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.

Anxiety Aweigh (Please?)

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It’s been a warm, cozy week in the company of family and friends – in spite of this year’s tragically dimmer holiday glow (see Finding Happy in (This Year’s) Holidays.) As the festivities and time off come to a close, I’m feeling grateful. A little extra mindful of my priorities. And ridiculously anxious about getting back to the normal that doesn’t really exist anymore: namely, sending my kids off to school again.

Anxiety and me are no strangers, and we definitely aren’t friends. We’re engaged in a long-standing power struggle: it trying to convince me that I must be constantly aware of any Bad Thing that could happen at any given moment (from a variety of illnesses to accidents – to acts of God, or jerk faces) and me trying to live a healthy, balanced, preferably sane life, without driving everyone around me crazy.

It started shortly after my father died when I was four years old. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, pull the door open wide enough to get out, tiptoe out of my room, step lightly on the creaky spots and find my way through the dark to my mother’s bedroom. I’d stand there and listen for a minute for the sound of her breathing. And if I wasn’t completely sure that she was, I’d lean in a tiny bit closer.

“What’s wrong?” she’d ask.

“Nothing,” I’d say, and go back to bed.

I alternate between surrendering myself to the craziness and learning to manage it. From panic attacks at 33,000 feet in the air over random concerns, my germ phobia (see Motherhood: My Work-in-Progress) and to-do lists left undone to the crippling post-September-11th fears that sneak up on me in crowded places, familiar or not. Especially now that I’m a mom.

We can’t live in panic mode, I know. And what am I really capable of controlling or changing? I guess I could homeschool my kids. It would grant me the illusion of safety, I suppose, but would it outweigh what they would miss socially, academically, individually? Probably not. And what about when we leave the house? Whether we’re off to the grocery store, the mall, the movie theater, or a plane to Disney World, what is safe and untouchable anymore?

I know the only option is to keep moving. To keep living our lives as fully as we can, with increased awareness that we’ll hope and pray is enough, and in a way that lets my little girls know I love them so much I can barely see straight. I won’t pretend to have any advice or magical words of wisdom; I’ll probably always struggle this way. There will always be SOMEthing (or 100 things) to worry about. The main thing that inspires me to keep it together is not wanting to teach my daughters to live in fear, too – with a small aside: the fact that all this worrying and thinking is overextending my brain. It turns me into a person I’m not really sure I like. It’s not the life I want for me, either, anymore than for them.

So, on January 2nd, I will put on a brave face and mirror H and S’s enthusiasm as I walk them to their classroom. After hugs and kisses and one last glance at their beautiful smiles as they give themselves away to the day’s excitement, I’ll walk away, and remind myself to breathe.

Back to School (or Back to the Beach?)

Summer isn’t officially over. Not yet. My inner-child wants to kick and scream and remain in denial for as long as I can. I think I can reasonably pull this off for a few more weekends, and try to cram in the beach trips we didn’t get to and the pool days that real life (and Mother Nature) managed to interrupt. Granted, I have to send my daughters to pre-school this week, but I can at least pretend that fall isn’t in the air (and that Christmas isn’t about to light up the retail world too soon.)

I know I said this (Mommy’s Time Out ) and I admit I’m sick of flying insects, humidity and applying sunscreen. Still, as the last few hours of summer vacation fade into memories (and some awesome photos) I’m just not ready to be done with it. Temper tantrums and all. Okay, I can seriously do without those. But let’s be honest: there are PLENTY of hours in a day, back to school or not, for my kids to bring on the drama!

H and S are young enough to be oblivious to the change I’m resisting. They can’t wait to go to school. Since neighbors and friends have gone back over the last couple of weeks, they’ve been asking, “When do we go?” They miss their friends and music and science classes – and having something that’s all their own.

Thankfully for this overly emotional mother, I have the benefit of having sent them to school before. They’re even going back to the same place. Their new teacher was their science teacher last year. A friend they have frequent play dates with is in their class. There’s a better-than-average chance I won’t be standing outside their classroom on the first day, waiting for the tears to stop flowing so I can say goodbye. (I should have enough composure by now to make it back to my car.)

Last night while playing “Simon Says” – and in between screaming fits at the sight of bees – the girls gave me a HUGE double-hug.

“I’m gonna miss you when you go back to school!” I said, in an unexpected moment of weakness. “Who wants to stay with Mommy?”

Meanwhile, my husband stopped watering the hydrangeas and beach roses to give me a look that said, “Are you crazy? How long before THAT comes back to bite you?” But I couldn’t help myself. I made a sad face. S took my face in her hands.

“Mommy,” she said. “You’ll have lots of quiet, and there won’t be toys on the floor for you to trip on for a little while.”

“We’ll come right back, and give you lots of hugs,” H assured me.

On top of loving summer, hating winter, and sucking at change and transition, I’m awe-struck by how quickly another year has passed, by how much the girls have changed and grown up. Summer was my safety net between school years, letting me dwell on having four-year-olds before they hurry up and grow even more. This time of year is a trigger for me to look back at what I’m going to miss, instead of all we have to look forward to. It’s when I have to remind myself that we had children to raise little people, to share our world with them one stage at a time – not to have babies forever. That watching them grow is a gift.

I’m grateful to have just enough experience to know that before long, this crazy emotional business will pass (until next time.) New comforts will come (and eventually, go again.) I’ll surrender to that little part of me that’s been craving a schedule, a routine, and time on my own. I have work to do, projects to tackle – and if all else fails, two enthusiastic little girls to inspire me.

That is, if I didn’t change their minds and ruin it for all of us! Keeping my fingers crossed for that – and for all of you who are sending your babies off to school. Wishing you happiness, peace and new reasons to smile.

Camp Mommy-Get-A-Grip

Today I almost didn’t send my four-year-old twin daughters to their first day of camp.

I signed them up in a fleeting moment of bravery last week, thinking it would be good for H and S to have some organized activity and a new experience. Unlike their mother, I want them to be comfortable trying new things.

The minute I signed them up, I backpedaled.

“Should I cancel it?” I asked my husband in a panic. “They’re only four. They don’t HAVE to go. It’s not like it’s school.”

And as it happens each time we reach a brand-new phase with the girls, I’m overwhelmed. I obsess. Will they be supervised enough? Who are these people, anyway? What if someone is mean to them? What if they don’t make any friends? What if they miss me? What if one of them gets stung by a bee, or gets hurt on the playground? And, I confess, one of my more irrational worries: what if they catch some illness while they’re there? (Yup, I know: it can happen anywhere, and it’s an inevitable part of – well, life.)

I could just keep them home with me and I’ll feel so much better. Somehow, I have this illusion that if I’m with them, they’re safer and everything is under control.

But deep down, I won’t really feel better because I know that worse than anything else is the idea of passing this fear onto them. I can’t stand the thought of taking away my daughters’ innocent curiosity and enthusiasm. I know they’ll love playing with other kids their age, doing crafts, playing outside. The change of scenery.

When we got to camp this morning, H and S held hands on the way in, skipping across the parking lot. We passed a boy crying and clinging to his mom. With her arm around him, she was watching him expectantly, waiting for him to say he was ready to go. I held my breath as we rounded the corner to the girls’ assigned room. A bunch of kids were sitting at a table, coloring quietly. H and S stood there and looked up at me. I looked at them. I told a counselor their names, and handed her the paperwork and snack bags.

“Do I need to do anything else?” I asked.

“I think you’re all set,” she said.

“They should be okay, because they have each other,” I said.

And suddenly, I knew that I’d better hurry up and leave before I changed my mind. Again. Or worse, before I cried in front of everyone like I did on their first day of preschool.

I kissed the top of the girls’ heads and said, “Have fun!” in my most convincing this-is-totally-awesome voice. I put my sunglasses back on while I was still inside – and bolted.