Who’s more scared? Parents or kids? At a new school for the third time in my child’s life I think it might be a tie. Mom-ita and I drove M-ito to his first day of school last week and I took two days off to be there for the whole first day and for the one hour intro to school the day before. The commute was fine, not to much traffic, but lots of nervousness in the back seat and the front.
Mom-ita cried and I found tears coming to my eyes also as we gave him a hug before he was lead off to his classroom. M-ito’s first day was well planned out by the school he’s going to. They welcomed new students by name, with a handshake and gift from an upper classperson, in a morning assembly that all parents were invited to. We ate lunch with our kids then took off and did some food shopping while we waited. It was something to do. It was a day of waiting and of reflecting and shopping was a nice concrete something to do. We had about four hours to wait – on and off during – that first day in between meeting his teacher, seeing his classroom, being told by school administrative staff and the headmaster that “everything will be okay,” over and over again. Sure – easy for them to say.
I was surprised at how strongly I felt about sending him to school. This was truly the summer of transition from one school to another, from one set of friends to another, and for us as parents from one set of parents whose kids M-ito knows, to another. We are in the midst of meeting all these new parents, just as M-ito is in the midst of meeting all these new kids. Each of us is having to manage new relationships like crazy. I have to put my hand and my “self” out a lot. I have to say hello and introduce myself, try to remember which kids are which and which go with which parents. Mom-ita has been doing it all summer and I’m still catching up. Now I’m putting faces to names I’ve heard and trying assign kids to them.
What has caught me a little more by surprise than these difficulties is how watching my son go to school has reminded me of my own going to school when I was his age. It has brought up deep feelings of loss and sadness for what was. I changed schools and homes when I was going into fourth grade, M-ito is changing schools in 2nd. I remember leaving people behind and meeting new kids, best friends-to-be, none of which I’m still in touch with or becuase they have died long ago. I remember getting a new father and house to live in. I can feel this viscerally, in the tingling in my fingers as I type away. What a mix. Seeing this kind of history spread out in front of my son overwhelms me. But it’s my past not his.
At lunch after the assembly my son came over to me, so that Mom-ita wouldn’t be able to hear, and said, “I want to go home.”
I looked at him with my heart breaking. “Can you last for a few more hours?” I asked him, looking deeply into those brown eyes of his.
“How many hours is that?” he asked.
Then he nodded and hugged me. I didn’t tell Mom-ita about this until later.
When we came back to pick him up at three o’clock he was happy and seemed fine. He’d had science last period and he loves science and so his whole experience was framed by what he did there. His teacher had told them to pick a kind of scientist they would like to be – M-ito said paleontologist, of course – and to draw a picture of one on the front cover of their science notebook.
From the back seat of the car M-ito said, “I tried to be small in the class, but they wouldn’t let me be.” Mom-ita smiled while I drove. In his last school M-ito could “be small” and not noticed – not get attention – if he was quiet and followed the rules. He could “dissapear” if he wanted to – which I think he did a lot. In this school they introduced the kids to each other, asked them to play games with each other in recess (stopping cliques from arising – or at least attempting to) and seemed to try and notice what kids were doing and not doing. Small classes, good teachers. So far so good. But it meant that M-ito had to be more social than he was used to being. He is a shy kid who takes time to warm up. He must have been exhausted from all that kind of work. I know I was. I said hello and shook many hands in the parent meetings, at the coffee shop where I saw more of the same parents hanging out – just like us – and when we picked M-ito up. I had to force myself. I learned new names and forget them all within a matter of moments. Still, it’s part of the job of a parent. At 47 I have to tell you it’s not easy to go out and make new friends. I don’t necessarily want to put in that kind of effort but it comes with the territory. I guess I like to “be small” too.
After not talking about school for a few hours – even though we pestered M-ito left and right about what he did, at dinner time he finally gave us the whole run-down.
His second day I went to work with a knot in my stomach.
It’s his third day today, this beautiful Monday morning, and his first whole week of school. I’m doing my deep breathing exercises, trying to stay present, and not slip into the past. Mom-ita and M-ito left 45 minutes ago. I’m heading out too. I find I have to remind myself, this is his school experience, not mine. And this is my parenting experience, not his. The idea, I think, is to try to keep things that way. The challenge is in making it so.