Day 1: There’s a mad rush to get everyone out the door, including J, who’s accompanying us on the first day. We go out for a seriously inadvisable celebratory fast food breakfast, and manage to arrive at school an hour early. To pass the time, we drive around the countryside, head to a park, arrive just in time to leave again. The baby grows fractious. We leave behind our solemn-eyed firstborn at school, his enthusiasm, burning strong for weeks, momentarily squelched.
The baby cries the whole drive home through morning traffic. I stagger through the door, put her down for her nap, collapse on the couch for a nap of my own, my own enthusiasm, burning strong for weeks, momentarily squelched.
Later, the baby and I do laundry to feel productive. In the basement, a single cricket sings.
Day 2, End of Week 1: Today I have to forcibly disentangle myself from my weeping firstborn, despite his chattering excitement all the previous evening. I get back in the car with the baby, heartsick. Five minutes down the road, I am singing “Jesse’s Girl” at the top of my lungs, trying to keep the baby awake, and despite myself, my guilt, my heart lifts.
A few minutes later, the school calls to report that my boy has calmed down and is playing with friends. The baby sleeping, I descend alone to start another load of laundry, and greet the singing cricket.
[Intermission in which we, probably unwisely, take a weeklong trip to New England]
Day 3: Starting the evening before, there are incessant questions to the tune of “Why do I have to go to school?” I attempt a variety of patient, sane answers, but find myself wondering, too. It doesn’t help that we spent all of the previous week with homeschooling families.
In the morning, wailing and gnashing of teeth abruptly ceases upon my disappearance from his sight. I drive home and begin to unearth the living room.
Day 4: Is it just my imagination, or is the wailing worse? Certainly it’s harder to pry Velcro Boy from my leg. I begin to question my motives. If this is mostly so I can have a break and he can practice being away from me, is that justification enough?
Crying ends before I’m through the hallway. When I pick him up, he can write his name (well, PIP) and draw trucks that, for the first time, kind of look like trucks. Is that justification enough?
Day 5, End of Week 2: Is he catching a cold, or is this allergies? We decide it’s allergies and ship him off, weeping.
It’s a cold.
Day 6: My sister, who is visiting us, accompanies me on drop off. She can’t help much, as my children are managing to go through a bout of separation anxiety simultaneously. I pry him free with quick, practiced movements, and dash through the door.
“I can see how that would be really hard,” she commiserates.
I tell her about how I’ve made a deal that he and I only have to try it for a month, that I don’t want us to be quitters, that I see so much good in the traditional school path and the way it toughens you up a bit, but also in how homeschooling can leave kids weird and tender and lovely. She listens to my endless anxious waffling, then we go and buy plants.
Day 7: His lips quiver as I prepare to dart through the door. “I forgot to kiss you!” he says, a touch of panic in his voice. And then…nothing. He kisses me, I walk through the door, I go home to a baby who celebrates this small victory by not napping.
When I pick him up, he’s mostly matter of fact. “I didn’t cry at all at school today,” he admits casually. The atmosphere of joy is somewhat squelched in our household as I brood over how the other mothers at preschool discussed the exhaustion their kindergarteners are experiencing at home.
Day 8, End of Week 3: He tells me he doesn’t like school, but he doesn’t cry as he settles right down to Play-Doh, and the kiss is almost an afterthought. On my way out of the building, another little boy makes a wailing break over the baby gate, down the hall, and throws himself sobbing against the door his mother has just exited. I feel queasy, but a rotten part of me is glad it’s not my kid freaking out.
I come home, put the baby to bed, start meat to thawing, laundry to running, toast a bagel, and think. If I had to decide now, I’d say that I’d send Pip to partial day, partial week preschool for two years, then homeschool starting in kindergarten. The separation is emotionally exhausting for both of us, but the constant butting of heads with a three-year-old when he’s home all day is pretty draining, too. I vacillate between a deep conviction that families are meant to be together whenever possible and the suspicion that, as Jenny Uebbing puts it, “If this were the animal kingdom, I’d be a mother sea turtle and my children would be autonomously hatching themselves on the beach. Other mothers are kangaroos. It takes an ecosystem.”
I guess all I can say for sure is: it’s been a challenging September, and I’m glad I don’t have to decide anything now.