Sunday, August 31, 2014

A good old-fashioned Kindergarten cry

Lately, my son Noah, 5 1/2, has been clinging to me the two mornings a week I head to work, large tears dripping down his face, eyes squinting, mouth in that horizontal, slightly turned-down, wide oval shape that always precedes more tears. I drive away and he reaches his hand out in desperation, shouting, "No, NO, DON'T GO! MOMMMMY!" I'm told he is fine the second my car disappears from his site, but this knowledge doesn't make the goodbye process all that much easier. It happens when I go to a meeting or a ladies' night... and lately, as we near the end of the summer, even an afternoon run will have him begging for me to bring him along. But I get it.

Because if I could give you one good long glance into my amygdala, you would find it raging with the very uncomplicated, raw emotion of nostalgic sorrow. I find myself watching new moms with their baby boys, really no matter where I am, at the mall, on the street, wherever a mom-baby son combination comes into site. I have to pull back my own arm as it goes for a tummy tickle (which... perhaps strangers wouldn't appreciate).

I can almost smell the warmth of my tiny little baby boy love tucked up in the crook of my neck, and all I can do in my frail little mind is shoot verbal daggers at these perfectly good people: "You just wait; this is going to happen to you too. You won't even know what hit you. Your little nugget will be five and a half someday and then... YOU JUST WAIT."

My baby boy is going to Kindergarten.

A friend of mine, another mother of a near-Kindergartener (it's still three days away), recently described her emotional state as "devastated". I couldn't agree with this sentiment more. And yet the truth, which I think he and I both know and do not acknowledge is that... he's ready for this. He's hit that developmental stage where weekdays full of learning new skills and peer play and a boost in independence is just what he needs.

And yes, of course, I am grateful this is the case and yes, I get that these steps are healthy and good (I wouldn't be sending him to school if I didn't believe that), but what's a real blog without at least a few honestly selfish moments? He's entering a great place, I think, but it's the start of a new stage, one that seems vague, abstract, and a little bit too unchartered, and I'm sad about it and a little bit terrified.

Another friend of mine just welcomed her first baby, a little boy, into the world. I keep reliving that time in my own mind. It is an exhausting period, those first few months; the old you of pre-baby days begins to understand there will be a new-you, recognizable, of course, but different. You long to have your nights back and to hear your baby's thoughts in a form other than tears. Noah started to give back about a month after he was born: a night of wails and feedings and short, restless sleeps was met in the morning with a smile that lit up my heart. You really can't believe this drinking and pooping machine can produce such a powerfully human answer to you. You really can't believe you can love this deeply. Eyes lock, one smile meets another, and it's all over. You just want more more more. More little boy!

It's not even that I want to go back in time to that place; I loved it all as it happened, but now... I think I just want to stay right here. I get the sense Noah agrees, that he understands how time is moving forward faster than we're ready for. "I don't want to be six, just my age now!" He'll say. "I want to live with you forever, mommy; Gracie might move out, but I'm going to stay." Sometimes, he fantasizes about being age three again. He'll sit with me as we look through the albums I put together that cover about half his life so far (TBD when ages 4+ get added). "That was the best, when I was three." There is a nice buffer of years between three and school age. Maybe that's it... or maybe it's something else. Grace is almost three and still gets the "strangers on the street" (as described above, see section on me with baby boys) attention that Noah got at that age. He's not crazy about that. "But I'm cute too, right?" he says. Oh little boy, you have no idea how cute you are. And when I think about a Kindergarten class, there could be no cuter image. So there's that.

Sometimes, when I'm thinking about this real-school stage without interruption, it occurs to me that maybe what I'm concerned about is that I'm going to lose some part of this little boy that I have now, that his opinions, which I've always been able to watch form, and his interests, which I've probably guided without entirely realizing it, will develop and change and turn in every which way. Sometimes, many times, it will seem much more spontaneous to me than it actually is. He will have relationships with friends and teachers and books and subjects about which I won't get a day-to-day update. I'll hear snippets, but I'm not going to know it all. That whole business of Noah being more independent, living a life outside of my peripheral vision begins now.

In some ways, I think of him, right now, at this moment, as my most pure Noah, untainted by peer influence and by exposure to a world that has preconceived notions of what is right or successful or acceptable. I mean, he's currently entirely tainted by me, but, amusingly, I'm okay with that.

This is a period of change for Noah and for me and for all of us, if in fact we're all open to the world he's now heading towards, Justice League backpack prepared and all. I haven't been involved in an academic system since I was in one myself. I have had years to reflect on school, from the point of view of a young adult just out of school, and a person in the working world, and a boss of young graduates, and a friend of all different kinds of mothers, and a mother myself. And I wonder if the ideas I have now about school, that I think are fairly well-informed at this point, will end up changing again. Probably. But if I were to have my only little fantasy school where I could make sure certain things happened for all the kids, it would go like this:

  • When teams are being chosen, there is no need (ever) to have captains do the choosing. Teachers pick teams, by counting off, or by preparing a list beforehand. There is no reason for anyone to be the last one. I was not the last one in school, but I always felt terrible about the entire situation.
  • In the same vein, it seems to me that choosing partners should be a rare event. What a great opportunity to branch out and meet new people, after your teacher has hand picked a partner for you.
  • I want my children to care about learning awesome things. Grades are secondary. I really believe this. Ideally, of course, these two facets coincide.
  • Sports should be fun. If the fun stops happening, kids should reconsider playing. If coaches notice a general anhedonia among their players, they should reconsider their coaching style or purpose of being there.
  • Computers are awesome, but so are books, even after you know how to use a computer.
  • Having friends outside of your school setting is a great idea.
  • You can learn as much playing a game or running intensely around a playground as you do sitting at a desk.
  • There are so many ways to be smart (and successful). Math and language, yes! But also, the ability to understand others as well as oneself, the beauty of the creative process, music and art (whether playing it or listening to it, producing it or looking at it). These are other, equally valuable intelligences that will enhance life and in many cases, get you through it.

I think about the days before I had my first baby, the notions that I had about parenting and the massive ways in which they changed and continue to change through the years. I feel like, in some way, I'm at a very similar place now. I'm no longer toying with bottle vs breast and cosleeping vs crib, but I feel winded as I think about the unpredictable changes we are going to be dealing with as we go. This time, I can't just adapt my style a little, change up the bedtime routine, and so on. This time, I put a little more faith in my big boy to lead the way.