This week all of my children will be in school: Lindell in kindergarten, Owen in fourth grade, and Ford in (gulp) junior high school. For the first time in 12 years, I will have the day to myself.
I've been waiting for this. Except, if you want to know the truth of it -- about how conflicted and ambivalent I'm feeling -- just ask me how many times I wrote, erased and rewrote that first paragraph.
Seven years ago, I put my oldest child on the school bus, headed for kindergarten. We lived in Florida, and I was standing in the prickly front lawn, in my bathrobe, as I watched the rumbling bus pull away. Ford's head, just barely visible above the bottom frame of the window, bobbed up and down with the bumps and jerks of the engine. He stared at me with big, brown eyes, and he waved goodbye.I cried.
Two years later, we had just moved to Maine, and basically the next day, I sent Owen to kindergarten. His school had a breakfast for mothers after the morning bell rang. I was suffering from my usual, late-August allergies, so my pockets were stuffed with tissues, and my eyes and nose were red. A new friend came up to me and said sympathetically, "Oh, is this your first time sending someone to kindergarten?"
I blew my nose and laughed. "No," I said. "This is my second, and this [pointing to my eyes] is allergies."
We shared a good, hearty, Mom-laugh: Two down, one more to go!
That "one more to go" is now. I'm excited, relieved, worried and sad all at the same time. The crux of my dilemma is that there is good news and bad news.The good news: All of us are embarking on a new phase of our life.The bad news: All of us are embarking on new and different phases of our lives.
This was never more apparent than during the three open houses we attended last week. Lindell's was first. He was, of course, accompanied by his two older brothers—taller, wiser, less baby and more "big kid." Ford and Owen showed Lindell around their old school. They helped him with his classroom scavenger hunt. They cheered when he spotted his own name above his coat hook.
I looked around the room and thought, This is where my baby will spend 80-percent (don't check my math) of his time the next nine months. This will be his home-away-from-home. He will know every cabinet, smell, and creak of the floor, just like he does at home.
(Note: Here's where a paragraph about Owen's Open House should be. But Owen is the middle child. His Open House was interrupted by an older brother who needed to get to the junior high school to meet his teacher, and a younger brother who made funny faces and caused Owen's friends to laugh. He was greeted by teacher's who said, "You must be Ford's brother." And, "Oh, is this your cute little brother?" Middle children everywhere can go sit in a corner and cry about this together, but we have to move on to Ford's Open House before I run out of my allotted 800 words.)
Ford was also accompanied to Open House by two brothers, only they were younger and silent. This was junior high. Big time. Scary. Owen and Lindell stood behind Ford and were glad they weren't him. They listened carefully, their eyes wide and mouths open. They gasped simultaneously when, in front of the entire sixth grade, Ford's name was announced as "Henry Smiley."
Ford's home-away-from-home seemed a little less cozy then Lindell's and Owen's. They could sense it. And they had nothing—no words of encouragement or advice. Ford was on his own.
Eventually, however, Lindell warmed up to the idea of junior high. He munched on Cracker Jacks while Ford's teacher went over details of the first day of school. He suggested out loud that Ford rent a combination lock from the school: "They'll give you five dollars at the end of the year, Ford!"
Ford stared straight ahead and pretended not to notice. His new world and Lindell's new world did not mesh. That "80-percent of their day" would be spent quite differently. Indeed, all of us would have new and different days. (Well, except for middle-child-Owen, who, of course, will forever be "Ford's little brother" or "Lindell's big brother" to all his teachers and friends.)
And, me? Well, I have a book to write. And I'll be teaching. And I'll be figuring out a new schedule that does not involve holding a little hand and walking up to the school at 3:00 to get big brothers. I'll be shopping alone, without pudgy legs sticking out from the front of the cart. I'll be going to the bank and not asking for a lollypop. If you see me at the breakfast after the morning bell, my eyes and nose will be red. It may or may not be allergies. But just let me pretend that it is.
Navy wife Sarah Smiley is a syndicated newspaper columnist and the author of Going Overboard: The Misadventures of a Military Wife (2005) and I'm Just Saying (2008). She has been featured in the New York Times and Newsweek, and on Nightline, The Early Show, CNN, Fox News and other local and national news outlets. Her liferights were optioned by Kelsey Grammer's company, Grammnet, and Paramount Television to be made into a half-hour sitcom. Visit www.SarahSmiley.com for more details. To contact Sarah, you can also visit her Facebook page.