This morning brought out a grumpy 4 year old.
Grumpy because he had to be woken up.
Grumpy because we are still transitioning away from a nap, and his sleep schedule is not well set.
Grumpy because he is not a morning person.
And, grumpy because he did not want to go to school.
“Today is not a school day, it is a special home day!” he asserted, scrunching his nose and narrowing his eyes for dramatic emphasis. “School is not fun. School is boring. School is the stupidest thing ever.” He then draped his entire body on mine and popped his thumb into his mouth, as if daring the world to try and take him away from his momma and his home.
I snuggled him, I talked to him, but it did not really do any good. Deep in my heart, I felt pretty darn ambivalent about sending him off to another long day of preschool (daycare).* Ambivalence can be sniffed out by children, and I am sure he got the idea that he might wear me down. As soon as my schedule featured more flexibility, he began to wheedle and negotiate for more time at home. My husband does not feel this ambivalence. He wants to get H off to school so that he can get on to his work day. He firmly ordered H out of his jammies and into his clothes, and guided him out the door, all while stopping further complaints. H gave me a good-bye kiss and off he went.
Moments like this are not very easy on my momma heart, or any other pieces of my identity. It has taken me 4 years to realize that there would never be an easy stage to dropping my child off with others—nor do I imagine it will get easier as time goes on and he enters elementary, middle, or high school. I don’t imagine that a simple solution lies in keeping him at home. There is so much he gets out of the challenge of being with peers, and his teachers and friends offer tremendous enrichment. And still, there is a part of me—a part that hated school myself, that felt like it was boring and the stupidest thing ever—that just wants to keep him with me forever and always and protect him from school. After all, part of me would rather spend my day with him, and is thrilled that he wants to spend his with me.
On a day like today, I feel a bit sheepish. If I were as clear and level-headed as my husband, I would just as easily guide him out the door. Without that ambivalent mother, snuggling him and asking him about why he didn’t want to go to school, my son would head out the door with more confidence of his own. And, if I felt clearer on my own career trajectory and purpose, I would not feel as ambivalent. His uncertainty is, more than anything, a mirror of my own.
There are the times in life when you realize that you need to better support your child, and there are also times when you realize you need to get your own head on straight. I am trying to embrace the fact that this moment, for our family, represents both. I am in a moment of transition in my career, and our family is also in transition. There is a new baby coming, a search for new jobs, a knowledge that we will be moving in half a year. There is a conversation to be had with my little boy to acknowledge these uncertainties and frustrations. But, there is a conversation to be had with myself. I need to allow it to begin.
*Let me be crystal clear: I think preschool is a wonderful experience for 4 and 5 year olds, and something that should be available to all children without fee. Research bears this out. That said, my son is enrolled in a 7-day-a-week, 9-hour day program. He does not spend that full amount of time there, but he does spend at least as much time at school as a kindergartener would. It is a lot … sometimes too much.