Monday, August 28, 2017

When Your Baby Goes to Kindergarten

Jovie goes to kindergarten, Lily to first grade.

It happened.

The first day of school.

Lily gave us a hug, then marched through a line of teachers cheering for her and giving her high fives like she was on the red carpet on the way to receiving an Oscar (probably for her amazing turn as "all the woodland creatures" in a live action version of "Bambi"). She didn't look back once. 

And Jovie. Jovie stood between Brad and me. Her feet rooted into the sidewalk. A look of panic on her face. "I don't want to go!" Her mouth was resolute. She shook her head for emphasis. I hugged her for the millionth time and told her it was OK to be scared for the millionth time and that she was brave for the millionth time and that it would be a good day for the millionth time. And eventually Brad and I each took one of her little hands and skipped through the crowd like we were an odd trio of newlyweds walking out of a church– minus the rice or the bubbles or the sparklers. Like we were heading into the Magic Kingdom. 

Mind over matter, right?

Jovie made it to her kindergarten classroom. She sat down in her chair and accepted the Play-Doh offered to her. She kept her coat on. Like armor, I think. But didn't cry again.

And neither did I.

I'd prepared myself for all the tears, recalling last year when I'd kept my sunglasses on in the building ushering Lily to that same room. Feeling as if my whole life was breaking apart over such a little thing as the first day of school. Something that would happen over and over again for years to come. Those oversized backpacks looking smaller and smaller with each new grade as the girls stretched out taller and taller. They'd lose teeth one year, then grow new ones the next. They'd go from wanting sparkly butterfly barrettes and dresses with parrots and ruffled wing sleeves to off-the-shoulder shirts and the perfect sneakers. They'd want the goodbyes to be less emotive and father away from the school. I can see it all around me. The past and the future in all these parents and all our mixed emotions. 

I was ready and waiting for the knot in my throat. That burning sensation in my eyes. The self-consciousness of my nose turning bright red. 

But nothing. I kissed my baby, No. 2 out of 2, goodbye and went to Lily's classroom to help out her teacher by sorting school supplies. It helped, I think, having a job. Breaking open boxes of glue sticks and dry erase markers. Organizing folders by colors. Stacking boxes of tissues. Labeling headphones. Anything to forego the empty quiet of the house. 

Lily goes to Kindergarten, 2016.
I felt familiar pangs and a gathering of tears on the walk home. The one I'd done holding Jovie's hand the previous year. Plotting out the day and listening to her complain about how hot and tired she was. I won't have my grocery buddy. My craft buddy. My backseat buddy. My lunch buddy. I thought it was quiet last year when it was just the two of us with Lily at school. I probably didn't know what quiet really was.

But I didn't cry then either. I had to go to the doctor's to get a TB test– something I need if I want to be a substitute teacher here. Because that's my next move, I think. Filling my child-free days with children. Because I'm almost 36 and still don't know what to do with my life.

I got home from the doctors and running a few errands and it was quiet here. I put my keys down and my eyes stung. But just a little. I had some work I needed to do. And the lawn was overdue to be mowed. And before I knew it, time to get my girls, who were all smiles, of course. Because they go to a really great school and they have such great teachers. And they're young and life is this amazing adventure. There's gym class with the world's most glamorous gym teacher and there's egg shaker thingies in music class and there's getting to sit at table No. 1 in the cafeteria and the fact that you have a lot in common with your teacher because you both lived in Pennsylvania and you both have dogs. 

Jovie went to bed and told me she was too excited to sleep because she couldn't wait to go back to kindergarten. 

And who can cry about that? Because all is exactly as it needs to be right now.

Preschool, 2015.

Brad took the day off work Friday and the four of us went tubing down the Shenandoah. 

I'd gotten some Groupon-type deal for a four-person-plus-cooler-raft tubing excursion before summer started and, because this summer was kind of fleeting and over-scheduled, we waited until the last minute to go. 

The day wasn't looking so promising, a bit cool and overcast. Lily was shivering as we loaded onto a school bus retrofitted for transporting inflatable tubes and the leisure-loving people who sat on them to a boat launch up the river. The guy driving the bus told us we'd float about three-quarters of a mile and it would take about two hours, depending on how fast the river was that day. We doubted that tiny distance could fill two hours.

"The orange flag is where you'll get out of the river to go back to your car," he said. "When you see the flag, you'll still have around 40 minutes of floating."

That, too, seemed improbable. That it would take two-thirds of an hour to traverse a distance we could clearly see down river with our own human eyeballs. 

With a healthy dose of skepticism, channeled water buffalo attempting to mount an ottoman we gracefully stepped into our rafts , and proceeded to float. 

Summer 2014.

Because that's all tubing down the Shenandoah is. Floating. We had a cooler loaded on a  mini food yacht, so you can eat, too (the nearest flotilla family brought fried chicken, which we was a very festive choice in river snackage, we thought. Much fancier than our PB&Js and watermelon). But mostly you float. And listen to your 6-year-old scream at each passing damselfly. And observe that there are lots and lots of damselflies. And marvel at the fact that there are more colors of damselflies than you originally knew about. Like periwinkle and cloud and rust. And how is it that they're able to mate while flying around? And is it mating when the tail of one damselfly is jabbing into the neck of another damselfly? And why do they keep landing on my knee to procreate? 

So to recap, you float. And your kid screams about damselflies. And damselflies get it on, sometimes on you. And you just keep floating.

And with little-to-no effort, you progress forward.

Suddenly the boat launch where you started is out of view. But it doesn't seem possible, because you're going so slowly. At least it seems that way, as it takes a long time to get to the next landmark– say an abandoned rowboat or a heron on the shoreline– but maybe it's just because your one kid doesn't seem to understand the concept of just sitting still and going with the flow. She's never gone with the flow. The flow must be questioned at all times. The flow must be disrupted by splashing, shrieking and continuous wiggling. In short, the timeframe of the flow might be exaggerated based on the behavior of certain almost 7 year olds who shall not be named. 

Jovie's first Halloween, 2012.

It's blissful though– fidgeting children aside. That you can be carried from point A to point B. From starting point to destination, only occasionally having to dislodge yourselves from tree branches or boulders, without really doing anything at all. Just melting into an inner tube and watching the clouds or the trees. The sun warming your face. The quiet gathering in your ears like an un-choir singing about peace. The only place to be is where you are. The place you need to be dictated by a river current you can't control. No way to step on the gas. 

It occurred to me that floating down the river must be like faith. Giving yourself over to something else. Trusting it will be as it should be. That you'll end up where you need to end up at the pace you need to end up there in. 

How freeing that is. How it's a way to love yourself. Giving yourself the space to be unneeded and unnecessary (at least it feels that way, maybe) and how that's needed and necessary. 

I think about how I need to carry that feeling with me. How I've floated to where I am today and will float again to where I'll be tomorrow. And how they'll probably be a flag to let me know about landfall and life-fall. How I'll probably have to dislodge myself from a downed tree or two. How I've always had to dislodge myself from trees along the way. How floating down the river can be irritating at times. And comical. And calming. 

How it happens whether you want it to or not. How you can't stand in the downstream forever. Hoping to prevent the end from coming. It has to come eventually. 

We get older. And children grow older. And that's just the way it is. 

Stevie Nicks knows. 

And now I'm crying.

Because I used to sing this song to my girls. When they were little, little. Just babies. Swaying with them deep at night in their shared green bedroom in our little rancher in York. 

They were so sweet. Even when they were crying. Even when I was exhausted. I'm so glad the river carried me to those moments. Carried me through those exhausting moments. How lucky we are as mothers to experience heaven in our sleepless delirium. 

The weight of our children as we carry them. Their embrace as they return to us. 

How lucky we are to be carried through this life in this way. 

Lily's hand after we came home from the hospital, 2010.

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