yet? My review begins with this tease: 
If you wanted to hear a rich tale of the love triangle that develops between a young woman, New York City, and dirty martinis, I could tell you about that summer when I was 23. But you’d be better off reading Amor Towles' new novel, Rules of Civility. It’s much more glamorous.
Go read my review, and then the book, post haste.

I also read The Kid by Sapphire, sequel to Push, upon which the movie "Precious" was based.  Here's my review, in which I tell you why this horrific story of abuse and neglect made such a compelling novel. Ask my poor husband. I didn't talk to him for two days.
The Kid can be a difficult story to read, as the author's descriptions of abuse are graphic and remorseless and frequent...

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Veteran perspective

So today is the real first day of school. We're going to walk away from my feelings for now, because my feelings are drippy and tense, since I'm about to take E kicking and crying to that place she does not yet trust.
Luckily, I have my friend Father Goof to provide wisdom and balance. It's what he's known for, really - ask anyone who knows him. He's built from the blood of classical Stoics, or Oracles, or some other fonts of wisdom.

Well, probably not. He's built from the blood of the greatest of Baltimore. It's not quite the same, maybe, but he has two kids who have been at E's new school for years, so he knows what he's talking about, and he's what we've got.

Presenting a guest post from Father Goof:

Life is full of first days, you have to get used to it.

I thought of this as I dropped by E’s kindergarten class to see her and my friend and lunch partner and her husband.  I was visiting with my two, who despite being old hands at this school with extensive familiarity with the social and physical layout had their own anxieties.  GoofBoy was worried about his math teacher, especially since she is a Steelers fan while he roots for the Ravens. Sometimes with boys, the depths of the shallows are unfathomable.  (She set GoofBoy at ease quickly, explaining she gives Ravens fans a break because she felt so sorry for them – me thinks she’s faced this challenge before.)

GoofGirl was concerned because there is a girl in her class she doesn’t like (GoofGirl claims this girl is “mean to her for no reason.”)  I told her, bluntly, “There isn’t anything I can do about it.”

Of course, I could call the school and complain, but I don’t want to be THAT parent, and if I were the school I would tell me to buzz off.  If it were a class of bullies or some other intolerable situation, I would go to the mat for GoofGirl.  But this is one kid.  She can try to get along with her, and if that doesn’t work stay away.  If she wants to let one kid ruin her time, then she frankly deserves her fate.  That is a central lesson in life; there are terrible situation and great situations.  Most, almost all, fall somewhere in the middle and they are what one makes of them.

I am lucky enough to know E, both in person and via her online persona.  She is a neat little girl, who once ambushed me and made me to tell her the story Pegasus and Bellerophon (my classical education serves me well).  The little Goofs love playing older sibling to her.  So I thought I’d swing by and check-in, plus I knew other kids in the class.  When I saw her standing in the middle of the room with her fingers stuck in her ears, I sympathized.  It was loud and crazy – no surprise with a dozen five year olds running around.

I chatted with E’s Dad a bit, and we agreed that whatever her anxieties, E was going to have to go and make the best of it.  I mused on this for a while.  Kindergarten is a big deal, because suddenly the game changes.  It isn’t just about you and your child.  There is another player – the state, society itself.  Pre-school is optional (at least in theory).  So is summer camp.  But kindergarten is not, you have to go.

I am not a advocating conformity, but part of growing up is learning how to “deal,” that is handle what life throws at you.  For some this comes easier then others, but regardless, children need to be prepared for the wider world.  This is why the Talmud instructs parents to teach their children to swim, not just as a skill but as a metaphor for getting by in the world.

“Moms may tear themselves up inside over letting their little ones go, but Dads get this,” I thought to myself confidently.

Or Do They?
GoofGirl has an ongoing problem with fire drills.  Once, in pre-school the fire alarm went off and there was some problem getting to stop blaring even after the fire drill was done.  GoofGirl (who apparently inherited my super hearing) couldn’t stand it.  For months, she spent the mornings wheedling and negotiating to keep me from taking her to pre-school.   Since I work at home, this was actually pretty easy – lots of visits to the coffee shop or park and very late arrivals at pre-school.  Finally, a wise parent took a piece of paper and taped it over the offending fire alarm.  That was that, sort of.  But she still gets anxious about fire drills (“Will my camp have fire drills” was an early question) and I write it on her school forms and let the teachers know.

We are all dog paddling in the ocean, and sometimes we all need a set of water wings.

See how I need that special brand of Father Goof wisdom in my life? You need him, too. You can find him blogging, tweeting, and Facebooking about his own awesome family. And you should go find him in all those places. Right now.

Thanks for the pep talk, Father Goof.

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