L. is back in school today, after two weeks off for Fall Break. Last week he finally settled into a rhythm at home--he was relaxed and approachable, happy and visibly de-stressed. I thought about that old saying about vacations: how you need the first week to recover from work, and then the second week to really enjoy yourself and unwind. Then, of course, just when you feel more relaxed, you have to go back, and so it begins again.
And so we begin again.
I'm optimistic on the outside about L.'s return to school. L. is optimistic that this next quarter will be a good one, and I want to be there with him--I so do, but inside I'm holding my breath, steeling myself. It's as if there are two sides to me: an exuding-confidence, cheerleading side, right there, next to L. every step of the way, and a tentative, anxious side, buried below, readying for the entry into lockdown mode. Both sides are necessary, both are critical to his success, whether school ends up working out for him or not.
I realized yesterday, when I had a little quiet time to myself to think a little (when you're a busy mother you learn to never take for granted those little quiet moments), that all parents must walk around fully aware that those two sides of themselves are always there: the side that gulps down fear each time your child tackles a new milestone, and you realize, just as you are shedding tears of pride and joy, that the surpassing of that milestone takes them a little further from you. We cheer our kids on, assure them they can do it all. We give them the verbal push that sends them tottering off on their first bowlegged steps, then the physical nudge that sends them careening away on their first two-wheel bicycle ride. We take them to daycare, or nursery school, or elementary school and wave heartily to them from the door, or car window, our bravado, our smiles, our cheery voices driving away their own fears and tears. Inside, we're aching with them, whether we believe that such separations are an inevitable and important rite of passage or not, or because we know it's all in the name of necessity, or independence, or growing older.
I remember that in the days before T.'s big surgery I felt I had to reassure L. constantly that things were going to be okay--not because he didn't think they would be; in fact he said very little about it at all, and seemed more concerned--just as most four-year olds would be--with how T.'s surgery would take me away from him. But I know now, looking back, that all the forced confidence and assurance was more for myself, than it was for L. I wanted to bury, firmly and deeply, that other half of myself--the one that lay awake at night plagued with fears and worries, the one who tried on what losing T. might feel like, found it utterly unbearable, and fled, into some dark corner, whimpering.
The other day I was at the playground, pushing L. in the swing, just like I used to do in the old days, when he was little. A mom was nearby, with her little girl, probably about five, who wanted to climb a nearby tree. In fact, just from overhearing the exchange between mother and daughter, it seemed she'd been trying to get up the courage to climb the tree for weeks.
"You can do it!" Her mother cheered her on, showing her again how she could put her foot on the knobbly parts of the trunk and hoist herself up. Finally the little girl took a deep breath and in one amazingly fast motion--amazingly fast for someone who had spent so long debating it--hurled herself up onto the lowest branch, teetered there precariously for what must have seemed to the mother like forever, and then burst into a huge "I did it!" smile.
And I saw in that mother's face what must be mirrored in all mother's faces at such times: joy and pride. But there, recognizable to me because I know its face--the double-side to the joy and pride: fear and emotion kept in check. When the mom saw we watching she half-turned to me and made a fluttering motion over her heart--a "whew!" gesture, one that I understood immediately, and I gave her a thumbs-up back--I understood.
Last night we talked with L. about his return to school. He had a terrible day on Sunday, filled with rages, and fought panic over school all day long. Nothing was right for him, nothing good. Finally, at bedtime, he seemed to have reached some sort of peace.
"I think this will be a better quarter for me," he said.
"I think it will be, too!" I said, feeling that cheerleader side of myself rising to the forefront, squashing down the tentative, anxious, steeling-myself-for-lockdown side.
This is a difficult day for me: much more difficult than I thought it would be. I am bracing myself for the walk-up line, holding my hand to my heart, cheering L. on every step of the way.
Give me a huge thumbs-up, will you?
Give L. a huge thumbs-up.