A friend called me yesterday. “Have you prepared the kids for going back to school?” she asked.
Sort of, I told her. Psychologically, at least. Maybe. About a week ago we began dropping little references about school into our conversations with L. We let him know how many days of vacation were left—almost a week, at the time we had the conversation. Yet although L. claimed to be happy school would start in one week, I could sense waves of anxiety rising off of him at the mere mention of it. I have spent eleven plus years tuned into this child; there is little, I think, that slips past me.
It’s okay, I told him. We still have lots of days left.
But I could feel him shutting down, withdrawing, even as I spoke the words. He’s pulled his shell in close; it’s been impenetrable. He piles his books around him at night, and reads over the same pages in his Star Wars visual dictionaries, over and over again, his mind finding comfort in the same old pictures and diagrams. Around and around his brain goes, treading along that safe groove. I despair, for the thousandth (millionth?) time how we will help him learn—if not to embrace change and transition—to accept it and to function well within it.
We haven’t done much practically-speaking to get either of the kids ready. Scott and I talked about getting the kids to bed early a few nights, and making an effort to rouse them before 8:00 in the mornings. The holiday has made us lazy. We all stay up too late, and blissfully sleep in until past 8:00. L. has been burning the midnight oil, and he’s often still in bed at 9:00 the next day and 9:30, and, one monumental day, even 10:00. We spent too many years of our lives chronically sleep-deprived to toss away that old adage about not waking sleeping kids. It seems a sort of sacrilege to get them up on the last few mornings of the holidays.
I emptied the kids’ backpacks, and did piles of laundry yesterday. I assembled their lunches, and baked some cookies for T.’s school snack and lunch. I thought about how happy I had been to stash away T.’s lunch bag at the start of the winter holiday, and to shove the backpacks out of sight into the depths of the coat closet. Now we have taken them all out again. I almost winced as I pulled out L.’s heavy binder and leafed through it, the spectre of homework battles and grades and expectations, met or unmet, mine or those of others, rising before me. I realized, as I folded clean clothes into T.’s backpack, and hung up L.’s self-designated “school clothes” that the tightness around my chest these past few days, and the melancholy knot in my throat, have been the physical manifestations of my own reluctance to step into this transition, to leave behind the easy, warm and glittery days of the holidays, and step into the purpose-driven, chaotic school and work days upon us now.