In life there are just a few moments that are shared by the majority of us. Birth, death, 9/11, falling in love, these almost universally shared moments seem to act as the glue that holds the human race together.
I recently discovered that I had left one of these moments off my list. It had just never occurred to me that sending my child off to the first day of school could be one of those milestones in my journey through humanity. As I mentioned to people that my daughter was starting school, though, I noticed a spark of emotion in the eyes of those around me. It was as if, for a moment, we shared lives. In that moment my child was their child, my anxieties and hopes were reflected and enhanced in the mirror of their eyes.
Someone told me, I'm not sure who, that it doesn't get easier when it's your second child or third. Sure you know the drill, where the library is, how to put money on the lunch card, what kind of backpack to buy, but the feeling is the same.
On Monday I got up at 5:30 am, to the distinctly annoying beep beep of my alarm clock, hauled three kids out of their unconscious state, and poured cereal into them. Then it was time to dress them all, get the crazily curly hair into decent looking pigtails (braids just were not happening), locate the shoes and get out the door. This shouldn't take an hour, but it did, and then some. I thought we were good when we got out the door at 6:43. Then the traditional pictures had to be taken, and the little ones strapped in the jogging stroller. Just as my 5 year old led us out of the driveway we saw the bus pass the end of the block. We weren't off to a good start.
Luckily the school isn't far, I have her ride the bus so I have to get in a walk every morning, and once I've gone 5 minutes I might as well go 30 right? I digress, sufficeth to say I could still get her to school quite easily and on time, but I would miss the "first bus ride" photo opportunity. So I drove her over to the school and joined the line in the circle drive. I stopped the car, took a few pictures, got her out, took more pictures and pointed her to the door where she should go in.
Armed with a tour of the school on open house night, instructions on asking grown-ups for directions ("Honey, you see the badge, that means they are a teacher, not a stranger, you can talk to them."), and a backpack complete with a cold lunch, my baby girl walked through those doors and into a new segment of her life.
I didn't cry then, I was a tough mama with two kids in tow... In a tow away zone... But I'm tearing up now. It's not that she's not a baby anymore, or that I can't tolerate the hours of her absence, it's that from now on I'm a stranger to a part of her life. I can't help her. For seven hours a day she's at the mercy of a room full of kids. If my own school experience had been less painful perhaps my fears could be dismissed, but I can't shake them.
This week I have wanted to home school her more than ever.
She came back from school completely exhausted and refused to discuss the events of the day with me. Only with a little nap and a lot of coaxing from her Daddy did she reveal to us a few snippets of her day. She doesn't like it. She doesn't know anyone, she has little one to one contact with her teacher, the events of the day are unfamiliar. I feel like an ogre sending her back, but she needs to go to school, she needs to learn, and with the way my life is I really can't homeschool, so I have to send her back into the fray every day for the next 13 years.
So this is what that look of pity and shared pain was about. They all knew that kids don't like school and that I faced a battle. The assurances that she'll be fine were just those scripted things that society had prepared for us to say, to hint at but not reveal to much about those few moments that bind us. "She'll be fine." "_____ is a good teacher." "This is a good school." "It takes a little getting used to but you'll get the hang of it." "This is such an exciting time." Scripted, scripted, scripted, all these things are repeated at schools all over the world. Every parent hears them, every parent says them. I will say them myself someday, once I have fully stepped into the new pool of experience that waits to surround me. Just once I'm going to tell someone the truth though. That it's like cutting off your arm and feeding it to an alligator. That I wished I could turn myself into a bug like Rita Skeeter and hide under my daughter's collar and then hex anyone who was going to hurt her. I couldn't though. I could only stand by, and let her go, and hope that I'd said "I love you, your wonderful," enough times that she might remember it when someone else tells her she's not wonderful. I only hope that somehow my love can counteract the evil forces she will battle for the rest of her life.
Some days being a Parent is the hardest thing in the world. I guess that's why it's what glues us together, if only for a few moments.