First day of kindergarten

Those first few weeks after Eleanor came home from the hospital, I wondered how I could get myself out from underneath that seven-pound baby. Such a tiny person. Such huge need. I was feeding her every two hours, round the clock. When would I ever read another book? Have dinner with friends? Stay awake past 9 p.m.? I wanted space to breath, just a little.

Stretch

The feedings gradually became less frequent, giving me stretches of three or four hours of sleep at night, and then, blessedly, six. With sleep, motherhood became much more fun. Eleanor did baby things and then toddler things and then preschool things.

What is there left to say about the first day of kindergarten? Every cliche has been written. I feel greedy complaining about time going too fast. Though, right now, I do want to wrestle time to the ground with maniacal claws. Paralyze it.

I have had more time with Eleanor than I feel a right to. In the last five-and-a-half years, I have carved out a space for her, in my life, in my soul. Now it sometimes seems as though I need her more than she needs me. How quickly we change.

Kindergarten

We walked her to school this morning, and I tried to catch a peek of her on the playground at lunch. Then we walked home this afternoon. She had a good day. She tells me that she’s afraid to use the school bathroom. I’m grateful to be needed a little bit.

My girl

An embarrassment of riches

My parents didn’t volunteer in my school when I was a child. My friends’ parents didn’t either. Sure, a few moms helped out in the library or sewed costumes for the annual school musical, but they were considered exemplary, not the norm.

Eleanor is starting kindergarten next week, and at her school, it is assumed that each parent will volunteer. Most parents do, many of them once a week. I hear from my friends who already have children there that the volunteer positions fill up almost immediately. Sign up early or risk getting the job that nobody wants. Maybe that’s lunchroom duty on the day after Halloween.

We got a tour of Eleanor’s school last week, and the principal requested that we give the children a few weeks to adjust before we start dropping by to eat lunch with them. This never happened when I was a child. That’s not to say that one way is right and the other wrong, just that school has changed a lot since I was young. I do think that this assumption that every parent wants to — and can — be at school at any time is a problem.

I read an essay a few years ago by a mom who lived in a wealthy suburb and didn’t volunteer at her children’s school. Instead, she drove across town to a school that educated kids from low-income families and volunteered there. After reading it, I thought: That’s what I want to do.

This raises a question: What is the purpose of the volunteering? Am I doing this to show Eleanor that I’m involved in her education, or am I hoping to make some lasting difference in the life of a child?

Most of the children at Eleanor’s school come from two-parent families, and many have a stay-at-home parent. They are read to every day. They live in safe neighborhoods. They have nutritious food to eat. While there are students who struggle, as at every school, I am under no illusion that my volunteering would save these children from a life on the streets. Much of the volunteer work goes to planning events and fundraisers and ensuring that the only job the teachers have is teaching the students.

I will mention that I learned while reading “The Smartest Kids in the World” that parental volunteering does not correlate to children doing better academically. Children do perform better in school when they have parents who show an interest in their education and set high standards. Obviously a school is better off having parents more involved than less. But it blows up that notion that Eleanor needs to see me at school to do well.

Still, I feel the pressure to conform. And I’ve had a handful of parents tell me that I need to volunteer if I want to keep up with the teachers, the administrators, the politics. Not sure whether I do.

And what of the children at those schools in another part of town? My volunteering there could make the difference between a kid ending up on the streets or in college. At my former job, we used to adopt an elementary school at Christmas and buy gifts from lists that the children made. One of the boys I bought for had asked for a pack of crayons and construction paper. I went to buy the crayons. It was $1.19 for a pack of 24. I started to cry in the middle of Target.

We read to Eleanor every day, work on math, do science experiments, visit museums. I’m pretty sure that Eleanor knows we value education. Maybe it’s more important that I show her we value kindness.

Month nine — Henry

Dear Henry,

Today you turned nine months old. The doctor makes me fill out a questionnaire every time you have a checkup, and when we went in yesterday, he said that you had just barely passed the section on gross motor skills. Really? I wanted to tell him that he should have seen you last month. A month ago, you were a potato. Really. But in the past four weeks, everything has happened!

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You are crawling everywhere, and your sister informs me that I need to clean the floors more, as if I didn’t know. You are grabbing cords and pulling off doorstops and getting into a mess of trouble. I love it! Without words, your actions are the only thing I have to understand what is happening in your brain.

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You were content with the crawling for about two weeks, and then you figured out that you could stand when holding onto something. Now, that is all you want to do. When we put you down to crawl, you push up like a seal and cry until we prop you at the coffee table. When I try to sit you in my lap, you go rigid and slide down my legs so that I have no choice but to let you stand on my thighs and bounce. You are determined to walk. Never mind that you are too weak to pull yourself up. That’s what parents are for. Onward!

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Your favorite word — your only word, really — is “Mama,” although I have to guess at it’s meaning. Hungry! Lonely! Bored! “Mama, Mama, Mama!” Maybe it also means “ouch.” You are teething, and for real, this time. You have one jagged nub in your lower gum and another about to poke through. Like a puppy, you constantly need something to chew.

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Henry, I used to feel sad with the knowledge that your sister would never understand how much I loved her. And her arrival was normal. We waited years for you, and so did scads of our friends and family members. One of those friends commented recently that you would never know how much you are wanted. Well, good. That’s how I want it. I hope that you never experience the sort of pain that your dad and I did, the sort of pain that would allow you to understand how much you are wanted. Having you here is enough. It is our privilege to raise you.

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Love,
Mom