I started writing this on Monday so there you go

So! Here we are! A week to Christmas! Isn’t it grand!

I hope you’re as excited as my kids about that. I am … not as excited as my kids. Many things conspire to make me particularly peeved today, though I did almost find myself getting a tiny whiff of a hint of the seasonal spirit over the weekend. Almost.

So, this is what’s been going on, briefly. One of my children – I won’t say which, in a pathetic attempt at shielding their anonymity – has been experiencing school refusal. Which means we have all, as a family, been experiencing it, because it has what people might call trickle-down effects. And in spite of the way I feel on x out of y number of mornings, said child is not just doing this to be bad, or difficult, or to make my life miserable. School refusal is a Real Thing that children suffer from, for one reason or another.

I’m not going to go into the whats and whys of it all because that part is not my story to tell. But how frustrated and blocked I feel on days when the child who should be in school is not in school – I think I’m allowed talk about that here. If I’m spending all morning trying to talk someone into getting dressed and leaving the house and maybe even getting out of the car once we get to the parking lot, I’m not getting in my tiny, paltry amount of exercise, or writing anything or feeling in any way useful. Instead I’m feeling more and more ineffectual, which is not good for anyone’s mental health.

We are dealing with it. No advice required thank you. It’s just that, as the kids get older we stop talking about them so much, here in blogland – but this is when we need the support of our mom-friends just as much as ever, maybe more. We need to know that these challenges (let’s call them) don’t mean we’re bad parents, they don’t mean we’ve failed, or broken our children. The job changes when it’s no longer about poop and boobs and sleepless nights, but it doesn’t always get easier.

On the flip side, the days when school attendance is achieved, on time even, I am delighted. I do a happy dance, I feel light and free and like a leaf on the wind. I feel that this is the beginning of a beautiful new era, and that anything is possible. In short, I feel the way I used to feel when the baby (either baby, whichever) slept all night, or something like all night. It’s a glorious day.

Apart from that, a couple of nice/silly things.

Thing one:

Finally, this year, when the kids are 9 and 11, we are at a point where I feel safe leaving the presents under the tree, because they can both handle the suspense and enjoy the anticipation. And they’re loving it so much – announcing to each other after school how many new presents have appeared, cataloguing them, showing their father, sneaking in parcels for each other.
So if you are wondering when or if this moment will ever come in your house, I offer you hope.
(Of course this year we have two cats, so we have to defend all the presents from them now…)

And thing two:

Dash says that when he was very small he thought that people were born whatever age they were. Evidently the whole growing part hadn’t yet sunk in. So when I told him people grew in their mummies’ tummies he thought that was going to be very awkward if the person in question was, like 40 or something.
Which just goes to show that no matter how clearly you think you have explained something to a small child, they will manage to get it arseways and make for themselves some totally bonkers explanation about it.

How’s the season going for you, then?

Bare trees reflected in the water, blue sky
Not very festive picture, but it is seasonal.
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Reasons why I took a shower at 4pm today

I got into the car at 5:20pm with my hair still wet, to go to a parent association meeting at Dash’s school. Everyone will think I’ve come from the gym, I thought to myself, amused by the irony, because why else would someone shower in the middle of the afternoon?

I imagined the conversation going something like this:

– Were you at the gym?

– No, I just showered now because at 7am I had to wake my third-grader with a cat and make waffles and at 8am a guy appeared on the doorstep to vaccuum all the heating vents and at 9am I was jubilantly booting the third grader in the door to school and then having a conversation with a mom-friend about our impossible children and at 10am I was back at home wondering if the vents guy had accidentally let out one or both cats and trying to write through the din of sucking how many years of dust through the tubes behind the walls and at 11am I was on the phone to the hospital in Ireland hearing about my dad’s brand new broken leg and at 12pm I was paying the vents guy an inordinate amount of money and locating in the basement the traumatized cats and at 1pm I was talking to the estate agent in Dublin about house showings and at 2pm I was printing out forms from the solicitor that I’d already signed and sent back but that appear to have gone astray in Hurricane Ophelia to send by registered post all over again and going to the supermarket for more juice boxes and at 3pm I was in the car driving to school to pick up the sixth grader and at 4pm I was finally able to take a shower so that at 5pm I could make myself a sandwich before welcoming my husband home and leaving the house again to drive to the ten-miles-away school for the second time today for this 6pm meeting.

I might have just told them I was at the gym after all, to save us all that, in spite of the ridiculous lie that would have been. But nobody asked, because everyone else’s day was probably just as busy as mine and quite possibly more so, because that’s how life is.

At 8pm I got to write a blog post with a gin & tonic and a bottomless bowl of pita chips while spinning the Twister arrow and laughing at the rest of my family contorting themselves as they sang along to the Buffy musical episode soundtrack.

They’re not so bad, maybe.

Tipping point

Before:

I stepped outside around 8:30 this evening. It’s uncharacteristically chilly for late August, so I’m wearing jeans and a cardigan with my sandals and my t-shirt, but the kids are still mostly running around in shorts and short sleeves.

Someone had an amazing new electric toy car, big enough to sit in, with all sorts of bells and whisltes that basically make it better equipped than our Corolla was (bless its dear departed soul), and the children were all taking turns in it and wandering along behind as it bumbled along. The current occupants were two and four years old, and the two-year-old would prove tricky to dislodge. The novelty gradually dimmed for the others and they turned to other pursuits.

To wit: my 11 year old pulling our 12-year-old neighbour along on roller blades, using two hockey sticks as reins. My 8 year old on a tricycle that fits a two year old, knees popping up above her shoulders at every turn of the pedals, undaunted, three mothers chatting, a three year old jealously guarding a bag of popcorn, a small dog, a small boy with a new tennis ball, glowing lumniously in a way that made me realise that it’s getting dark.

They came in without much complaint, enticed by the prospect of a movie, tired after a long day with friends and a late night last night. The summer is all but ended, the grand flourish and spectacle of the Labor Day Festival all that stands between us and school – new starts, new teachers, old friends, new notebooks and pencils and scissors and glue sticks.

****

After:

The Labor Day festival is done. Mabel won two blue ribbons in the art show and one in the photo show, in contrast to my none at all. Dash had more goes on the bumper cars than you might have thought possible. Their father spent 40 minutes queueing up to go on one of the fast and scary rides, which wasn’t all that fast or scary. I spent 5 hours working the book stall in the rain, so it wasn’t very busy at all. Mabel met all the dogs at the festival, of which there were many.

On Tuesday and Wednesday night Mabel put herself to bed, early, in anticipation of school the next day. This was an instant turnaround from the whole weekend that had gone before, which was full of nights so late you would not believe (even though we were not out), and associated sundry “I’m not tired, I don’t know why you always think I’m tired” meltdowns. On Wednesday and Thursday she got up and ready for school like an angel child, and brushed her hair both at night and in the morning, and was a model pupil, at least from where I was standing. (Nowhere near her, not allowed wield a camera or phone in her direction for a first day of third grade photo.)

This morning the novelty had worn off and I had to coax/reason/yell at her to go to school. Maybe by next week we’ll have reached a happy medium.

Dash also started school, with less drama of extremes. He’s a middle schooler now, because in America most middle schools start at 6th grade, but since his wonderful, fabulous (expensive) school goes all the way from 4th to 12th grade, even though they try to make a big deal of it, it’s not the big adjustment that it is for most kids. It’s the same place, the same kids, many of the same teachers. He does have to change classrooms and teachers more often, and remember to be in the right place because he’s not just following his friends to wherever they’re going too, and he seems to have a lot more homework, but apart from that it all seems to have been a pretty smooth transition.

And I’ve managed to get a lot done in three days. None of that has involved tidying up the mess in the family room, but maybe I’ll get around to that next week.

At least the cats still pose for photos

 

Minx

Today is Mabel’s last day of first grade. She did not deign to pose for a photograph.

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She bought her own chocolate croissant at the farmer’s market yesterday morning. Not even with me standing beside her: she left us sitting on the hill and headed off to the bakery booth by herself, a five-dollar bill flapping in her hand. I don’t know if she was polite, but she got what she went for and brought us back the change. She wrote thank-you cards to three of her teachers last night, with minimal prompting from me and no dictation required. They weren’t exactly individualised, but they were quite nice and very neat.

She made a poster for her brother’s lemonade stand, but then she quit the job because he wouldn’t give her any free samples. You need to negotiate your terms of employment up front, I told her. But I told her he needs to learn some managerial skills too.

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She builds houses and towers and spawns wolves and ocelots in Minecraft, she wheedles me into putting more games for her to play on my Kindle Fire, she can quote The Princess Bride at an apposite moment.

She still draws while she watches tv, piles and piles of papery people with varying expressions and colourful clothes. She still puts her babies to bed under blankets, and makes families of puppies and little tableaux of Playmobil figures or plastic dinosaurs. She still wants someone to stay with her until she falls asleep.

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She is still completely unreasonable quite often, but she does it with such minxy insouciance that half the time we have to laugh. “Miss Unreasonable-Pants,” I called her the other night, and she spent the next five minutes narrating an argument between the two legs of her unreasonable pants.

She’s seven and a half. When did she get so big?

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Walkers

This morning Mabel had planned to walk to school on her own, with a friend from a few doors over. The friend, a year younger but much braver, was all for it. Mabel had been enthusiastic, but I wasn’t surprised when, last night, she started having second thoughts. On Friday, I had belatedly and panickingly wondered if she even knew how to safely cross a road (things you might forget to tell your not-firstborn), so I went over the importance of making sure a driver sees you even if they appear to have stopped. I’d done the job a little too well, though, and now she was worried about the roads, and the cars. (There are a few small roads to cross on the pleasant and suburban half-mile trot to school. The last is actually an exit from the school, but the big yellow buses come out there with their drivers seated way up high where they’re hard to see.)

Mabel often worries about things at night that are no problem at all the following morning (don’t we all?), but this morning she was adamant that she still wanted me to go with them after all. The friend, who appeared at our side door on the dot of 8:40 as planned, was a little disappointed, but I promised to hang back and let them pretend they were walking alone. Two sets of bare legs, not yet summer-bronzed, preceded me to school – Mabel’s skirt much shorter than I had thought; maybe it should be relegated to weekend use; where did those extra three inches of leg above her knee come from, I wondered – two smooth-haired heads turned towards each other with giggles and assertions all the way there, explanations of the project poster Mabel was carrying, declarations of a nonsense game where they were in higher grades, were each other, had funny names. Mabel looked back to make sure I was still there every few minutes, though.

I don’t really want to stop walking her to school, though I do want her to walk herself home (with some friends) next year because that will make my life a little easier. I have to push her a little, bolster her confidence and give her the tools she needs without making her too scared to venture forth with my talk of what could go wrong – she comes up with the worst-case scenario all too easily by herself.

She can rise to the occasion perfectly well, and she will.

Two girls on the sidewalk
Not today’s picture, but t’will do.

First grade, third year

Dash and Mabel in the airport
Three years and three days ago

It’s December 14th and I have a first-grader again, just like three years ago.

I remember picking Dash up from school on this day in 2012. I was trying hard not to think about the news that was still coming out, but already terrible, unthinkable, not to be thought of. I remember looking at the faces of the other parents waiting outside the school, wondering if they had also been glued to the news, the radio, the internet, before they left the house to come here. Wondering if I should tell them, in case they didn’t know.

There’s something about bad news. You have to pass it on. Not because you want to make other people miserable, but because it feels dishonest to let them keep going without knowing about it.

I didn’t say anything to anyone. I continued to try not to think about it. I waited for my little boy, my gap-toothed, tousled-haired, inventive, smart, mile-a-minute first-grader to run out the doors so that I could hug him and take him home and give him extra cookies and not tell him why.

I didn’t even know they were first-graders then. The news said they were kindergarteners. That’s okay, I thought, clutching at any straw I could to distance my life from the lives of those who were being torn apart that day. Mine is in first grade. It wouldn’t have been him.

It could have been him. It could have been anyone, but it was twenty first graders and four teachers in Connecticut, in a perfectly nice neighborhood, in a perfectly safe school, where terrible things never happened. Couldn’t possibly happen.

In the three years since, my children have heard about planes that crashed into skyscrapers, about people who have nowhere to live because of war, about shooters in Paris and bad people in other places. They’ve become used to emergency drills in school in case a bad guy ever comes and they have to hide in their classrooms. They think it’s normal; it doesn’t worry them unduly.

I’ve never told them about Sandy Hook.

It was a Friday, three years ago. The following Monday I didn’t have to send my children to school because we were flying to Ireland for Christmas. All the televisions at the airport were showing CNN, a nonstop news update on the victims, the shooter, the guns, what and where and how and why. I sat my two children directly below a pair of TVs, so that they couldn’t see them. I put headphones on their ears and movies on their little screen, and they were oblivious to the repeated words that might have caught their attention: first grade, teachers, elementary school, children, mother, son, dead.

This year I have a first grader again. I sent her to school this morning, just like every morning.

Mabel on a field trip
First grade on the march

Best day ever

Oh happy day.

Seriously. Neither of my children has homework today. It might just possibly be the best day ever.

This morning I had a meeting with Dash’s teachers, because they wanted to talk to me about some observations they’ve made about his reading and his vision.

And after we’d talked about that, and agreed that I should make a new appointment with the eye doctor because the teachers are convinced that a lot of his reading hurdles are still vision-related, I mentioned that homework is always a battle, especially the reading portion of it.

They instantly said “Well, what can we do to fix that? Can he stay on here and do it after school? Can he do it during the day? You should have told us sooner.” I was flabbergasted. I had been meaning to mention it at our parent-teacher meetings next month, but I didn’t seriously think they’d be able to take the burden of the 20 minutes of reading, cornerstone of homework requirement, away. Just like that, they did.

They still want him to do a little homework, for the executive functioning reason of developing a habit of getting out your work, checking what you need to do, and doing something at home. But if he can do the 20 minutes of reading, so much the sticking point for us every night, at school instead, our quality of life will be enormously improved.

This evening was so peaceful. Mabel happens to have no homework this week either, though her homework is not a battleground, but it was just the icing on the cake.

I mean, she still didn’t get out of the bath the first ten times I politely suggested she should, and nobody’s asleep yet, but as evenings go, I’d like more of this sort.

Dash on his new bike
No homework? Time to get up some speed on your new bike.