Thursday, November 01, 2012

First Steps

Let’s just skip over any attempts to explain the extended absence of new posts and get right to today’s thoughts.

Somehow, without anyone doing anything special to make it happen, Henry has been growing up.

He is now nearly five. Five! He’s practically living on his own with his wife and kids and working his dream job. I know.

So, we begin the quest for Henry’s kindergarten. In our city, the public schools are, well, not fantastic. Not even close to fantastic. Pretty terrible, actually. Most families in our situation flee our side of the state line that divides the city so their kids can go to a free, good quality, public school. We considered moving. Then we reconsidered. We decided to stick with the neighborhood that we love, in our old cranky bitch of a house, near the neighbors we adore. And so, we are now in the position of actually needing to find a school for Henry to attend. This is work. Emotional work.

I have, at times, been accused of being an over-analyzer. Over thinking problems until I get myself so mired down in reasons and problems and pros and cons that I become paralyzed with indecision. It happens with issues as minute as what to have for dinner, and in that case often ends with a surrender to the safest, least offensive possible option: Peanut butter and jelly. So imagine what this brain can do with a really big freaking deal issue. Like what to wear to work. Or what color to paint the living room.

Or where to begin her child’s formalized education.

To put it bluntly, I don’t want to fuck this one up.

So for months now (yes, months, probably into the duration of years at this point), Tom and I have been having recurrent conversations that start with, “So, what are you thinking about H and kindergarten?” (yes, we now refer to our family by our first initials, except for me, I’m still Em, but that’s like a letter, so it still fits…and actually H is often called H-y, which I my best guess for how to spell what would maybe phonetically be “Aech-ee”… but I digress).

So, anyway, while driving in the car, going for a walk, enjoying all of the quiet alone time that we seem to (not) have, T (see, he’s now “T”) and I will throw out the kindergarten question. And now, it has become The Kindergarten Question.

The person bringing up The Kindergarten Question usually has a reason to bring it up that day. Perhaps they’ve (I’ve) had a conversation with H’s preschool teacher about schools. Perhaps they’ve (he’s) talked to some friends who really love Le School. Perhaps we (he) like(s) to perseverate on issues and verbalize our (his) perseverations. The two of us go back and forth, up and down. Until now, though, it has been more of a hypothetical. Kind of like asking oneself, “What will I name my future children?” When you have no kids or plans of kids anytime soon, there are some names that seem totally awesome. Then you get pregnant and certain names are suddenly disgusting and ridiculous, but other names, like Henry and Leo, fall from the sky and seem fantastic. Now though, we are close to one human gestational period away from actually having a kindergartner. In nine months, off he will go, off to school. With a little backpack, his little uniform, to his little classroom…

This is where I start to cry.

Well, as close as I get to crying anyway.

When I think about my Henry, my first baby, my little buddy, heading off to school, to a real school with real lessons and real cafeteria lunches and a real library and a real computer lab, my stomach goes into knots. My heart gets fluttery. My eyes get watery.

This is the utterly bittersweet experience of being a parent. You love them so much, work so hard to keep them safe, help them be strong. All so they can leave you. The better you do with them, the better equipped they are to leave you. And, as far as I’m concerned, it all starts with this kindergarten craziness.

Okay, maybe that’s being a bit melodramatic. It’s really how I feel, though.

So, in trying to answer The Kindergarten Question, I find myself mired in that quandary of pros and cons and pluses and minuses (I get it, that’s the same thing), good and bad (I know, still the same thing). This school has a great foreign language program, that school allows accelerated reading programs, this one is closest to home, that one has the best computers, this has the smallest class size, that has the best extra-curricular activities, and on and on and on. As a parent, I want to choose the. best. place. I want him to be happy and safe and have fun and learn and be himself and find friends.

Again, because the better I do at picking the right school, the better he will do in life…so he can be better equipped to no longer need me.

I’ve heard sage advice about this decision, which is, like with so many other decisions to “listen to your heart,” and “follow your gut,” and “you’ll just feel like a place is the right fit.”

The problem is that my heart is telling me, “You must stop this. You must not let him keep growing up. You must not let him get away.” And my gut is demanding that I hold onto him just as he is now and protect his precious innocence and sense of wonder. And I already know the place that’s the best fit is snuggling in my arms.

Today, as we toured the first school, I found myself chanting in my head “You cannot have tears. There will be no tears. There’s no crying in kindergarten tours!” (said of course in Tom Hanks’ voice from A League of Their Own). We saw the kindergarten classrooms, the library, the gymnasium, the cafeteria and part of me was thinking, “Wasn’t I just in kindergarten?!? Seriously, when did I grow up?!?” So many memories of my own kindergarten and grade school days, many of them good, some of them sad and bad came through. Thinking that my own child is now about to embark on those adventures began to feel exciting in some ways. Then I would think about my little boy and get sad again. Then I would imagine him brining home art projects, and feel happy. Then I would think about him having a rough day with friends and feel scared for him. Then I would think about him going to the library, and picking out a book, and bringing it home and reading it to me, and I would feel hopeful that it would be a book about something interesting and not something lame and stupid, because if I have to listen to it, I hope it’s good….But this is about Henry. Well, and me. Also about Henry.

In working toward an answer to The Kindergarten Question, I'm embarking on the next phase of parenthood and still feeling like I’m not entirely sure that I’m really allowed to keep being a parent, and be making life altering decisions for another human being. The thing is, the decisions keep getting bigger and more important. Today its The Kindergarten Question, which will be followed by The High School Question, and The College Question, and mixed in there and following those, questions that I can't even predict or imagine or let myself think about. 
And these questions and their answers keep setting up the road for these kids to head off away from me so that probably at about the time I’m feeling like I’ve got the being a mom thing mastered, off they will go.

So I’ve been finding myself hugging them tighter, snuggling them longer before bedtime, saying more “I love yous” into their sweet little ears.

I’m sure I’m generating a little herd of mama’s boys, but for now, I’m okay with it.

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