First Week of School
I dropped J.J. at school on Monday. He was the only kid crying. In fact the only other person sobbing uncontrollably in the building--shoulders heaving and everything--was me.
"Is he the baby of the family?" One teacher asked.
"Is this his first time at school?" asked another.
"Did it go okay?" my friend asked in the parking lot.
Yes, yes and no.
On the way to work, they kept playing tearjerker songs like "Another One Bites the Dust." But I didn't change the station because, in solidarity with J.J., I was going to cry for a solid half hour.
I wish I could say that I got there in the afternoon and everything was okay.
Well, J.J. was okay, but his teacher told me--in front of a captive storytime audience--that she told J.J. she wasn't going to listen to him cry like that. Then she said that he'd probably cry every morning for the rest of the week.
You know how people say, "Tell me the truth and don't sugarcoat it?"
I'm the opposite. I'm like, "Rewind and this time, mince your words. More euphamisms, please. This isn't a spelling bee, so there's no need to spell it out. Trust me, I can read between the lines."
This is the midwest, we're supposed to be experts at this. So why was this teacher giving me a play by play? And why wasn't she going to listen to him cry? What was she going to do, run for the hills everytime a kid in the class gets a boo boo, either on their knee or in their heart?
In the hall, he stood with his backpack as big as he was.
"Did you have fun at school?" I asked.
"I had fun at school," he said, laughing.
Was he laughing because of the fun, or was he joking about having fun?
When J.J. started crying, a little girl said, "Here he goes again."
In tears, I headed for the principal's office. I told her about how the teacher had tattled on J.J. in front of the whole class, and for what? Crying when his mom left him at school for the first time.
She said they were working with the teacher on understanding separation anxiety. I asked if J.J. could switch to the class where they already knew about separation anxiety. The one where I walk by and see ladies cradling crying children on rocking chairs. She said to give it a week.
I read a book in the morning to J.J. and the little girl sitting across from him, who was probably four.
Afterwards, she asked me, "Do you go to work?"
"Yes," I said.
"Why do you cry when you go to work?"
Hmm, I guess my waterworks on Monday left quite an impression.
"Well, I like going to work," I said. "But I feel sad leaving my son because he's sad. If he cries today, will you help him? Like look at a book with him or something?"
She thought about that. "If I have time, I will," she said. "If I have time."
Jeez. What was on this little girl's agenda? A debriefing with the Tooth Fairy? A power lunch with her teddybears?
When I left, J.J. cried, but not as much, and the same went for me, too. But as I left, I thought about why it was so hard to leave my son, even knowing that I'd be back soon. He might have one teacher who doesn't understand separation anxiety (a concept my eight year old is familiar with), but his other teacher seems very nice, and I love the principal...so it's not really the school I'm worried about.
Well, part of it is that J.J. wasn't expecting to go to this school. He assumed he'd be attending preschool across the street from our house, which is a pretty reasonable assumption. It's just that it's too expensive there.
You know what it is? When you leave a child who's crying, it magnifies how long you'll be gone. You feel like you're parting for 1,000 years.
I've tried to think about people who have it worse. Like soldiers leaving their families not for hours, but for years. And the Chinese gymnasts, who were taken from their homes at age three simply because they showed promise on the pummel horse.
This strategy never works. Even knowing that other people have bigger problems than you, your's appear bigger because you're closer to them. It's a simple matter of perception.
Still Day 3
When I picked J.J. up at the end of the day, the little girl who was pressed for time was leading the class in the alphabet. J.J. was quietly smiling up at her, as if thinking, "She is putting on quite a show."
Well, I guess that little girl had things to do, after all.
When J.J. saw me through the window, he started laughing. So did the boy next to him, even though he didn't know what they were laughing about. I walked in and sat down behind J.J. He sat on my lap, and now the girl (and the teacher) were helping the class count to ten. J.J. was loving it.
Afterwards, I signed him out, and his teacher (the separation one) said, "You know, after you leave, he's happy. He does a good job. I know it's hard for him--and you. I went through the same thing with my kids when they went to daycare."
"Thank you," I said.
I guess she knew about separation anxiety after all, but had forgotten.
As J.J. left, the same girl who said, "Here we go again," waved to him, along with some other kids. "Bye, J.J.," they said.
He turned and waved to them, laughing, "Bye bye."
Maybe this does get a little easier.