Freedom

A few days ago I wrote a post about my son’s upcoming first day of kindergarten and my resulting angst. As with many parents, that first day of “real” school is a huge letting-go milestone. I wrote about my fears and worries, the difficulty of handing him over to someone else.

However, upon a few days’  worth of thoughtful consideration, I’d like to recant those statements.

Today is the day. And the truth is, now that the time is upon us, I’m finding a strange joy bubbling up from some hidden source deep within. To my surprise, I find that I’m ecstatic that my wiggly, high-energy, million-questions-a-day, Neil-Degrasse-Tyson-watching boy will be someone else’s responsibility for six and a half hours a day. I’m delighted that I will be able to focus my attention on my two-year-old, who’s sometimes overlooked in favor of her big brother — maybe she’ll finally learn the difference between pink and purple (though I’m beginning to suspect she just likes the word “purple” more than “pink”). I’m thrilled to consider the possibility of occasional quiet time at home.

In fact, to be honest, I’m nearly tremulous with anticipation at the (perhaps too optimistic) thought of getting STUFF done! I have a whole list in my mind. Ready?

  1. I will SEW! I will finish fixing both the kitchen and dining area shades, which I made a year ago but are not perfect. The dog ate the string of one, and the string of the other is threadbare and lumpy and no longer catches properly. They both need dowels added so they rise smoothly without drooping. Possibly I will make them workable before my husband gets around to ordering more modern, sturdy wooden blinds sometime in the next few months, rendering my shades redundant.
  2. More sewing! I will make adorable appliqué bird pillows for the kids’ beds, to go with their future beautiful fairytale forest bedroom. I’ve never appliquéd, nor have I ever sewn pillows, nor have I yet found a pattern. Still, it’s on my to-do list.
  3. I will perfect the garden! Weeding! Trimming! Pruning! Mulching! Fall planting! Naturally, my two-year-old will follow me about like a well-trained puppy, pulling only actual weeds, never picking up my pruning shears and definitely never using them to chop into my roll of landscape fabric.
  4. Writing! I will catch up on multiple projects. Possibly I’ll write a chapter or two in my embryonic book, or edit the already-existing chapters. Maybe I’ll do some writing for the kids. Maybe I’ll keep up on this blog. Who knows? Anything could happen.
  5. I’ll shop! JoAnne Fabric, here I come! With only one toddler, firmly secured in the cart, I will stride through the aisles like a boss. I will gracefully promenade between rows of calico with not a single pause to dash after an errant child. The glassware and faux gardening tools will have no need to fear questing fingers. We’ll shop with confidence, just me and one small person whose arms are still too short to grab for interesting paint kits.

I’m sure you get the idea. Yes, I’m still anxious about my son’s future career as an elementary school student. Yes, I’ll be thinking about him all day. I’ll miss him and wonder how he’s doing every ten minutes. Still, I can’t help thinking ahead to all the time I will have with just one child for six and a half hours, five days a week. I’m a little bit excited.

What’s more important than all that freedom I so optimistically anticipate, though, is my growing belief that all this missing each other and hours away from each other will make our time together a little less stressful and more joyful. I think that my son will benefit from a more relaxed mom, a more refreshed mom; one who, after a daily break that might feel a little too long, will be more than willing to answer endless questions about the intricate workings of octopus tentacles or ant mandibles or crystalline structures. I think that I might be a little less “touched out”, as mom lingo has it, and more welcoming of my sweet boy’s need for hugging and contact. I’m excited that I’ll see him learning and growing in kindergarten, and I’m excited for the refreshing break each day so that I can be a better mom to a boy who deserves my best.

It’s going to be a great year.

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Birthday Angst

Niko has turned four. It was a bit of a letdown for him, I think. It seems he was expecting to be noticeably bigger, and to FEEL different. Instead, here he is, still himself. Maybe he’ll feel better after his little family celebration today, with balloons and hats and dinosaur decorations on cupcakes he helped make.

For me, his birthday is a source of anxiety. I don’t know how to celebrate birthdays. I certainly don’t feel up to organizing a multi-family celebration like the one we recently attended, which was lovely but would have left me a distressed mess of nerves if I’d been in charge of it.

I remember my own fourth birthday. I was allowed to wear my favorite dress: green gingham, topped with a white pinafore with an apple embroidered on the front. I walked with my parents and brother through the frosty winter early-morning darkness from our small house to the commune’s main gathering area (known as the Tabernacle – this was a religious commune) for breakfast. I was so full of excitement that I hopped up and down as I announced “I’m four!”

To my astonishment and distress, this was greeted with a unanimous refusal to believe my news. “No way!” “You are not!” “You’re still three! You’ll be three FOREVER.” I was on the brink of tears as I wondered if my mom had been misinformed. However, these were kind people who knew me very well and loved me as much as my own family did, and they quickly saw my worry and surrounded me with hugs and congratulations. I remember the smiling faces, being swung high in the air by a pair of strong friendly arms, the feeling of warmth fizzing inside at the rare display of excess attention.

And that was it. No birthday song – for years, I thought that was a fiction, something that authors invented for the benefit of their book characters. No hats, no balloons, no special meal. I had my first birthday cake two years ago, when I announced to Aaron that, despite being in my thirties, when many people are happy to stop counting the years, I wanted a birthday cake. He came through with a lovely pink grapefruit confection, topped with shimmering pink frosting and candles. I ate far too much of it and was satisfied that I had now had a birthday experience.

So I really don’t know what birthdays should be like. And I worry that I’m not coming through for Niko. For me, it wasn’t a big deal. None of my friends had birthday celebrations, either – or Christmas, Halloween, or any other “worldly” or “pagan” celebration. I didn’t feel left out or deprived. But Niko’s friends have moms who fling themselves into birthdays with joyous abandon. His friends have large gatherings with party favors, games, and excited kids shepherded by cheerful parents. I worry that, at some point, Niko will notice that his mom – with the social anxiety that comes from a constant sense of feeling like a cultural transplant, plus, thanks to ADHD, the difficulty focusing enough to plan an actual party – isn’t up to par.

I don’t mean this to be a depressing post. Niko is a happy little boy. We will conclude a fun, Niko-focused day (ToysRUs! Lunch at McDonald’s!) with a small family celebration. We’ll wear hats. He’ll have balloons. We made fondant dinosaurs for cupcakes. He will get to tear into a few gifts, some of which he chose himself. And we have a tentatively planned play date with his best friend, for later this week, at which he will have yet another dino cupcake. More importantly, he has a family who loves him.

Yes, my sweet boy will be fine. But still, the anxiety persists. Maybe it always will. All I can do is keep on trying. Trying to act like a normal person who wasn’t raised on a commune. Trying to pretend these new cultural activities make sense to me. And, most of all, trying to be a good mom to my kids. After all, isn’t that what we all want? And I’m pretty sure, from talking with other parents, that we all feel inadequate. Anxiety-ridden. Filled with self-doubt. We all second-guess ourselves.

Maybe I’m not so different, after all. Commune girl or no, when those feelings are distilled and examined microscopically, that’s what I’m left with. I just want the best for him. Just like you.