At the preschool meet-and-greet, my daughter’s teacher seemed overly concerned that parents might have a hard time adjusting to their babies going to school for the first time, especially if they’d previously been at home and not in daycare.
I’ve never so much as hired a babysitter.
Once the teacher caught wind of that insanity, she told me about Tea and Tissues. It’s an annual event for the moms (and dads) who need solace after watching their kids turn their backs and walk away, off to big kid land. Without them. Distraught parents can park in the side lot after taking their kids through the car line, trudge inside the school, and sob into tissues and cups of tea with other parents. Me? I preferred a nice, steaming cup of coffee – in a caf’, alone – and the stack of magazines that’s been growing in my living room since last December. I did not shed a single tear. I may have even giggled a little.
I’ve been looking forward to my daughter’s first day of school since it dawned on me that it was my job to help her make friends. Me? ME? I’m a classic example of a shy introvert, tongue-tied over chit-chat in the grocery store line. I still have the same best friend I made in third grade, and I’ve barely added anyone new to my list of people I can hang out with unselfconsciously. I have a knack for convincing myself that I’ve said the most offensive things possible to the people it’s the hardest or most embarrassing to offend. In other words, I am not the person to call when you need help making a friend. Play dates might as well be discussions on quantum entanglement – interesting, but I’m out of my element there.
As for teaching, I can only do so much, and again, I’m not exactly the most patient person in the world. I get frustrated when I can’t just think about something really, really hard and have an understanding magically pop into someone else’s brain like I’ve just emailed them a mental PDF that explains everything, complete with charts. Breaking down and articulating how to read is beyond me; I maxed out at flashcards with animals on them as far as my teaching abilities go. Oh, I’ve seen the looks I’ve gotten when trying to squeeze better results out of yet another episode of, “Yes, you CAN read this word. You know all the letter sounds. Stop telling me you don’t know what sound ‘T’ makes. You dooo, you just told me yesterday.” We’ve had some success, and I haven’t managed to suck all the fun out of learning quite yet, but it was time to back off and let a pro do at least some of it.
That first morning, we waited in the car line to drop my daughter off for about 10 or 15 minutes, so the reality had time to sink in. As we made our way around to the door and said our goodbyes, my daughter and husband were both on the verge of tears. After she marched bravely off into the school with her oversized canvas bag and fresh new haircut, I remembered that I should probably get a picture of her there, but I missed it. Oh well. At least I had gotten a few at home. My husband sighed as we pulled away. The backseat was silent.
“Feeling sad? She’s not a baby anymore.” I tried to keep my tone level.
“Nauseous.” He did look a little pale against his button-up. “I’ll just cry on the way to work.”
The right side of my mouth started to twitch, but I tried to keep the full smile under wraps until I got out of the car. I nodded as if I could relate, but I couldn’t. The day was mine! I couldn’t wait to get home to a quiet house and then enjoy a cup of coffee that promised not to get cold before I could drink it. I could even go to a caf’! Read magazines! I could work without feeling guilty about using a Disney movie as a babysitter (though Mary Poppins might almost be as good as a nanny).
Meanwhile, I knew my daughter would be making friends at school without me refereeing; she would learn things I didn’t have the patience to teach her. From now on, I could just congratulate her when she grasped a concept! Then we could go to the library and find books to read together, curled up on the sofa.
These days, when my daughter comes home every day with an exciting story to tell about how much FUN school is, what she learned, or who got in trouble, I have the time, energy, and attention span to ask more questions and then engage her in a game of Candyland or her new favorite, Chutes and Ladders.
I can do whatever the hell I want again, for four whole mornings a week. I can go to Target and not push the bulky “mom” cart I tend to sideswipe old ladies with. I can sit in Starbucks with magazines or my laptop until they kick me out for not ordering enough lattes. I can hear the music in my car and ride with the moon roof open if I want to. That’s freedom, folks. And that’s why, on that first day of school, I felt like I was going off to college again.