Piper misses Riley when she goes to school. She wanders around saying her name sometimes. But she doesn’t take the deprivation too hard. Because – the toys! Free to play with whatever she likes for as long as she likes. And somehow it makes the absence a little easier to bear.
Today’s the day.
I’ll be taking my Googy Bear off for her first day at the new school. The start days are staggered so she’ll only be going one day this week and then doing Monday to Wednesday next week. I’m glad. It makes it less traumatic for both of us I think.
I’m dreading the tears, but hoping there won’t be any. I have to start to prepare myself for the worst. Get my head into the right space. So I can still have the appearance of calm and confidence when I drop her off.
The other day she was bouncing on my bed. Long limbs flailing everywhere. I’d just gone out and bought her new pants because she’s getting taller after a bit of a growth spurt. And as she was there, chattering away, I remembered the teeny perfect baby I’d brought home from the hospital and wondering what the hell happened. She didn’t speak for the longest time and I treasured her lisp and each new word as it took its time to arrive. Now the words jumble out faster and faster and I’m planning a dinosaur party for a four year old. A nearly four year old who asked me what a tampon was not long ago.
Don’t worry. I won’t lead with that story when I drop her off.
We went shopping on the weekend.
One lunch box.
One snack box.
One drink bottle.
We already have all of those things from last year. But I thought it would be fun for Riley to get involved in the preparations and pick out her own stuff for the year. She chose an Angry Birds backpack, a Princess lunch box, a fairy snack box and a Dora drink bottle. I ignored my tendency to want everything to be matching. It’s a sickness.
I’m looking forward to her first day and dreading it like nothing else. Her first day of preschool last year was my single most difficult day as a parent. There’s not even a contest. Nothing else even comes close. And even if we weren’t changing schools after a 10 week break I think it would be an adjustment. But we are changing schools and I am scared of having to go through the whole thing all over again. At least I know that it only took her a month or two to adjust last time so it will probably be even less than that this time.
But three days of preschool means three days of productivity. And I am really looking forward to that. Especially the part were the little one actually sleeps because the house is so quiet. And I quite enjoy a silent house too. I’ve asked her about it but all she says is that she misses school but she likes how school is at swimming because she’s in the water on her own but I’m there keeping an eye on her. Smart kid.
I’ve catalogued in my head all the things she liked about it when we visited so I can make the appropriate sales pitch when the time comes and hope for the best. I’m also making her a wallet of photos of everyone so she can look at everyone during the day if she misses us. Particularly Floyd. She still doesn’t like to go too far away from him and will actually cry if you suggest it.
She’s had a growth spurt recently. She’s going to look so big going to her new school, wearing a hat with the school’s name on it. And I’m going to hope that she knows how much I love her, even when I leave her.
I obsess about decisions in relation to Riley’s school. Even a small decision seems like a big one.
I have really loved Riley’s preschool. After the initial period of adjustment, she has been doing so well. She’s bonded with the teachers and she’s even started to mention other friends there by name. Which says to me how happy she is. And she’s so well suited to a Montessori environment. A place where her fierce independence is so well respected. A place where even though she is one of the younger children she’s empowered to be a leader.
But the driving was hard. Really hard. On a good day it’s 35 minutes. With bad traffic it can be 45 minutes and the other day when there was a crash on the freeway it took an hour. Which usually means that between loading everyone in and out of the car I spend about 3 hours in the car on Mondays and Tuesdays. When I’m not tired it’s not too bad. When I am tired it’s a real struggle. And I’ve started to wonder how Piper will go now that she’s getting older. I can’t imagine it will go well. She can usually cope quite well with the first part of the trip but the return trip I can see her getting quite cranky with.
So I found a closer school that we will be starting at next February. I was really happy when I met the Director she said that she was Montessori trained and when I spoke with the teachers they were focused on child-led learning. And I just hope that she’s still encouraged to be her independent and leader-self. I’m dreading the adjustment phase a little bit. Because even though it’s a distant memory now, that stage was pretty much the hardest thing I’ve done as a parent.
I know all of the reasons why I’ve made that decision. I know it will be better for the whole family. But it’s hard. And every time I drop her off and she’s so happy I try to convince myself that the drive isn’t that bad, that I could still do it. Even though I know I could, but I really can’t. It hurts my heart any time she tells me a story about one of her ‘bestest best friends’. I just love that school. If I could manipulate the laws of time, physics and geography I would.
But I can’t. So we start again. And I’ll enjoy the 10 weeks in between finishing one and starting another to just be together at home without having to drive anywhere.
A three year old shouldn’t have to remind herself that she’s nice or that she’s good because other people are telling her otherwise
A three year old shouldn’t start panicking in the morning over whether she has two lunch boxes or a lunch box and a smaller container for snacks becaue someone has been giving her a hard time about it
A three year old shouldn’t have to learn about conforming so damn early.
A three year old shouldn’t have to tell her mother that she’s happy because her mother’s not sad.
A three year old shouldn’t have to worry about any of those things. And perhaps her mother shouldn’t take them so much to heart.
But they are there. It’s started. I get the feeling that things are about to get a whole lot more complicated and I’ll be snuggling my big girl just a little bit more in the meantime.
Riley can commit to an idea pretty quickly. And once she’s committed. That’s it. Whatever is in her head is pretty hard to shake. If anything, over time she just becomes more invested in her own commitment. She is that stubborn. But it’s not just about stubbornness, not really. It’s about imagination. If she says the words, then it’s real, even if all the evidence would suggest otherwise.
Who can understand the way the toddler mind works anyway. She talks about things long past as if they just happened. And she makes connections that would make my head spin.
But I’ve been thinking lately that her reluctance to go to preschool wasn’t real. Not really. I know it feels real to her. But my sense was that it was only because she got used to saying the words. Like a routine. ‘I don’t want to go’, ‘I’ll miss you’, and the mere act of saying the words was making her feel that way, but that it was just the words – not how she really felt at all.
But breaking her out of the cycle was going to be difficult. She’s so committed to routine changing anything is hard to do. So over the last two days, I’ve done something that was a little bit uncomfortable. Whenever she said she would miss me or something similar I dismissed it ‘no you won’t. that’s silly’ and tickled her, like it was a game. It goes against the grain to do something dismissive or minimising of her feelings. But I took a leap of faith anyway.
And today there were no tantrums about going to school and she didn’t seem to want to leave when I picked her up this afternoon. And maybe just this once changing her language around it has changed her experience as well.
This is what Riley says to me about preschool. That she misses me because I took too long. It sounds innocent enough and I’ve been trying to teach her that if she focuses her attention on something else the time will go more quickly and she won’t miss me as much but it’s hard when she has no concept of time. Not really, anyway.
But it’s not really that innocent. I know why she says it. Or I think I know why. I’m pretty sure that I say it to her. When she’s insisting on buckling her own seatbelt or taking her time getting dressed. My frustration will seep out and I’ll say something like ‘let me help you. you’re taking too long’. Touche tiny dictator you’ve now turned my words back on me.
Of course now it’s out there and there’s no taking it back. I’ve spent a lifetime being busy, being on time and being efficient. None of these things go well with toddlers. I’m still on time but only because I leave all the extra ‘toddler time’. Like when we’ve finally got everything in the car, everyone has their seatbelts on and the toddler says ‘I have to go to the toilet’. Awesome. Clearly this is not information that could have been passed on to me ten minutes ago.
My daughter is a perfectionist. There are no two ways about it. She gets extremely upset if either she does something ‘wrong’ or somebody else does and becomes quite aggitated if she can’t replicate a drawing exactly. If I take a different route in the car she tells me that I’m going the wrong way. And if she can’t do something the first time she will quickly have a meltdown. Being a reformed perfectionist myself I get it. But I hope that if nothing else over time I can dull the sting of it just a little bit. Perfectionists are always disappointed. Always. Perfectionism stops you from doing. Perfectionists are parlysed by a fear of failure. In life it’s a barrier, a big one. And I am sure my hurry/hurry/busy/busy approach isn’t helping matters. If I have to model the exact opposite of perfectionism then I’m pretty sure that taking a freaking chill pill is a big part of that.
Perfectionism dies hard, but I’ve got time.
Ever since I was pregnant, strangers have been judging me. Apparently you become public property once you have a baby, even just on the inside. And it only gets worse once they are born. Strangers will judge you if you breastfeed or if you don’t. Strangers have asked me if I breastfeed, which is also quite odd. Strangers look down their nose at me as my toddler has an exorcist tantrum. Strangers judge me when I carry PIper in a wrap and will ask me if I am suffocating her.
Through all of this there is only one thing that protects me. Being certain. Being absolutely sure that I am doing the right thing. If I allowed myself to let all of those judgements in, I would crumble under the sheer weight of it. It doesn’t mean that I walk around with blinders on. I’m not immune to improving. To understanding where as a parent I could do better.I know what my areas of weakness are. I know that I could put more effort into cooking for Riley. I know that I let her fussiness curb my efforts more than it should. I know I could do more creative projects with her. I know I could be more patient.
And so as we’ve been navigating our way through the preschool adventure, I’ve been certain. Even when I see this face when we get home afterwards. She doesn’t look certain. She looks vulnerable and tired. Even when she screamed for me in a way I hope I never have to hear again on that first day I was sure I was doing the right thing. And today when I found out that although she hadn’t been getting upset with missing me today, she had on previous days, still I was sure it was the right thing.
And in the wee hours of the morning when my beautiful baby comes in and wraps her body around mine because she needs just a little bit more reassurance, I will still be sure.
Because I trust myself. I trust myself to know my baby inside and out and to know exactly when she needs to be held close and when she needs a bit of a push. And right now she needs both. And I am certain.
It doesn’t matter how much you prepare yourself for it, you’re just never going to be ready. I was expecting a little bit of resistance to going to school. Our first attempt last week Riley was initially fine but then got upset after I left and was upset off and on so I went and picked her up early. And then this morning it started.
‘I don’t want to go to school’
‘I want to stay home with you’
‘I’ll miss you too much’
‘I’m too little’
‘You have to wait for me’
‘I want to go with you’
And there were tears. And it was 6am. I distracted her and tried to pull both of ourselves together. But you can never really be ready.
She was teary when we got there and soon as I was trying to leave (difficult with a toddler clinging on to me for dear life) there we were. She was screaming and crying and snotty. ‘Mummy don’t leave me’ and her little hands were opening and closing grasping at the air as I was just beyond her reach.
And having that image of her in my head as I went to the car and had a good cry myself, I took solace in the fact that I knew I was doing the right thing. Or I hoped I was.
She had a good day after that. It took her about 20 minutes to calm down and she had a good morning. When I got back she was smiling and didn’t get upset when she saw me and showed me some of the things she’d been working on. The miracle of children. They can move on and be all ‘hey look at the bird nest’ and I’m still stuck back in the moment.
I hope the drop off tomorrow is a little bit better. If not, I’m going to need thicker skin or a morning cocktail.
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Two years ago (well nearly two years ago – two years ago tomorrow) I posted my first entry when Riley was just a little over a year. Still a baby. There she is back then. I still think that her belly was just glorious. It was one of the first times she had fallen asleep on her own. She fell asleep while eating. A habit that she has returned to, from time to time.
I just can’t believe that my baby is so grown up. Three is an age of fierce independence and desperate need. And this is the independent part. I think she’s ready but it still hard to watch her take that first step. And it will be hard regardless of whether she’s upset by it or not.
I plan on coping with that via a very large coffee from a coffee shop up the road that have wi-fi. We all have our ways.
Last week I was watching her chat away and negotiate play spaces with other children (some the same age, some much older) and I she just seemed so capable and confident. And I was proud and sad and hopeful that it had nothing to do with my presence as I floated around in the background.
We’ve come such a long way since the beginning. This morning I put Piper down in her bed after Riley had woken up at the hideous hour of 3:30am and I snuggled with my big girl until 7:30. Just the two of us.
I just hope today is a wonderful adventure for her. Just as well it’s only three hours or I think my mental health might be in question.