I have so much to say, but life hasn't slowed down enough for me to write it. This whole month -- or in some sense, for the past three years -- I've been anticipating this day. With excitement, with sadness, with pride, with dread, all at different times, all mixed up in a muddle. I've been crying on and off for a week, and if I had more time, I could explain all the reasons behind the cliche (at least my version of it, which involves a lot of sadness that my era as a stay at home mom is drawing to a close, a heap of regret for a job half-done, and a fair sprinkling of identity crisis).
Presently, with 9 hours to go until the start of kindergarten, I have abandoned all internal conflict, and submitted to a firm state of denial. Though her backpack is hanging here next to me, and though her lunch is packed (in the new lunchbox I gave to her in joy then cried over later, thinking of my tiny baby in a giant chaotic cafeteria trying to open the various containers), I can't quite believe it. Off she goes. She's so ready, but I'm not sure I will ever be.
Ah, so much more to say, but 6 a.m. comes extra early in this late-riser household, and Hazel is awake waiting for me to take her back to bed.
Now, in tears, I leave you with Larry's ever-gentle rejoinder from earlier:
"She's not exploding. She's just going to school."
True. But somehow I can't help viewing it as a beginning and also an end.
(photo: Hazel and Lilly join Eva at the girls' preschool, celebrating Eva's crossing over ceremony.)
Hazel just started preschool this month. I debated starting her this fall -- after all, she's only just turned two (Eva was nearly three). It would be for 6-7 hrs/day twice a week (Eva started with 3 hrs/day). She'd have to eat lunch and nap at school (Eva didn't do that until she was 4). But as I've often had cause to discover and rediscover, Hazel isn't Eva (in that shocking way that one person consistently is not another person). I suppose it's only natural to fall back on your previous experience, never mind that a sample size of n=1 never led anyone to valid conclusions. And indeed, Hazel is her own kid.
We had two visit days, during which I stayed with her, and they went fine. In fact, both times I had to pretty much drag her kicking and screaming out of the place. No wonder she feels at home there -- she's been there more or less two days a week since she was negative 2 wks old. She knows the place; the playground (where the best swing is located), the teachers, and many of the kids. In fact, the only time she cried during the visit days is when an overzealous friend of Eva's decided to "help" Hazel a bit more than Hazel strictly wanted to be helped. Well, and I guess the time she got her arm stuck on the submarine climby thing. I helped her loose her wedged elbow and calmly sat back at my do-not-feed-the-animals perch ten feet away, and she went right up to a teacher and they dealt with it together, and she was almost immediately fine.
No surprise, then, that on the first day (arriving late, after a detour to the pedi to determine that Eva's pink eye was from her newfound love of underwater swimming, not in fact from pinkeye) Hazel was off and playing happily before I could even set down her lunch box. "Hey you, come back here and give me a hug and a kiss!" I reminded her that today, Mama was going to go, but that I'd come back after lunch and nap. "Mama always comes back... right Hazel?" (I've been feeding her that line for a few weeks now.) She looked right at me and said "Okay, bye-bye, Mama. I see you later." A perfunctory second kiss, and she was off.
Huh. I mean, I know this is Hazel after all (same baby who used to squirm for me to put her down so she could crawl or toddle over and entice my friends or their husbands to hold her instead), but come on. I was in a bit of a daze, not quite able to comprehend my child-free state -- it was, I realized, the first time in my entirety of motherhood someone other than a close friend or family member was watching all the children I had (okay, except for the two days of preschool Eva had before Hazel was born, but I was so pregnant I mostly just napped the whole 3 hours). I went home, burst into tears in Larry's arms, then asked him out to lunch. We ate -- there was an actual waiter and everything! -- and
[Wait, Hazel -- who is recovering from a hellish week hosting the coxsackie virus and is now feeling better and wide awake at 10 p.m. -- just ambled over to announce playfully: "Mama, I find a very scary ("beh-wy skeh-wy") robot. I need-a nuggle you. That scary robot go'n step on my foot!" She laughed -- she was just pretending, after her adventure in the dark hallway. She's bouncing off the walls, happy to be feeling better. She was so very miserable all week... okay, now as I'm typing this, she's "riding my horsey" and asking for nummy bed at the same time; can't decide if she's wide awake or tired. "You finish your 'puter, okay Mama? Finish your 'puter."]
Anyway, quickly: I arrived at school to pick her up after our lunch, and no fewer than four people told me "oh, Hazel was crying!" "wow, Hazel sure wasn't happy"... hey! What?! As predicted, she was not a fan of nap. She's accustomed to nursing to sleep for nap and bedtime (and, you know, when felled by the mean ol' coxsackie, when she couldn't even tolerate sips of water but would nurse, thank goodness) -- so I knew adjusting to school nap would be a trick. Other than that, she had a grand old time, and again, I could barely entice her to leave. The next school day she slept, and next, she slept without crying first. She'll adjust -- and she loves every other moment of being there. If only she could actually *go*... she's been sick twice already in her first three weeks of school. Same happened to Eva, which I had blocked out of my memory -- scarred as I was by it, in part because a virus Eva caught from school during her first month is what hit newborn Hazel, and what caused the horrifying image of the face of my 18-day-old baby as she endured a spinal tap to be forever seared onto the back of my eyeballs. (Yes, I know; I said I both had blocked it out and had it permanently seared into my memory... but that's exactly what it is.)
Next week, she'll go back. Eva will then be in Kindergarten (another post, to be sure). Too bad the girls only got to overlap by 3 days (would have been 5 without illnesses), but already, Hazel is on her own path, and ready to venture forth. I don't know if I'm so ready for that, but time freezes for no mama. Or so I'm discovering.
Eva's been having some amount of stress over her artwork lately. Apparently her preschool teachers (at least according to Eva) "always tell [a certain boy] that he's 'turning into a real little artist'." This, she says, makes her feel sad. Or jealous. Or left out. Or that her art isn't good enough. I empathize -- I really do -- as I remember feeling the same way lots of times as a kid. But, I also figure it's okay. It's a little nudge, a reminder, to think of our own work and our own creative expression as an end in itself. It's irrelevant what anyone else thinks about it (in many cases, anyway) and I know only too well what happens when you get caught in the trap of acting primarily for ever-more external validation, when feeling good about it for yourself is never quite enough.
We told her, maybe they thought this boy needed extra encouragement. Maybe he's been practicing a lot and working hard and just figured out some new cool stuff. Maybe your teachers already told you lots of good things that day and they were focusing on someone else. Maybe you're good at lots of stuff so they didn't think they had to tell you every part. Maybe we could do more fun drawing at home if you'd like to learn some new techniques. Maybe it's okay, so long as you enjoyed making your art, and you're pleased with it.
She hears us, sometimes, but she's spent more time moping and or crying about this than I would have anticipated. More than once, I considered asking her teachers to throw her a "good at art" bone to make her feel better. But, in the end, I think this lesson is worth learning. The process is more important than the end result. Your art should make you happy, who cares about everyone else.
The artist boy at school had apparently been noticed in part for his adept shading and blending of colors. I know this in part because Eva told me, but also because suddenly her art has become far more influenced by shading, blocks of swirly colors, layers, with different intensities, and so on; works of art that might, however, be mistaken by the uninitiated as, well... scribbles. Gone (for now) are her drawings of what I'd look like as a robot (purple bow on my trapezoidal head), or aerial views of swim lessons, complete with each child in the color of their actual swimsuit. No more scenes of a sunny garage sale, complete with price stickers, where at least half the merchandise consists of wigs and vases.
I know where she's going with this, so I'm letting her go along... though, admittedly, I had a bit of trouble when she made a card for a soon-to-be kindergarten classmate's birthday that was a depiction of "swirly fairy land", a blend of many soft colors, that would look (to this family we don't know all that well) possibly like the work of her younger sister. I let go, and got over that. We support the process.
Like last weekend, when hours and hours into sorting and packing (in preparation for the new carpet installation -- happening as I type this) Eva came upstairs to proudly show us some of her artwork from the day (we hadn't heard a peep from her for over an hour). We discussed each drawing, then she climbed up into Larry's lap, and he told her he was really loving this new art she'd been working so hard on lately.
She said, "Papa, I love you even more than art! Yeah, I just love you, even more than art." Aww. Knowing I was totally setting myself up, I asked, "Hey, Eva, what do you love me more than?"
Without missing a beat, in her perfected five-year-old deadpan, she said to me,
"Well, I love you more than a ripped paper bag."
Zing. We all laughed, and Eva eventually let a little smirk sneak out. Sometimes, even when you know where you're going, you can be surprised at the answer. And though I don't know exactly where she's headed with her artwork, but I trust in the process, in the evolution. Who knows if I can help her find her way toward an internal motivation, toward love of the intrinsic challenge (because isn't that by definition sort of something she has to do for herself?) but I can at least point her in the general direction. Maybe I'll make a signpost out of a ripped paper bag.