4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
Today was the first day of school. My youngest is starting kindergarten and so it’s technically the last first day of school.
You may not know this about me, but I can get pretty sentimental about the passage of time and my kids. Shocker considering the last twelve verklempt blog posts, I know. And so I’ve been preparing for this day for months.
Last night I laid out their new outfits, made sure their new shoes actually fit, dug out their backpacks from last year. Our school is a “no outside food” kind of place for allergies and such (also, no outside school supplies because apparently the crayons that I would upcycle from crayon scraps aren’t good enough for kindergarten), so my preparations were more therapeutic than actual.
And so this morning my youngest stumbled into my bathroom at 6:45 am, the hour of the morning I called “the middle of the night” just one short week ago. And from minute one, they all pretty much joined the go-team. I mean, my youngest got undressed herself, threw her pajamas all over her bedroom herself and then put on her shirt, tutu, leggings and lace-trimmed socks all by herself. And just yesterday she couldn’t put on swim bottoms.
Only my oldest showed any signs of first-day-of-school regret.
“I don’t know why they all get so excited about their new clothes,” he said, as I laid out entirely old clothes from last year for him.
“It’s the first day! It’s a new beginning! It’s exciting!” I replied in a totally fake-happy manic voice.
“I’m like you, mom. Endings make me sad. I only really care about my new shoes.”
“Oh, um. You need endings to have new beginnings? Great shoes!” I chirped and hustled out of the room.
On the porch I took the requisite first day of school pictures. And after about fifty pics I realized that they’d all pretty much left me already. They were physically still with me, sure, but their eyes said “I want to have time to paint the nameplate for over my cubby.” The school day was on.
On the way to school the kids told me about one of their teachers, a gentleman who, according to my oldest son, has been teaching at the school for twenty-seven years. He’s known, among other things, for sending a birthday card to every single student he’s ever had. Forever. Like even when you’re in college, you still get a card. He’s that kind of organized. And in his classroom there are at least 50 jars of sand from every beach you can imagine in the world, including a jar of purple sand from a little favorite beach of ours in Maine.
My son said the tradition began because the teacher had grown up in the midwest and he’d never been to the ocean until he took a class trip when he was thirteen. It seemed a bizarrely fitting story for first days.
And not to bore you with details (if I haven’t already), but my eight-year-old left my side shortly after we entered the building, my six-year-old daughter followed right behind him, my six-year-old son gripped my hand, and my newly-minted kindergartner? Boom. She ran away from me like I was a kidnapper. I popped my head in each classroom after dropping off the six-year-old son to the sand-filled classroom and then headed over to kindergarten.
She was at a table writing her name on the sign-in sheet in yellow marker. I wanted to tell her that yellow wasn’t a good choice, because it didn’t show up that well on the white. I wanted to remind her that gluten gives her an upset stomach but that she can choose to have whichever snack she wanted. I wanted to remind her to listen to her teacher and say please and thank you and to make as many new friends as she could. She looked up when she sensed me standing there, suffered one last photo, and then waved good-bye before turning her back.
I said nothing. She was ready.
There was nothing for me to do but head back out to the minivan. And I didn’t shed a tear (although it was touch-and-go back in the classroom until I noticed the yellow marker choice.) I flipped on the radio for a gris-gris song, something that would take me out the long driveway, something that would explain the meaning of life. And the song choice playing made this lapsed-Lutheran, heathen white girl want to raise her arms in the air, right out of the minivan moonroof, and yell PRAISE JESUS!
I’m gonna need someone to help me
I’m gonna need somebody’s hand
I’m gonna need someone to hold me down
I’m gonna need someone to care
I’m gonna writhe and shake my body
I’ll start pulling out my hair
I’m going to cover myself with the ashes of you and nobody’s gonna give a damn
(Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, SOB. Check it out, if you haven’t already and you’re welcome.)
It sounds like a horrible choice, actually, when you just read the words, but the hand-clapping, foot-stomping, gut-wrenching crooning is a sort of celebration of whatever’s landing in your lap that day, even if it’s sort of lousy, and I needed a little bit of celebratin’.
After the song finished I called my mom to ask about our first days. “Do you remember our first days?” I asked.
“Yes, I have a picture right here in a collage you made me of you girls lined up for your first day,” she replied.
“Did it make you sad?” I continued, in search of the empathetic connection, the nod to my lamenting.
“Nope. I just wanted to sit down, relax and have a cup of coffee.” Huh.
I drove to the nearest beach, took off my shoes and walked on the brown-white sand. I watched the sandpipers run down into the surf and out again, pecking at whatever they could grab before the waves lapped at their feet, staying just outside the reach of the water. I picked up a small clam that had washed up on the beach and threw it back out into the surf as far as I could so that it could thrive.
And then the metaphors all sort of dissipated. Enough with the metaphors.
I began to see my day and the things I would do. Then my week and the things I hoped to accomplish, then my month, and so on.
As I told my son, I guess you need new beginnings for sentimental endings and sentimental endings for new beginnings. And now it’s time for the next new beginning. Take us out Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats. (Click the link. I swear it’ll make you feel good.)