Here We (Let) Go Again: Goodbye, Preschool

Two years ago, I flung my Diaper Genie(s) out the front door and celebrated the one (and so far, only) milestone that didn’t leave me a crying mess. That is, until my husband dragged me to a preschool tour a few weeks later.

PRESCHOOL? My H and S were just three. They were still toddling into my bed with blankets and stuffed animals tucked under their arms in the middle of the night to snuggle. What – school?! They were crapping their pants a few weeks ago! Routines and lunch boxes and schedules and strangers – ALREADY? Why?!

Against my determination to hold on to whatever was left of babyhood – and the fact that, in spite of my crying through the entire school tour, both times, they still let us enroll – off they went in September. They loved it! And before long, I did too. They embraced their new routines: learning letters, numbers, words and songs, and exploring worms and caterpillars and pumpkin guts. Writing, “Mommy, I love you” in crayon for the first time, coloring a discernible picture of Ariel and Eric and Rapunzel and Flynn Rider, and discovering the wonders of cutting and gluing and glitter. (OH, the glitter!) I love watching them express how they see themselves and their world (the center of which, unsurprisingly to those who know us, is Disney).

For me, it’s been fun connecting with others who smile knowingly when one’s daughter wants to wear nothing but princess costumes, and brings half the sand from the playground home in her, um, glass slippers. We’ve (all) been blessed with two years of new friends and bonding and transitions eased by the support and comfort of settling into this place and time. And I’m beside myself over having to leave yet another piece of my daughters’ childhood behind.

What is it about moving forward, even in the most normal, expected, and happy way, that triggers a revolution in my brain, and leaves me clinging to the moment in my daughters’ lives as if it’s all there is? Granted, yes, life is such that it could be. But I can’t live (consciously) in a world like that, any more than I can live in my own head these days. I can’t stand myself, and these random tears that threaten in the diaper aisle of Shop Rite (why am I going down there, anyway?!) or when I think about how, on their next birthday, they’ll need two hands when they hold up their fingers to tell me how old they are.

As if their dance recital and art show didn’t choke me up enough, today I considered buying one of those tiny so-totally-stash-able mini bottles of vodka to help get through their upcoming Portfolio Day. (It’s our school’s version of graduation.) As if that stands a chance of keeping my emotions in check. I cried my eyes out when we “graduated” from our fertility doctor’s office. Yup, I’m hopeless. Motherhood has irreversibly crippled my composure.

When my emotions spiral out of control, I try to step back and remind myself of how lucky I am, that it’s a gift to watch my children grow up and set them free, one little bit at a time, as they’re ready (even though I may never be). I try to remember that we don’t have babies to keep them that way forever, and I wouldn’t want to keep them here forever, either. (Just don’t challenge me right now; I’ll totally break.)

I think of all the new things I’ve fallen in love with along our five-year journey through parenthood: their enthusiasm for new things and little things, and how they’ve taught me to pay attention and live in the moment more than I ever imagined this multitasking-addicted control freak ever could. I love their I-love-you’s and hugs and their giraffe birthday parties and the way they sing the “Jake and the Neverland Pirates” theme song in the shower (and how I catch myself singing along, even when I’m home by myself.)

I love our random 2 A.M. conversations that begin with one of them saying, “Did you know…” and end with something about birds or weather or some meal we ate three months ago. I love that I have two more hands to hold, two more hearts to love, through life’s treasured and unexpected moments, wherever we go from here.

I cry because I’m proud of them, and grateful for their company and their love, for the glimpse of the people they will become, and of the mothers they might be themselves one day. I cry because I’ve loved so many more moments than I can remember at one single time, and I want to hold onto all of them before time whisks me off to somewhere else, to some other place that I can’t yet imagine or love or belong to. But, I will.

And if I’m lucky enough, I will again. And, again.

Learning New Steps (is a Little Overrated)

Yesterday morning, I asked my four-year-old twins what they wanted for breakfast. 
 
“Toast with peanut butter,” H and S said in unison. 
 
“And honey,” S added.
 
“NO honey for me,” H reminded me. 
 
“How about apple honey butter?” I asked H, hoping she’d be in the mood to try something new. Trying new things with H is – well, TRYING. 
 
“NOOOOOOOO,” she whined. Her usual answer. 
 
I remind her about the time she finally ate – and loved – the shrimp she once protested in the shrimp soup she orders at our local Mexican restaurant. (I know. Don’t ask.)
 
“NOOOOOOOO,” she insisted. 
 
But I decided to put the apple honey butter on a little corner of her toast so she could try it, and if she didn’t like it, the rest of her peanut butter would remain untainted. She frowned at me and whined, but then she stuck her tongue out and licked it. And loved it. I ended up putting apple-honey butter on the whole piece of toast. 
 
Battle won. Add one to the list of “Foods H Will Eat.”
 
Okay, yes, this is minor. And, truth be told, I can’t say either of my daughters is fussy, considering that, at Open House at preschool this week, I learned that when asked her favorite food, S answered without hesitation, “Ceviche.” H didn’t have to think before sharing her most-frequent request: “Lamb with wine sauce.” As crazy as that sounds, it’s a little taste of the food-loving fun we’ve been sharing with the girls since they were old enough to eat what we eat. 
 
The reason I’m giving this a second thought is H’s resistance to new things has gone beyond food protests to day-to-day things I want to see her overcome. The girls just started a new year of dance classes, with all of the same friends as last year, and a few new ones. But this year, they’ll have a different teacher. H caught me completely off-guard when she woke up that morning and cried non-stop until we left for school about how she didn’t want to go to dance, or to school. She just wanted to stay home with me and “have work meetings with Daddy and go to stores.” 
 
After my husband met me at school to assist with drop-off, and I gave everyone who needed to know a heads up, I spent most of the day with knots in my stomach. Wondering if she was crying, if she would have a huge meltdown and I’d have to go get her. I’ve been lucky in that the girls have been excited and easily convinced to go to school – and the only worries and tears I’ve had to contend with were my own.
 
This is SO much worse than that. 
 
It’s hard not to question the choices we make as parents. When’s a good time to start school? Is it too soon? Will it be too late if we wait? Do we choose this activity – or that one? Is it too much? Not enough? And most of all, if they’re crying, if it’s something non-essential, do we just stop doing it and try again later? 
 
I’m seeing something in H that I struggle with myself. She likes her comforts and familiarity. She loves where she is so much that change is a threat rather than an opportunity to experience the world, to find more things – and people – to love. I get hung up a lot on that, especially when it comes to the girls growing out of something and into something else. I know where we’ve been and what we can do – and from the safety of the present, I can fully embrace the past. Which makes the future sometimes look more daunting and maybe not as meaningful.
 
This leads me to my biggest question yet: how do I teach my daughter something I haven’t quite resolved for myself? And how do I tell her it’s going to be okay, when I know exactly how torn and uncomfortable she feels? Do I protect her from her fears, or find a way to help her work through them?
 
After some discussion, my husband and I decided the right thing for us is to stick with the dance classes, and help H (and S by example) through what will be the first of many (big and small) transitions in her life. I’m trying not to play up the fact that she has her sister with her, because next year, due to school rules, they’ll be in separate classes. Ah, more change! We’ve been talking about trying new things – and things she’d have missed if we didn’t try, like Thunder Mountain at Disney. We’re trying to help her focus on the company of her friends, and how proud she was last year when she showed us all she learned at their dance recital.
 
I’m grateful to have the support and help of her teachers and the kindness of other parents in the meantime. I’m pretty sure it will work out sooner or later. Half the time when the girls are home, they’re dressed up like Disney princesses, dancing and singing around their room, anyway. With any luck, maybe this will be a healthy step forward for both of us.