That is not good. With two kids, a husband and a more-than-full-time job, a trip alone to Target is as close to meditation as I get these days.
Of course I immediately started obsessing.
I figured it was because Annabelle, my older daughter, was about to start kindergarten. I was nervous for her, hoping she’d do well in school. That had to be it. I told the story of what had happened in Target to a friend.
“Oh,” he said. “Were you a dork in school, too?”
Yes. I was. And in that moment, I realized that my back-to-school anxiety doesn’t have much at all to do with Annabelle. I’ll be 40 later this year, but I might as well be 5, starting school for the first time this fall, every fall – looking for friends, hoping at best to just blend in, never having the right outfit or the right hair. It doesn’t help that I live in the town where I grew up. And I work for a newspaper, so I’m pretty easy to find, bringing unexpected reminders from time to time. A couple years ago, I got a chatty letter from the school bully from my elementary school. From jail. I see the most popular guy from high school all the time – his photo is plastered on bus stops in our old neighborhood. He’s a realtor now. Everywhere I go, particularly this time of year, I’m reminded of my not-so-carefree school days, of finishing last in P.E. and freaking out over the seventh grade science project. Every morning when I walk outside, the air smells like school, reminding me of lining up on the playground to go to class.
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Early one morning this past week, I walked Annabelle to the playground at her new school for the first time. We stood on the edge, both of us clearly nervous.
I worry some days that I have created a monster – that I have created myself, in my daughter: the same tangled hair, the same churning stomach, the same anxiety about life. Last year, Annabelle insisted on bringing her security blanket to pre-school every day. “Don’t worry,” the teacher told me. “It’s not like she’ll take it to college.”
“Yeah, right,” I thought. I took my security blanket to college. It’s tucked under my pillow at home right now. I married a man who doesn’t mind that I sleep with a blanket, and even better, he’s as calm as they come. I’ve hoped all along that his mellow genes would temper my crazy ones, producing a normal child.
The bell rang, the exact doiiinnng from my own childhood, bringing that same queasy feeling from Target. I looked down at Annabelle. She looked up at me. “OK,” I said, as calmly as I could. “It’s time!” I took her hand and we walked to her classroom. I handed her the brand-new Tinkerbell backpack that’s almost as big as she is, hugged her, and she was gone.
Annabelle had a great first day, a great first week. She didn’t cry, didn’t wet her pants, didn’t throw up. I did tuck her “special blankie” into the bottom of the Tinkerbell backpack, and she reported that she pulled it out, but only at rest time when other kids brought out their own “cuddlies.” Every day, she wore a silver locket that my mother gave her for her 5th birthday, and one day after school Annabelle told me that when she missed us – her mom and dad -- she looked at our pictures in her locket and felt better.
Where did this well-adjusted child come from? My experiment worked. I was so pleased. And, I’ll admit it, a little envious. And still just a tiny bit nauseous.
I wrote this piece on a Thursday night, just shy of the end of Annabelle’s first week of kindergarten. And, of course, I spoke too soon. Friday morning she melted down at the entrance to the classroom, crying quiet tears that slid down her face and into my hair as I hugged her. “I don’t want to go to school,” she said. I talked about the weekend, about early release on Fridays. I promised toys and treats. I whispered, “Sometimes I have a hard time getting up and going to work in the morning, but I’m always happy when I get there.” She nodded, wiped her face and let me put her down. She took her place on the carpet with the other kids and I left.
a cool kid. But she’ll always be her mother’s daughter. I hope that’s
not such a bad thing.
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