Five-Years-Old, Kindergarten, and Ripping My Heart From My Chest

For me five-years-old is kindergarten. Today she is five tomorrow she starts kindergarten.  She will be in school all day. For the first time I will drop her off at the curb instead of holding her hand and guiding her to her class. She will be in a room with 26 five-year-olds. For all the new moms out there, this milestone is hard. It seems like it will never happen, but then it happens, and it happens fast.

My shining star, beating heart, quiet, sweet, and innocent baby is going to kindergarten.

Yesterday she spent twenty minutes being assessed by her teacher and maybe said three words – painful, gut-wrenching, grab my heart with your bare hands and rip it from my chest – all words to describe being a mother of a painfully shy child starting a new school year.

“I spelled one word perfectly,” she told me as we left her school assessment.

“Which word?” I asked.

“No,” she said, “N-O-A.”

In other words, (1) her teacher did not learn much in the assessment, (2) I maybe should have spent more time practicing letters with her this summer, and (3) I wanted to grab her (teacher) and shake her and tell her how sensitive, brilliant, and special my baby is. My heart literally breaks sending her into a giant classroom.  I feel as if I am releasing her into a pack of  Wild Dogs.

I fear that since she is quiet her teachers and classmates might miss her sparkle.

I want everyone to see her SPARKLE. She is spectacular.

She is my first visit to the Southern Hemisphere, a dark night with no electricity for hundreds of miles. I tilt my head back and look up into the night sky. There is a magnificent carpet of stars and as my eyes skim the horizon, I see the Southern Cross.

She is the cold sand between my toes, quiet, and peaceful with a glowing moon overhead. I tentatively stick my foot into the saltwater and – POW – glowing phosphorescence swirl around my feet. I swipe my toes across the water and a glowing trail follows it.

This is my daughter.

She walks on her toes – a quirk – some say a problem. When she was three-years-old, I asked her P.E. teacher about it. Her reply, “Some of the fastest runners in elementary school are the kids who walked on their toes.”

My five-year-old is fast. She is confident about her speed. “I am the fastest,” she says, challenging anyone to a race. Long legs and endless endurance, she loves to run.

She is an observer. She learns visually. She may be the most observant person I have ever met. I too like to observe. She hasn’t yet learned it’s impolite to stare, but she is watching the way the world works, soaking it all in, and remembering the details.

My girl has been to three new schools in three years. We had bad luck with preschools. She is nervous, introducing herself into each new situation. It is scary going to new schools. She gets anxious. Each year on the first day she does not cry. She walks right in. She says goodbye and lets me leave. She tells me to leave. My daughter is the essence of BRAVE.

She is learning to make friends, learning to ask others to play, and to join a crowd of her peers. She watches. She learns. At the beginning of her pre-kindergarten year, I asked her what she did during free play at school.

“I play puzzles.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I can do it on my own.” At first I considered this a sad response, but then realized this is a SMART response. She knows how to handle new situations on her own. She knows what games she can play by herself and be happy.

First she circled the girls she wanted to play with like a humming bird she gracefully hovered nearby. She circled them until they asked her to play. She was with a group of kids many of whom had been at the same school for three years and she gradually learned to play with them.

 *****

She is generosity. Her heart is gold.

“Wow,” her teacher whispered. My daughter received a chocolate covered strawberry at her end of the year party. When her sister and I picked her up it was untouched. She smiled and offered her sister the first taste. “Most kids don’t do that,” her teacher confided.

She is kindness.

This summer I told the girls they would receive a treat if they participated in their swim class. Her little sister screamed by the pool, refusing to participate. She stayed dry loudly. My oldest swam. She kicked and suddenly her freestyle looked like freestyle. “You get a treat,” I told my big girl proudly as her sister screamed in the car seat beside her.

I gave my oldest a gummy peach. As I put the car in reverse, I peered into the rear view mirror. My daughter bit the gummy in half and handed half to her sister.

She is patience

*****

“She sings like a bird,” a schoolmate whispered to his mother.

First day of school and her pre-k teacher asked her name. I gently elbowed her, pushing her to respond. Silence. Sometimes she hides within herself like a rollie pollie bug, folding into itself at the slightest touch. This year she feared asking for a pencil. She feared asking to go to the bathroom. She had an accident. We (her teachers and parents) were concerned.

But then …

At preschool graduation my daughter stood in front of her entire class and ALL their parents and sang. She sang beautifully. She sang loudly.

“Are you nervous,” I asked.

“No mom,” she rolled her eyes as if I was crazy.

My four-year-old sang. “Peace like a river, I know peace like a river, I know peace like a river in my soul.” The words poured from her mouth and tears spilled from my eyes. She is meant to sing.

Since she was two-years-old she sang in tune.

She is a performer.

The night before preschool graduation, she danced in a recital in front of literally hundreds of people. I was nervous. “Are you nervous?” I asked, dropping her off with over a hundred dancers from classes across the city hours before the show.

“No Mom.” Again, huge eye roll, (I’ve been getting a lot of those lately).

She performed beautifully. Grace personified. She moved across the stage. I underestimated her ability.

“She is a ballerina,” my ex-ballerina sister gushed over the phone after watching the video. “I tease you guys about your dancing, but Justine, she is good.” I let the words sink in.

Acting camp. She knew no one. At the end of the week performance her words rang loud and clear.

My daughter is a star.

Her Elsa rendition – out of this world.

The Hans and Anna duet with her dad – show stopping.

Annie songs – impeccable.

Daring, this summer my daughter jumped on a horse bareback, grabbed its mane, and eagerly kicked it to trot.

A photographic memory, she beats me at memory cards. (I am sleep deprived but her mind is mystifying).

She draws hyenas, foxes, elephants, and portraits of her family in amazing detail.

She is still passionate about hyenas. Foxes are a close second.

This year we read books by Roald Dahl, E.B. White, and Judy Blume. Fudge is our favorite.

She is not scared of spiders or snakes.

She is gorgeous with big brown eyes, curly hair, eyelashes that will never need mascara, dark skin, and long legs. Her looks are a beautiful mixture of her Dad and me.

She is strong. She repeatedly swings herself across the monkey bars.

She will be the youngest in her class. As her mother, I worry whether we made the right decision or whether we should have kept her in preschool for one more year.

But then …

“It’s my turn,” she snapped loudly, pushing herself in front of a group of girls at a birthday party. Her newly found confidence is music to my ears.

We go to the park and she gets on the swing. All of a sudden, her legs stretch out and her body leans slightly back. Her knees bend and she leans forward the slightest bit. The swing gets higher and higher. My daughter soars. Her legs stretch into the trees. A sign.

“Look at me,” she shouts. She’s got it. The monkey bars, the swings, the rock wall, my five-year-old dominates the playground. Back and forth she goes, higher and higher, my baby bird soars free. She is brilliant. She is beauty. She is strength.

Five years ago, she pulled the heart from my chest and this girl holds it there.

“What do you want for your birthday?” I ask.

“Stuffed hyenas, balls to play all different sports, and a bike without training wheels.”

The best answer ever. After this birthday, she will own every hyena ever manufactured.

Wow, she is the coolest.

*****

Dear Teacher,

Please work hard to discover that my daughter is so much more than her assessment.  You will love what you see. Please help her make a friend.

Sincerely,

A mother who loves her daughter fiercely and completely.

P.S.

I know this may be a little helicoptery, but the toilet flush in the girls bathroom at school is really confusing.  I hope you explain it to the kids. (It’s one of those big 1970s circular flushes you kick with your feet).  I am kicking myself that I didn’t take her into the bathroom and show her how it works. I know I am already borderline being labeled “Crazy Mom”, so I am refraining from emailing you about this before the first day of school.

(Instead I am posting a pretend email on my blog – CRAZY).

Worries Clouded by Privilege

I am a worrier.   As a child I was a worrier. I lay in bed and worried. I worried about my family. If anyone went out in the evening, I lay awake and worried until they came home. I worried there would be an accident, a drunk driver, a catastrophic event, a mugging or a murder. My mind went and still goes crazy with worry. I never feel safe until the family is safely tucked in their beds. Even then I plan escape routes in the case that someone breaks into my home. Where do I hide when I dial 9-1-1? Who grabs the children? Where do we wait until the police arrive?

I am a worrier. I worry about crazy things.

Growing up in Boulder, Colorado, my brother and his friends got into the typical teenage mischief, even a little more than the typical mischief. My friends and I did the same. As teenagers weekend nights were spent drinking beer and schnapps in parks around town. Summer nights we hopped fences and went swimming in private pools. As we got older we crashed college parties. We were typical teenagers participating in typically harmless illegal activity. Most of these nights the cops would come. Sirens piercing the night air, the heavy thud of official fists pounding on front doors.   The cops came. We ran. We ran, jumped fences and crossed private property. We sprinted away as fast as we could. Teenagers breaking the law. They shouted at us to stop. Some of my friends laughed. The rebellious shouted profanities in return.

I am a worrier. I worry about everything. I worry about the craziest things. I never worried that a police officer would shoot me. I never worried that an officer would shoot my brother. I never worried that they would shoot any of my asshole friends. If you asked me if it ever crossed my mind whether an officer might pull his gun and shoot at us?

I’d respond – “ludicrous, inconceivable, crazy” – not something I worried about.

I am a worrier. I worry about crazy things.

I met my husband when we were in our early twenties. His pants sagged below his boxers, a hoody draped over his head. When he walked home from the bars late at night I never worried that police officers might stop and frisk him. I never worried that a neighborhood watchman would follow him and pull out a gun.  I never worried that an attitude toward authority would get him shot. His parents never worried about these things.

Even though I am a worrier and I worry about crazy things.

We live in a world that is not color blind. We live in a world of the haves and have-nots. We live in a world where black boys are shot unarmed just for being black boys. We live in a world where an 18-year-old black man is shot multiple times by a police officer weeks before he goes to college. We live in a world where the media criminalizes black victims by memorializing them with photos that make them look like thugs. We live in a world where a neighborhood watchman murders an African American teenager under the guise of “self-defense”. The teenager’s act of aggression – being black.

My daughter starts kindergarten in a couple of weeks and I am sick with worry. The list is long – will she be lost in the classroom, will she speak up for herself, will she make a friend, will she have someone to sit with at lunch and play with at recess.  The start of a long list of worries.

But then, I pause to think. I am the mother of a white girl. My worries are drenched in white privilege. If my children’s skin were a different color then there would be real worries.

My heart hurts for the mothers of black boys who have to worry about prejudice that I cannot even fathom. A world where police officers don’t represent safety.  A world where there is no presumption of innocence.  A world where their children must learn to convince people of their good.

I am a worrier.  I worry about crazy things.

America has reason to worry.

Racism exists. The world is not color blind. We must not cast a blind eye. How many unarmed black men must die before society makes changes?

#Ferguson #RIP #TrayvonMartin #MichaelBrown

Please read Sarah Bessey’s essay about Ferguson.  She describes the situation eloquently.

P.S.

I did not edit this essay.  I felt the need to say something.

Mom Guilt – I Will Do Better

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My head is heavy on my pillow. I roll over in my bed, trying to turn my brain off. It is time to sleep for hopefully three hours until the baby wakes me for his midnight snack. Instead I endure a mental pummeling. Why did I get so impatient when my four-year old treated the minivan like a jungle gym? I raise my voice too often. I tell them to hurry too much. I’m not a fun mom. I don’t read enough with the baby, his bedtime routine is non-existent. I was on the phone when I should have been playing with my three-year-old. I must schedule more special individual time with each of my kids.

Thoughts hit rapid fire, they don’t listen, is there something wrong with them, do other preschoolers listen better? Is their behavior normal? Is there something wrong with my parenting? Are my expectations too high? Am I putting unnecessary pressure on my oldest? Should I sleep train the baby? Will sleep training cause emotional problems?

I am so tired.

Pow. Bang. Boom. The punches keep coming. I take the blows like a professional, but I feel them hard in my gut. I gasp for breath, the guilt. I am a crappy mom. I must do better! I feel defeated.

I make a promise to myself.

Tomorrow I won’t raise my voice. Tomorrow I will be “fun” mommy. Tomorrow I will be less stressed and smile more. Tomorrow I will look at my phone less and play with my kids more. Tomorrow we will eat healthy foods. Tomorrow everyone will brush teeth morning and night. Tomorrow there will be less screen time. Tomorrow I will participate in child directed imaginary play (good for their self-esteem). Tomorrow I will get two loads of laundry done at least. I will return friends’ phone calls. I will be a better mom. I will be a better wife. I will be a better friend. I will be the fun parent.

                                                                       *****

I suffer from mom guilt. Every night I unleash an internal assault upon myself. It has gotten worse since the girls have gotten older and seem to deliberately antagonize each other and myself. I know I’m not alone. We all feel it. However, recently I discovered a temporary scapegoat for my mom guilt rage – Hands Free Mama.

Instead of directing my frustration at myself, my husband, my children or my dogs, I am directing my mom guilt anger at the Hands Free Mama. Her essays about putting the phone down, not yelling and not telling her children to hurry up have gone viral. I wholeheartedly agree that nothing is as important as the time we spend with our children. Further, she insists that we must focus on our young children because we will never get this precious time back (a true but very guilt inducing message).

She has one post in particular, The Day I Stopped Saying Hurry Up that makes me feel exceedingly guilty. The angelic mama eliminated “hurry up” from her vocabulary. One of her children was a “stop and smell the roses” type of child. Before becoming Hands Free, the writer lived a frazzled life. She told the child to hurry up. Then enlightenment struck, she realized she bullied her child by rushing her and decided that she would be more patient. Just like that, she reformed. She accepted her child for who she was and started scheduling herself at her daughter’s pace. Sometimes they were late, but she acknowledged “… I will be late only for a few years, if that, while she is young”.

In theory, I agree with the Hands Free Mama. My children are paramount. My time with them is priceless and I must do my best to enjoy my time with them without distraction. But, and this is a big but, I must do this in the context of the real world.

Hands Free Mama makes me (and possibly others) feel like bad mothers. Her perfection makes me mad. Maybe my anger stems from jealousy of her seemingly endless patience and energy? Or maybe it’s because she makes millions of women feel guilty because we fail to live up to her standards by setting our agendas to our preschoolers’ time clocks. We aspire to live as she does, but we fail because we are women who have jobs, household responsibilities and other children, in other words, full and busy lives.

American society has become very child-centric. Parenting theories a la the Hands Free Mama, tell us that we must focus even more on our children. If they act out, they are feeling ignored, so we must have time-ins rather than time-outs. We must never raise our voices. We must never be distracted when we interact with them. We must schedule our lives around endless afternoon activities. We must never get frustrated when our children don’t listen. We must. We must … And if we don’t, we are parenting failures.

We put too much pressure on ourselves to be too many things. We are human. Humans raise their voices. Humans get impatient. Humans sometimes need to make phone calls, respond to emails or meet work deadlines when their children are present.

Being human is not a disservice to our children. The real world is not going to revolve around our grown children.  As adults they will have to show up on time to school, interviews and work. Their future bosses, acquaintances, friends, husbands and wives will be human. They will be human and sometimes will raise their voices, make mistakes, be distracted and be busy. We must teach our children to forgive them when they do these things.

Children learn what it means to be human from their parents. Isn’t it best that we prepare our children for an imperfect world? I aspire to spend undistracted time with my children, to refrain from telling them to hurry up, to not raise my voice, to be patient and to spend quality time with each of them.

Most likely through the course of a day, I will sometimes be patient, undistracted, calm and fun, but I will also sometimes raise my voice, be impatient and distracted. If I am the un-pretty version of myself, I will apologize to them, I will try to do better and I will try to forgive myself for not being a“perfect” parent. My children will learn that I am human (as they are too) and make mistakes, but also learn the importance of taking responsibility for their own mistakes and saying sorry.