Pre-School Daze

September 5, 2007 at 4:51 pm (Uncategorized)

This morning I left my son with a pack of ravening wolves.  Or maybe it was with a horde of slathering monsters.  Whatever they were, I callously ripped my hands away from three-year-old Andrew’s clutching little hands, as he struggled with every fiber of his being not to be left alone to his doom.  “Mommy, don’t leave me!” he shrieked, but I walked away from him, my fading footsteps mingling with the sound of his sobs.  God only knows what fate awaited him– perhaps he would be drawn and quartered, or flayed and boiled.  Or maybe, just maybe, he was in for a real doozy: finger painting, nap time in the blue room, and learning a new song about Sally the Snake.  Andrew has started school.

Yesterday was Andrew’s first day of pre-school.  Since I was scheduled for a three-hour infusion of Remicade at the hospital, my husband, Jay, had to drop off Andrew in the morning.  “I feel horrible,” he told me later, in a shaky voice.  “I had to pry his hands off me.  He was screaming and sobbing.  He kept saying, ‘Daddy, don’t leave me.’  I feel like someone has ripped my heart out.”  Luckily, the pre-school teacher was kind enough to call us a half hour later and reassure us that Andrew had stopped crying and was contentedly playing with other kids.  Better yet, when Jay picked him up in the afternoon, Andrew was happy as can be.  He was chirping about recess on the playground; he had his own hook to hang his brand-new backpack; he had made new friends.  “Whew,” I thought to myself, “I dodged that bullet.”  Before I had heard Jay’s account of the drop-off, I had been nearly doubled over with guilt and regret that my disease was making me miss yet another milestone in my only child’s life.  But the tremor in Jay’s voice made me wonder if I shouldn’t be happy that my sarcoidosis and its time-consuming treatments allowed me avoid a spot of trauma.

My mother had warned me that Andrew might have difficulty beyond the first day.  Still, I wasn’t expecting quite the level of terror and hysteria I encountered this morning on Day Two.  I figured that he would remember the fun of the previous day, and that he would let me leave him without quite so much sadness.  I was expecting a few tears, a sniffle, and maybe a mournful wave from the gate.  I was definitely not prepared for prying his damp hands from mine, nor for the level of genuine fear in his voice and his eyes.  Poor little fellow.

The mother bear within me wanted to scoop him in my arms and take him home for a day of snuggling in bed and reading.  I wanted to do what mothers (and fathers) do best: find the source of pain, give it a kiss, and tell him it would all be better.  But that’s not the right thing to do now.  He’s ready for the challenge of school.  He’s a smart and sweet little boy, and he has reached a point where he needs more structure and more socialization than he was getting at home with his parents and with Andrea, his wonderful nanny.  Plus, Andrea was ready for her own new opportunities.  She’s gone back to school and isn’t able to provide as many hours of child care as we need.  But knowing all this didn’t make it any easier to leave him there this morning, howling and calling for me.

For me, one of the most difficult aspects of parenting is walking away.  By nature, I am a do-er and a fixer.  If Andrew scrapes his knee, I am ready with antibiotic ointment, bandages, and magic kisses.  I’ll make up a zany story while I soothe the wound.  Usually, I’ll have him laughing before the adhesive on the band-aid has set.  Along with feeding him, making him brush his teeth, and reading to him, this care-giving role is the sine qua non of my definition of motherhood.  If he doesn’t yearn for a hug from me when the going gets rough, I’ll consider myself not to have carried out my self-imposed duties as a mom.  But I also know that I must impart to him the capacity to fix things for himself.  I can’t always rush in and magically make things better.  I can’t remove all sources of pain and trouble.  The world is awash with pain and trouble, and I won’t always be in it with a silly story and a band-aid. Not every sorrow is sooth-able, and not every wound is patch-able.  As we were packing to leave my parents’ house the other day, Andrew became very sad.  We have been visiting with family almost the entire summer.  We have been saying hello– and then goodbye–to aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents at a dizzying pace.  This last goodbye to my parents was just too much for him.  He sat in my arms and sobbed at the sadness of parting from his beloved Grandma and Grandpa.  I held him, and I told him I was there with him.  I told him we would see Grandma and Grandpa soon, and I told him that missing them meant that he really, really loved them.  But I desperately wanted to distract him from his pain.  I wanted to dance a jig, pull out a new toy, stand on my head, do anything, to cheer him.  I had to force myself simply to hold him and quietly be by his side in his pain.

When I picked up Andrew from pre-school this afternoon, he was happy again.  He showed me the special hook for his backpack and the lunch room where he eats with his new peers.  He’s made new friends already–two boys named Keenan and Austin.  “See ya tomorrow,” he said jauntily to the teacher as we headed to the car.  The tears had dried, and he seemed a totally different creature than the sobbing boy I had left in the morning.  Nevertheless, I have a sense that we will repeat the goodbye drama tomorrow morning.

I half wish I could grow callouses on my heart, so that hearing my son sob didn’t feel quite so much like being eviscerated.  It’s the same impulse I beat back when I want to eradicate any pain or difficulty from Andrew’s life, rather than watch him suffer.  Being sad–feeling such intense pain– is crappy.  But it’s living.  If there’s one lesson that I’ve carried away from three years in chronic town, it’s that life hurts.  But all it takes is one doctor carelessly mentioning your mortality to make you realize that the hurting and the struggling are everything, that you would withstand anything for more living.

As Andrew and I quietly chatted on the way home about his day, I realized that my three-year-old son had a powerful lesson to teach me.  Here I was, all caught up in the parental wisdom I could bequeath to him, when he had his own message for me.  Like other young children, Andrew lives totally in the moment.  When I dropped him off in the morning, he felt like his world was ending, like he was indeed being left with slathering monsters, and he acted in keeping with this by yelling his head off.  After he realized he was fine, that school was actually fun, he was excited and chipper.  Both of these realities were absolutely true for him in the moments that he experienced them, even though they were contradictory.  For him, being left at pre-school was a terrible trauma and it was actually a pretty good day.  He can hold two opposing truths at once.   Unlike me and the rest of the adult world, he didn’t need to eliminate one mode of being and feeling for the sake of consistency.  What Andrew was showing me was the possibility of embracing contradiction within my own heart.  Living hurts terribly and living is pretty fun.  Being sick has taken me away from key moments in my son’s life and being sick has opened my eyes and made me a more present parent.  Watching my son grow up is awful and watching my son grow up is exciting.  You get the drift.

As other residents of chronic town know, it’s tempting to deal with the swings of sickness by shutting off feeling.  Before we left for Philadelphia and medical appointments, I had anesthetized a good seventy percent of my emotions.  Every day brought more bad news of infection, high blood sugar, resurging disease, broken bones.  I could not stand any more disappointment, any more sadness at my flagging health.  Maybe it was our vacation, maybe it was getting a plan from my doctors, maybe a slightly lower dose of prednisone is making me saner.  Whatever the reason, I am re-committed to hurting.  I am also re-committed to happiness.  I’ll show up for my life every morning, even if I see monsters and I need to kick and scream.  I’ll try to keep steady when the monsters become my teachers, when the sadness morphs into recess and then back into sadness again.  If Andrew can do it, so can I, particularly if nap time and snacks are part of the deal.


  1. barb said,

    Snacks and naps ought to be included for ALL of us..great point. I really identify, so glad Andrews can be in the moment and go on and have a great day. Congratulations on passing through this difficult ritual..ouch.

  2. Nancy said,

    Congrats to all three of you – this situation is one of the many….this hurts me more then it could ever hurt you…. moments we will have with our children. Good lessons for all – Happy to see your words – N

  3. Nedra said,

    Hi Rebecca, my favorite, most inspired writing teacher of all time. I love that line about embracing contradictions in your own heart. It resonates so much, this lesson from Andrew, so much to learn or remember from our kids who LIVE in that state of anything and everything is RIGHT HERE in the here and now. When do we start to forget and live another way? Seems like I live there for in the few moments of hugging my kids at bedtime or other times, really looking at them after school sometimes, then for about 3 minutes twice a week in yoga/meditation, for an enjoined moment in love with my sweetheart, then it’s back to the (my) busy distracted brain taking over with a stupid focus on the past and future. Hmmm. Thanks for writing. Love to you, Nedra

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