Today was Connor’s first day of preschool here. My second born child is the obvious “Mama’s boy” who fears separation from me like nobody’s business. Unlike Ethan, I knew I would take my time with enrolling him into school. He had struggled all summer with being scared at camp drop-offs. (Remember the craziness? I sure do.) After all the major transitions our family has gone through recently, I figured there was no rush getting him screaming for mercy. But after our first week here when we had Ethan squared away and adjusted, it felt time to look for Connor. He was just being dragged around on errands or playing at home by himself. After having a wonderful first year of preschool last year, I wanted him to continue being productive, social and encouraged to learn to his potential. (Moment of silence for Prescott preschool. I miss it so.)
I toured a handful of preschools here. He was with me each time, and each time said he did not want to go. He just wanted to be with Mommy. At the last one we visited, he actually took a moment away from the usual hiding behind me while grabbing onto my leg to look at the fish tank and pet tarantula. He also watched the children play a game together. It happened to be the school I liked best. When the Korean grocery store worker also mentioned it as her recommendation, it sealed the deal. After the millionth reminder from him that he did not want to go to school, he did say that out of them all, he liked it the best, too. What was this?! Some sort of concession?
Once we decided, I started up my motivational speeches. With every “I’m scared,” came a reassurance of how normal that was, and how it would keep getting better for him. I even recruited a guest speaker, Ethan, who shared his age-old wisdom: “I was scared and nervous my first day, too, Connor, but then I loved it!” I employed the finest and highest form of parenting I know: bribery. Just like with Ethan, I promised him a trip to Target after his first day for a special prize of his choice (Ethan: “It HAS to be under $12 like mine.”) He also got to pick the family dinner that night like Ethan did his first day of school. He loved his new little lunch bag and seemed to put on his new backpack with pride, or at least minimal resistance.
Since he still expressed fear every minute or two, I mentally prepared myself for the worst. Connor is capable of some serious separation episodes. I was not going to underestimate his awesome feats. “I’m scared.” Get out of car, big smile for the camera. “I’m scared.” Walk into school and look at the fish tank. “I’m scared.” Greet teacher, put stuff away. “Mama” while hugging my leg. Meet a new friend and look at the playground. Then the teacher grabbed him to lead him outside while he softly whimpered and that was that. There was no death grip leech. There was not a tear or scream. No emergency Bloody Mary needed for me in the aftermath.
When I returned, I received reports of a great first day. Connor told me it was good and said, “I didn’t even cry.” He repeated the report to Daddy. He told me he made one friend, Dylan. Actually, I discovered it was Daniel to which Connor just said, “It began with a D. I dunno.” Who cares?! He made one friend! This all is truly momentous for my no-longer-baby boy. He was able to push through understandable fear. He was able to choose to make the most of the inevitable and find that it was not only bearable but good.
It’s his Mommy’s turn to learn these life lessons. I find myself understandably going through the adjustments of being a stranger in a strange land. It has been a long time since I have started completely from scratch leaving behind a rich community. I know it takes time to rebuild. There has been loneliness and isolation. It is understandable to grieve. But there comes a point when I need to grow up and recognize the manna in the desert. Perspective is a powerful thing. I am being graced with snippets of it when I see my happy, healthy family. When Ethan is excited to do homework. When Connor has a successful first day of school. When unexpected deliveries come from thoughtful friends and family. When a loving friend texts, calls, or emails. When my husband who was suffering terribly just months ago is able to play softball. When I’m reminded of the lessons of the year. When I remember Whose I am.
Sure, I could cry, scream and have a death grip on things. But it’s so much better to let go and push through. To get rid of the comfortable in exchange for the challenging enrichment of the new. I hope I can be as brave and open as my little preschooler.