Finally, after being out of school since June 15th, and being out of summer camp since Aug 17th, after traveling across the U.S. and the Pacific with just her family, her 3 year-old brother her only peer, Thora will start up at school tomorrow, beginning the first day of the fourth and final quarter of the academic year. I’m split between feeling excited for her (she thrives in social settings) and giddy for my own freedom (my only breaks for the last 6 and 1/2 weeks have been 45-55 minute runs a few times a week and showers, and even then, only the occasional shower goes uninterrupted by kids storming the bathroom demanding that I resolve some dispute). Of course, at the moment, I’m also feeling mildly terrified for her.
Today, the parents of Thora and Auric’s first friend here arranged a get-together so that we could meet some other families with kids Thora and Auric’s ages. And while the kids were as nice as can be expected, it was painful to watch Thora cling to me, without any self-reliance whatsoever. Who is this kid?
I know, I know, there have been a lot of changes and I need to be more understanding to her current needs. But this is the kids who would dictate the plan of the play to her friends (often the elaborate plot to a drama that they would act out) from the seat of the toilet! While pooping! It’s hard for me to see her feeling so insecure. Part of me is just over-tired of being “on” all the time with the kids. And so today, being around other parents and kids, I wanted the break of having a grown-up conversation. (Particularly since it had been a long weekend with Sean in the hospital on call for most of it, and also particularly because they were both literally crawling all over me as we sat there trying to eat lunch.) And yes, I realize that part of my motivation was a selfish desire to shed my kids for those few moments the way these parents had, so effortlessly, the way I use to be able to do.
But it wasn’t all selfishness. (I promise!) There was part of me that wanted to refuse that this mingling was beyond her. She can do this! She can walk up to these kids and ask to join in. She can show them her merit, her humor, her playfulness. She doesn’t need me. (Please let her not need me!) Because tomorrow I won’t be there. Part of me hopes that she used me as a crutch today because I was there. And when the crutch isn’t there, she’ll find that she has had the strength all along, like Dumbo! (Isn’t there a magical pair of underwear that the cricket convinces Dumbo is what allows him to fly but really it was his courage all along? I don’t think I have this quite right. Magic underwear?!?)
Of course, it’s unrealistic and insensitive for me to expect that there will be no difficult moments along this journey, that I won’t have to dig deep as her parent to support her, just as I know she’ll have to dig deep tomorrow to find the courage not to cry, to drown out the white noise of her fear with a louder shout of confidence. And so that’s why, after it was clear that she wasn’t going to initiate some play with these kids, I accompanied her over to the group of kids and asked if Thora and Auric could join in. Things got better at that point, and I think things might’ve really gotten rolling if the play wasn’t interrupted by a sudden, but thankfully mild, pants-wetting by one of the kids (of course, I was the only parent over with the kids at that point and so I accompanied the girl to the public toilets,) and then just as we were headed back to play, Auric decides that he has to poop, so back to the public toilets I go. (Side note: what is it about my kids and/or public toilets that they LOVE to hang out in public toilets?!? Seemingly every outing contains a painfully long intermission in the germy, most-often odoriferous confines of a public toilet, wanting to have conversations about deep issues while pooping, meanwhile the other child is caressing a mind-boggling number of surfaces. Gah!!!) In the end, it seems that Thora just needed a little nudge in the right direction, her own pair of “magic underwear” as it were.
Ironically, in the past few weeks, we’ve found ourselves singing the song from The Sound of Music, “I Have Confidence.” Thora, as is her method of finding out about the world, will ask me all sorts of whys about that song, e.g. why does Maria deflate upon arriving at the gate of the Von Trapp family estate? or what does she mean when she sings, “I have confidence in confidence alone?” I think I’ll have to remind her of this song tomorrow as we’re getting ready for school. We’ll need to gently remind her of all the brave things she’s done in her life, like start kindergarten in a Chinese-Immersion program where half of the 8-hour day was completely taught in Mandarin; like performing all 19 moves of Chun Ji to earn her final black tape on her black striped belt in order to earn the next-highest yellow solid belt in Tae Kwon Do; like quieting her nerves to run races in NYC and Boston; like getting on an airplane and flying 14 hours to a new part of the world…
More to come tomorrow, after this First, one that we’ve anticipated for so long, is finally behind us.