September 9, 2013 by Julia
So. Fiona is doing well – she has a sweet, down-to-earth teacher, a new friend to sit with on the bus, and good reports about her days in school. I’m still not totally convinced that five and six-year-olds should be in a full day of classes, but in most ways our family has been ready for this.
The last summer days before school began were idyllic in their outings and Popsicles and lazy mornings, but lacked challenges for Fiona. There are important things like…oh…READING…that she needs to learn, and Lord knows she doesn’t want to learn them from me, no matter how much I try to engage her academically. We were all getting itchy for structure. After five and a half years of being home with Fiona, I was looking forward to the luxury of actually missing her every once in a while. Jack’s vocabulary has just started to expand, too, and I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to give him more focused attention.
And last, but certainly not least…I HAVE NAP TIME BACK. IT’S MINE, ALL MINE!!! Jack naps in the afternoon while she’s at school, and for the first time in around twenty months, I get some midday downtime. People who go to work: it’s the equivalent of a lunch break. Usually longer than a lunch break if all goes well. Oh HO, but we earn it.
When Fiona was little(r), I used to dread the day when her naps would end. I wasn’t sure how I’d manage without them. Naps gradually disappeared around when she turned four, and we adjusted, but in truth it’s been hard. And not just because it was harder to clean, or sacrifice myself on some homemaking altar. It was hard because solitude is often my fuel. It’s what I need to become patient and empathic and giving again. (Also, it makes me happy. Our own happiness as mothers – nay, as people – is important in its own right, too! Why is that so hard for us to admit?) At the same time, I knew Fiona needed some individual time with me while Jack napped, and I wanted to give it to her.
But now, during Jack’s naps, I’m off-duty. I can read. I can watch Scandal on Netflix. I can do a couple of chores in silence, I can have a cup of mint tea, light a candle, do yoga, write, quiet, quiet, me, me, alone, oh hell to the yeah.
It has been wonderful, truly. Jack and I walk Fiona to the bus stop and then we’re on our own. Only two wills to navigate rather than three. We can head out to meet up with friends, or stay home and play his games, watch his shows, read his books. Easy peas-y (sort of). In fact, when I do see friends who are still bringing along more than one child to play dates, I feel something akin to survivor’s guilt. “Please let me hold your baby! Can I do something, anything?? My life is so easy now!”
I do feel bad about the lack of alone time with Fiona, now, and I am trying to figure out times that will work for us to have uninterrupted playing. Also, she’s such an introvert (NO idea where she got it from!) that I feel the need to protect her from too much social activity, to let her have downtime in the afternoons – which is a challenge, because her closest friends don’t go to her school.
The biggest challenge so far, though, is waiting out the adjustment period. I assumed Fiona would be so exhausted every day after school that she’d basically crash on the couch. Instead, she’s been bouncing off the walls. Sometimes it’s with excitement over a fabulous day in class (which I LOVE), but more times it’s with this explosive, rude, demanding, meltdown-o-rama. I know the acting out is partly exhaustion, partly a reaction to the major changes in her life, and I want to remain calm. I have a theory that she is on her best, soft-spoken, sweet behavior at school (because that is the way she was in preschool), and then when she gets home, she needs to let it all hang out. I want our home to be the safest place for her to express the “messier” emotions. I believe it means we’re doing our jobs as parents if she does well out in the world, and then saves up the darker stuff for us. It means she trusts us, but is learning how to be a good person away from us.
I’ve lost my temper, though. We’re more on edge when we’re together at home – which is surprising to me, because I thought we’d be more tolerant, with all the daily hours apart. She wants me around all the time, but I’m also not doing things the way she’d like. Which…sometimes I think it’s okay to indulge a child. We all need loved ones to bend the rules, give us a break sometimes. But there are limits. So we knock heads. And it’s not the way I envisioned our after-school time being. I imagined lovey-dovey cuddles on the couch with snacks, the mutual satisfaction of having space from each other and then being reunited, catching up. It’s happened, in moments. And when she comes skipping off the bus to hug me and Jack, it’s wonderful.
I keep questioning myself…did I start this bickering? Was I cranky first, or was she? Am I somehow exhausted by this big life change, too, and I just don’t know it? I do know that I feel more pressure to make the time with Fiona REALLY COUNT now. And I feel that there are no excuses left. My life is easier, my patience should come easier, too. But maybe that expectation is naïve. Maybe patience and empathy are qualities I will have to strive for, more times than not.
And then I get discouraged by the fact that everyone thinks his or her life is hard, no matter what, even the people with the easiest lives ever. (For some reason, I think about this a lot. And also the fact that we all think we’re busy.) Will I forget how much harder it was with both kids at home, full-time, and start to take Jack’s precious naptime for granted, as if it’s time that is owed to me, and I can’t live without it? Will I at some point consider this thrillingly different schedule too stressful? Because it’s not! Don’t forget, future me: this is a good place to be. Hey, that rhymed. Maybe I should stitch it on a pillow to remind myself. For the next seven and a half years until Fiona’s a teenager, anyway.
We can’t talk about that yet, though. My baaaaaaaaabby. This starting school thing is so complicated. Funny how you can know something is good, and yet the bittersweet feelings overwhelm you.