While other moms cried rivers about their babies growing up and starting kindergarten, all I could do is think about poor me. We haven’t had a routine in five years. It’s been sleep when you want, get up when you want, and do whatever the hell you want. I’m not good with schedules. I’ve been fired three times from corporate America and my high school record shows that over four years I was late 77 times and absent 53. I’m getting panic attacks. I can’t sleep or eat. I can’t think straight. We don’t qualify for bus service since we live 3/4 mile from school. I have to go back and forth to the school 180 days—twice each day—or 360 times, not including all the times we have to go back for forgotten snow pants or whatever.
The night before, I do four practice runs to the school: one on foot, one on bike, one on scooter, and one by car. We choose the scooter and go to bed three hours earlier than usual.
I toss and turn all night obsessively checking the weather. At 4 a.m., I get her snack ready, put a love note in her bag, and pace the house waiting for the sun to come up. Pancake breakfast, new dress, new socks, new shoes, new headband, new everything. We are doing this! We head out to grab her scooter from the garage and off we go.
One block into her scooting and me speed walking, my husband drives past us and asks if we want to catch a ride with him on his way to work. This is not part of the plan but I take the offer and hitch the ride anyway. I throw the scooter in the trunk and as we blow past our neighbors video-taping their kids walking to school and the crossing guard greeting everybody for the new school year, I duck my head down in shame and tell my daughter not to look at anybody or wave.
We get dropped off at the front doors and squeeze into the building with the swarms of parents and kids. I suddenly feel sick. The smell of the school, the frenzy, it’s all coming back to me. We elbow our way to her cubby, drop off her gear, and sign in. Red marker for A group, red back-and-forth folder into the file, sign-up sheet for PTO, sign-off sheet for pick-up, extra set of clothes on the top shelve of hallway cubby, sensible snack in the snack cubby next to the rest of the brown rice cakes, raisins, and camel-back water bottles. Hugs, air kiss, and goodbye.
I walk home in a September heat wave with a scooter over my shoulder and helmet in my hand, exhausted and sweating, and have just enough time to do two loads of laundry and then turn around and pick her up. Lunch, piano, playdate, dinner, bath, books, brush teeth, bed. This continues on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. I think I might make it through the first week, but on Thursday night we cheat and have takeout. That night, instead of giving her a bath, I wash her down with baby wipes. Instead of making her brush her teeth, I give her a mint.
By Friday, I have forgotten her sneakers for PE twice. I forgot to return her library books. We blew off the parent potluck dinner (takeout night) and RSVP’d no to her first birthday invite even though we are around that weekend. The scooter that we usually parked neatly against the stone wall got tossed haphazardly against the side entrance, and when I left out the front entrance I forgot to take it home with me. When I realized, I thought, fuck it, there is not way I am going back.
The sensible snack turned into chocolate pudding, Nilla cookies, and Fanta in a water bottle hopefully passing as OJ. I’m drinking Grande Frappuccinos like they are going out of style. I can’t keep up. The school emails, Shutterfly photos, potluck picnics, flu vaccine release, PTO meetings, parent open house night, paper towel duty, it’s all piling up. On Friday when I drop her off, she asks me to stay and help her draw the solar system. I am fried, but one of the moms is watching me clumsily draw lines around the sun.
“Mom, how many planets are in the solar system?”
“I don’t know. 12? 8? 10? Didn’t they just get rid of one? You can Google it when you get home. Can’t you just draw a rainbow or a slice of pizza like the other kids?”
The mom gives me a sharp look and says, “Does she really Google at home? Can you imagine if your kindergartner had an iPad? That would be outrageous!”
My kindergartener has an iPod, iPhone, a PC, and a laptop.
I have mommy guilt.
And I don’t even know why.
I feel claustrophobic. I hate institutions. School is an institution. I spent my entire life clawing my way out and now I am back again. Handcuffed for the next 13 years only, this time with a 5-year-old and a scooter. I begin to sweat. I just want to get home. I can’t remember this mom’s name to say excuse me so I can get around her and leave. I can’t remember the teacher’s names, the kid’s names, and my daughter’s new friend-who-has-two-moms moms’ names.
Back home, I sit on my couch for the duration of a kindergarten day and stare at the wall. I walk back for pickup get halfway there and realize I am barefoot. I decide then that we are not having dinner tonight. It’s Friday; the kid can have ice cream and the adults can have wine. The week is over; we semi-survived. And we’re snuggling.
“Mom? I’m the only one at school who gets juice.”
“Really? The only one? What is everybody drinking?”
“Okay, well do you want me to give you water?”
“Yes, because it is making my new best friend jealous. So I told her how to get her mom to give her juice. Say, ‘Mom? I am going to cut my head off if you don’t give me juice.’”
I jump out of bed. “You said what?! You can get expelled for that! That is like a crime! You can get arrested!”
“Jesus Christ, did you say that to anybody else?”
“What is the big deal you told me you got your head chopped off in a horror movie and you are still alive.”
“Oh my God, did you tell people I make horror movies?”
“Well… don’t you?”
“Yes and no. No, I was in a few. It wasn’t real. Forget I ever told you that. Listen, you can never talk about chopping heads off at school, okay?”
I haven’t made any mom friends yet, and I can already tell I am losing them. I don’t want to go to school on Monday; this girl’s mom is going to tell on me. I’m not cut out for this. I should be living on a farm selling medical marijuana in Colorado or something.
“Mom? Is it okay with you if I pledge allegiance to the flag at school?”
“Do they have online kindergarten?”
I sit up, picturing mornings of sleeping in, back to our carefree ways.
But I realize I have a job to do. But unlike my other jobs, I can’t get fired and I can’t quit. You can’t quit your kid. I have no choice but to take the journey.
Frappuccino up, it’s going to be a long and bumpy ride, my little friend.
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