IT’S HAPPENING

You guys. All of my dreams are coming true. School has officially begun. For every one of my children. All of them. They are gone for many hours. It is just as amazing as I thought it would be.

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Now, before you chime in and advise me that these days are fleeting and they are only little once and that I should cherish every moment, let me just stop you. Stop right there. Because, I KNOW. I know that, one day, in the not-so-distant future, I will be cleaning out a drawer or a closet or looking in that scary crevice between the washer and the dryer and I’ll find an itty-bitty sock or wee little pair of underpants and I will weep, WEEP, for the tiny little humans that my kids once were. But, TODAY IS NOT THAT DAY. Today is for cherishing, not my children, but the sweet, sweet sound of silence. It has been six long years since I have been alone in my house so LET ME HAVE MY MOMENT.

It’s a very ALL-CAPS kind of day. Because, I mean, just look at her. She’s so grown-up. She’s so READY. With her requisite Frozen lunchbox and purple-explosion backpack. This one’s going places. Probably painfully, since her shoes are on the wrong feet but whatever. She’s BRILLIANT nonetheless.

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I’m kind of in love with Millie’s preschool. It’s held in what was once the elementary school for our town. When they constructed a more modern elementary school, the old one was turned into a community center. They hold classes there for lots of different things and for lots of different ages and I was sold as soon as I saw the tall ceilings, giant old windows and transoms above the doors. It’s reason number 507 that I’m so thankful we live here – the accessibility of such a great program in such a lovely space. Millie, especially, is a fan.

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Even though today is Millie’s first day of preschool, Henry and Charlie have been in school for a week and a half and their reviews of first and fourth grade have been overwhelmingly positive.

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Charlie has adapted superbly to his new full day schedule with zero complaints. I’m just really, really proud of him. I wasn’t sure how the transition from half-day kindergarten to full-day first would go but he has exceeded our expectations. Then again, homework hasn’t started up yet so I’m expecting this smile will diminish significantly in size.

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I was talking with my sister on the phone a week or so ago and describing to her Millie’s new school schedule and the freedom it will afford me to finally work on some other projects and she said in the most sincere way possible, “You made it. You’re there.” And, you know what? I have made it. It feels like I’ve reached that part of parenting small children where I’ve earned a little breathing room. A few moments for myself. Just in time, too.

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The End is Nigh

There was a time towards the end of my sophomore year of college that I wanted to quit. I was done. Totally over it. All of the classes and the homework and the stress and the weird social life that college brings. I was working part-time and studying full-time and getting my degree seemed to be taking forever. I was so poor. So poor that my sister used to send me care packages that included toilet paper. I wanted to quit school and find full-time employment and make some money and not be so poor. I couldn’t grasp that if I just stuck it out for a couple of more years, the opportunities would be greater. The money would be better. I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

My sister, Janet, used to visit often when I was a student at Purdue. She was newly married, without children yet, and lived only a few hours away. I remember the weekend she drove up and convinced me not to quit school. I remember sitting at the dining table in my little apartment kitchen going over, credit hour by credit hour, the classes I would need to take to earn my degree. She mapped out in full the last two years of my student life at Purdue to show me that graduation was indeed, imminent. That my time there was finite. That I would eventually finish. I would be done. And, maybe not so poor.

I don’t know if she remembers that weekend; if she remembers the assistance that eventually convinced me to persevere. That showed me there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

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I have been an at-home mom for a little more than five years now. During those years, I haven’t had a whole lot of free time. Time to myself to read a book or organize a closet or go to a yoga class or eat a quiet lunch or shower without having to stick my head out the door wondering if that screaming is the fun kind or the bad kind. I have had a child by my side every day, all of the days, for each of those five years. The work has been relentless. Worth every minute and every effort, yes, but relentless.

And, much like in college, I have had trouble seeing the light at the end of this current parenthood tunnel. I have had difficulty imagining my life as anything other than what it is right now: main childcare provider and meeter of everyone’s needs. I haven’t really stopped to consider my needs for a very long time. I have been getting a bit lost in the weeds.

So, registering Millie for preschool this week was an unexpectedly emotional event. Based on a suggestion from a friend, I selected a program that runs from 9:00 in the morning until 2:30 in the afternoon, much longer than the standard two or three hour programs typical for our town. Enamored at the thought of a solid five hours between drop off and pickup, I basically yelled, “WHERE DO I SIGN” to the slightly startled woman behind the desk. We hadn’t even toured the classrooms yet. The mere act of registering Millie, placing the deposit, making a commitment, has buoyed my spirits. For the first time in a very long time, I realized that my life this fall would be different. With my three children in school for the majority of the week, I would have the gift of time; glorious, glorious time. All to myself.

I’m not promising what I’ll do with that time. I might write more or read more or go to yoga class or volunteer at school but I also might just sit and stare at a wall because I CAN and I HAVE OPTIONS NOW. My joy is palpable. Because, it’s happening, it’s really happening.

Well, it will eventually happen anyway. After a few more months that are cold and then a few more months that are very hot and filled with restless, bored children on summer break. Then! Then it will happen. But, that doesn’t seem that far off anymore. It’s really just right around the corner.

Suddenly, I can see the forest again.

Good Time Charlie

Yesterday, Charlie began preschool.

At one point during his absence, Millie turned the corner into my office with a puzzled look on her face as if to say, “Where in the world did everyone go?” I tried to explain school to her as best I could but I was super busy checking my phone every five seconds because the school was sure to call. I mean, Charlie still demands that I accompany him to the bathroom, so I was pretty confident the abrupt separation called for many tears.

But, no. He did fine. Better than fine. He did great! And, not a single tear. From me or from Charlie.

Because what's preschool without a shiv made from Lincoln Logs and produce rubber bands?

Because what’s preschool without a shiv made from Lincoln Logs and produce rubber bands?

When we found out we were expecting a second baby boy, just about five years ago now, we settled on his name with relative ease: Charles Arthur, after our fathers. We knew we would probably call him Charlie.

When we were still in the hospital during the days following Charles’ birth, Bob gave him the nickname, “Good Time Charlie,” since virtually nothing could diminish his contented demeanor. In those first few days and subsequent weeks, he was rarely upset, delightful in nature and downright jovial at times.

At six months of age, Charlie had surgery to correct a common birth defect. Since we had experience with kids and anesthesia, we braced for the worst as we sat by his bedside waiting for him to wake up from being under. The thrashing, confusion and general chaos never occurred. I’ll never forget his calm coming to; this baby that hadn’t eaten in over 12 hours and had just had surgery, woke up collected and cuddle-ready.

And, not much has changed over the past four years.

If Henry and Millie have strong personalities, I would characterize Charlie’s as soft.  He is the first to hug, kiss, snuggle and comfort. Charlie cares. Where Henry and Millie enjoy playing independently, Charlie thrives with one-on-one time. Henry and Millie, both tall for their age with dark hair, are in contrast to compact Charlie with his sandy-blonde waves.

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Charlie’s gentle and open personality attracts others wherever we go. Walking through Target, an employee stops us to say how cute “that one” is. At a birthday party, another guest gushes about Charlie and a conversation they had. A new neighbor, just introduced, singles him out for treats.

We marvel at how frequently this happens and wonder what it is about Charlie that people are so drawn to. To us, he’s just Charlie. One of our three children. They are each unique and precious people. But, to others, he seems to be so much more because wherever we are, whomever we’re with, Charlie charms.

We talk about it with a sort of endless fascination and a true curiosity over his future. Once, during a conversation with my parents about Charlie and his amenable personality, I surmised that one day he was either going to do something absolutely amazing or tragically illegal. We then agreed that it was actually possible that whatever amazing thing he accomplished could ALSO be illegal.

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When we were living in Alexandria, the preschool admittance process involved complicated applications, confusing lottery drawings and overall entrance insanity. So, we avoided school. And, if I’m being honest, we felt Charlie, our sensitive, good-natured middle child, did best at home. He just seemed so little to be out in the real world, dealing with safety scissors and circle time.

When we relocated to Richmond, the perfect preschool presented itself and with his placement secured, we were out of excuses. With every pep talk I gave Charlie, every practice run with the backpack, every declaration about being a “big kid,” I was also readying myself to let him go a bit. And, so I have.

I am hoping for an amazing year for Charlie. Filled with new friends, compassionate teachers, exciting activities and most importantly, independent potty-ing.