Friday, September 5, 2014

A little better than he expected

I was worried about how Adam would handle his first day of first grade, and as it turns out - maybe I was more worried than he was. When he woke up in the morning, he seemed ok. He maybe even smiled. 
"I'm just gonna do whatever Michael does today," he announced.
It was as if he decided overnight that Michael would be his rock, and he was going to hold onto that thought for dear life, like a life preserver.
Fine by me. 

Aaron made him scrambled eggs and he ate (almost) everything on his plate. There were no tears. He posed for a first day photo outside and seemed relaxed. He talked a little bit to Ben on the drive to preschool, and then grew quiet. I checked in the rearview mirror a few times to see if he was wearing his worried face. He looked a little scared, but not terrified. Nothing like last year.

When we got to preschool, he gave me a hug and kiss and joined his other friends (the "school-agers") - the routine wasn't much different than it has been all summer. 
Ben had a new locker and a new teacher, and seemed indifferent to the change. He walked over by his old locker, seemed a little confused that it wasn't his name on the extra-change-of-clothes basket, then found his name on the other side of the room and hung his coat there.
"I'm going to be your teacher now, Ben," said Ms. R, who greets us every morning. "Everyone who has a fish nametag on their locker is in our class."
He walked around looking at the photos on the fish nametags, then lost interest and wandered over to his friends. I had to call him back to say goodbye. "I almost forgot to give you a hug and a kiss!" he exclaimed, grabbing my face in his hands.
I hugged and kissed him, looked over at Adam who was laughing with his friends, yelled "Have a good first day!" and was glad when Adam smiled and waved goodbye. Ben smiled, too. 
And that was it. 
That was the first time in two years that I've left a "first day" classroom without tears, without having to forcefully remove little fingers from a death grip around my neck, without having to see a sad face crying, crying, crying from his spot on the "goodbye chair" at the window as I drove away (the heartbreak!), without having to feel that familiar sad ache deep in the pit of my stomach, like I failed as a mom, like I was being insensitive and mean, abandoning my child in a place he didn't want to be.
Friends and family sent supportive texts and emails throughout the day. "So far, so good!" I replied.
I thought about him as the day went on, but not like last year, when I couldn't concentrate on anything else knowing how sad and worried he was.
When I went to pick up the boys, I found Ben sitting on the floor next to a little boy who I didn't recognize, working on some type of puzzle.
"I have a new friend," he announced when he noticed me watching them. Then, his insecurity showed through when turned to Caleb and asked, "You are my friend, right?"
I was relieved when Caleb nodded yes.
When we were away from his little friends, he told me that he was the only one in his class who knew how to hold a scissors. He was pretty proud of that fact. (When you're 4, it's the little things.)
"How do you think your brother did today?" I asked.
He shrugged. "Probably good."
We walked together to his class upstairs, where Adam was playing a computer game with one of his friends (a third grader). He walked over to his locker to grab his giant Minnesota Wild backpack and threw it over his shoulder like a college kid. 
"So, how was it?" I asked (the suspense was killing me).
"It was a little better than I expected," he answered. "But there's a mean kid in my class."
When I asked what his name was, he said "It's a girl, Mom." (Why do I assume 'kid' means 'boy'?! Is that a common assumption?) He said she wouldn't get up off the floor in gym class and "WASTED HALF THE TIME JUST LYING THERE" (Adam's favorite class is gym, so I'm sure that really irritated him) and she talked bad to the teacher and, to top it off, she hit Adam's backpack when he was leaving, and he didn't even do ANYTHING to her. I told him that sometimes the mean kids need love the most, and he should always be nice to them (at first, anyhow). "Sometimes girls who like boys act mean," I went on to say (a boy in my third grade class used to try to wipe boogers in my hair. As it turns out, he had a crush on me. Go figure.) "No, she doesn't like me, she's just mean," Adam answered.
Maybe she was nervous. Maybe she was overtired. Maybe she was scared.
Or, maybe she IS mean. If that's the case, I hope she doesn't target Adam. 
Lunch was pizza, and that was good. He ate most of it. Michael and Adam played together at recess, because Blake, Gunnar, and Kellen wanted to play soccer, 3 against 2, and Michael said that wasn't fair and he QUIT. So Adam quit too. Adam wasn't the first one done with his math assignment, but that was alright. His teacher was nice. His class talked about what they did this summer, and Adam didn't want everyone looking at him, so said "I pass" when it was his turn to talk. Michael also passed (even though he went to Legoland and probably NO ONE ELSE went to Legoland this summer). 
We drove home and waited for Aaron, then headed to Chipotle to celebrate. I have a feeling it might become a first day of school tradition.
The second day went pretty good, too, with the exception of Adam getting the hot dog at lunch, which he KNOWS he doesn't like, which resulted in him throwing away the hot dog and only eating an apple and drinking his milk rather than actually asking the lunch lady for a PB&J (which he KNOWS he likes). "Everyone would look at me," he told me when I reprimanded him for not ordering the sandwich. (In kindergarten, they would give their orders to the teacher, who would relay them to the lunch lady. Now, as a first grader, he's responsible for speaking up in the lunch line.) Aaron and I had a long talk to him about the importance of eating ... nothing that he hasn't heard a billion times already. I have a feeling we'll be having a conversation with the lunch lady at some point.
Day three was another decent day. Still no homework. He did eat lunch (chicken tenders). After school he had a soccer 'meet and greet,' where Aaron, the assistant coach, met the head coach and all the kids on the team. I had to stay late at work to put out some fires—we were on deadline—then joined the boys at the rec center, where Ben fell off the slide (backwards) and hurt his back and wanted to go home RIGHTNOW.
I think everyone is grateful that it's Friday. Week one and done! (And now I'm ready for a nap. Who else is with me?!)

Monday, September 1, 2014


I wonder if every night-before-the-first day will be a struggle. I thought it would be less complicated this year, now that he has a year of kindergarten under his belt (or, more accurately, under his tiny little adjustable waistband). I thought he'd be ok now (maybe not fine, but better). And once again I'm Googling "dealing with childhood anxiety" on the night before school starts. Poor boy. I just want to make it go away.

We had a wonderful weekend — on Saturday the boys went to Grandma Patti's while Aaron and I saw an amazing concert at the State Fair (*we became huge Cloud Cult fans and have a newfound love of Doomtree after that show ... "Doomtree BANGARANG all you rappers sound the same, beats, sound the same, raps, sound the same ..."), on Sunday afternoon Grandpa Rick had a pool party and we hung out there for a few hours with Aaron's side of the family, and today we spent the afternoon in Forest Lake with my family. The sun was shining, the food was excellent, everyone seemed in good spirits. After lunch we took the boat over to the beach/park area. The kids played on the playground before we walked over to a little gelato shop on Main Street. Once we got inside the shop, Adam turned white as a ghost.
"I don't feel so good," he announced as he sat on the floor.
"Do you feel like you're going to throw up?" (How many times have I asked this question?)
He yawned, lied down, then covered his eyes with the crook of his elbow. "My head is hot," he whimpered.
Oh no.
We walked back to the lake, called my dad to retrieve us (he was fishing with my brothers), and waited in the shade. Ben was oblivious. Adam looked miserable.
When my dad pulled up to the dock, Aaron actually carried Adam to the pontoon. He looked so fragile.
Shortly after we headed back, Adam groaned "I think I'm gonna throw up."
Thankfully, there was a plastic bag on board. My dad hurried back to shore (as fast as you can hurry on a crowded lake), Adam sitting in Aaron's lap, retching into the bag for the majority of the ride.
Once we got back to the air-conditioned comfort of my parents' house, he crawled into their bed and passed out in record time. It had been hot today, was he out in the sun too long? He definitely doesn't drink enough water, was he dehydrated? Did he eat enough today?
Tomorrow is the first day of school. Everyone was asking him about first grade.
There it was. The root of our problems. ANXIETY.
I used to think the anxiety caused him to throw up, but now I think maybe my mom was right when she thought he was getting migraines because of stress. (or whatever triggers them when you're a kid)
My family got into a lengthy discussion about migraines while Adam slept. My mom has them. My aunt has them. My aunt's boyfriend used to get them. I've had them (but only two, THANK GOD. Those two were bad enough!!!). My friend A told me her husband started getting them at Adam's age, and threw up every year before the start of school. She told me what triggers them, and what helps.
Nerves can do some wicked things to our bodies.
We got Adam home, coaxed him into eating a little bit, and BOOM. He was immediately sick again. He threw up over and over and over until I thought there couldn't be anything left to throw up and then he threw up again. It reminded me of how I feel before I have to fly (or, how I used to feel ... I'm not quite as freaked out anymore). It's hard to eat when you're that nervous and your stomach is one big knot. It's hard to concentrate on anything else. The only way to get over the anxiety is to do the thing that's worrying you and push through the fear.
Right now he's sleeping peacefully (or maybe fretfully? who knows?) in his bedroom next to ours, and I'm sort of dreading tomorrow when I drop him off at preschool, knowing how scared he's going to be. Why did I ever think it would be easy? Of course it's going to be hard for him. It's a new teacher, new classmates, a new routine. We've talked about it, what to expect. We bought new clothes, a new backpack, new shoes. We went to the open house. He asked some questions, we answered them. I didn't really prepare myself for this level of fear. (Again.)
I'm hopeful that the first day/week won't seem quite as scary because he knows the school now ... he knows the nurse (he spent many afternoons finishing his lunch in her office, and how many calls did I get when he threw up at school?) ... he knows the gym, the cafeteria, the playground. Most importantly, he'll be with his best friend Michael. I am SO GRATEFUL to his kindergarten teacher, Mrs. B, for requesting that they stay together for first grade (thankyouthankyouthankyou). I'm grateful that he found his classroom last week at the open house and his first grade teacher, Mrs. S, talked to him and let him know what he could expect on the first day (here's your desk, here's your coat hook, there's the bathroom). I hope she knows a little bit about his personality so she can help him tomorrow if he's struggling (will he be crying? quiet? sick?). I'm grateful that he'll know five sweet kids in his class of 24. I'm grateful that he knows what bus he'll be taking and the kids who will be taking it with him to and from preschool. Those are all familiar, and tomorrow, familiar will be his lifeline.
And yet it's heartbreaking to know that the most familiar people of all won't be there - me and Aaron. We can't "save" him from the Unknown and that hurts. Part of me wishes that Aaron and I could be there with him, holding his hand, whispering words of encouragement, giving him hugs, offering a safe place to return to when our beautiful little green-eyed boy is overwhelmed with all the NEW, but then he won't know that he's capable of doing it on his own. And there will be so many first days and new experiences ... I want him to have the confidence that he's going to be just fine. I want him to know we believe in him.
Tomorrow—all day long—Aaron and I will be sending him all the love in the world, hoping he remembers to stop and breathe, to relax, to EAT, to smile, to laugh, to have a little fun with his old friends (and maybe even make some new ones).

Every day will get a little easier.

Ben, on the other hand, hasn't said anything about preschool and his new teacher and class tomorrow other than "Oh yeah, I'll have a new teacher, she's the one with the yellow hair" and "Now we'll be on the one side of the room with the two rats, Little Girl and Big Boy, which is kinda mixed up because Little Girl is big and Big Boy is little."