Getting Known

It has been a hell of a seven days.

I know God took that long to make the world–okay FINE it was six–and, not for nothing, I feel like we’ve been under some deconstruction and construction on the order of world-building ourselves this past week. Both boys were thrilled to be starting school: Little Brother in his new preschool, The Kid in his new class at his old school.

The sheen wore off quickly.

When faced with continuing to play with new toys and chasing me out the door screaming, LB continues to choose the latter most mornings. His friendly teacher holds him back while LB throws his arms toward me and I sneak away, feeling like the opposite of a mother. Then I take TK to school.

And hasn’t that been interesting.

Last week he was counting down to the start of school, popping out of bed the first two mornings two announce it: “FIRST day of school!” “SECOND day of school!” He was met, once there, with total chaos and a year one teacher who was away until this week, and he was. not. HAVING. IT. Yesterday he informed me that he hates school (a word–the “h” one–that upset me much more deeply than if he’d said “I don’t like that f@cking place” or “how about you don’t take me to that sh#thole today?” I blame YouTube). I explained to him, rule follower that he is, that it’s against the law for kids not to go to school and did he really want me to go to jail? (When, let’s be honest, we all know that I’d be headed to a mental institution first.) He responded by asking me to tell him a story about how James doesn’t go to school and Mommy goes to jail. Another stellar parenting moment.

Yesterday he sobbed. I walked away from another child, this one with a therapist at least, in the maternal guilt pose: one hand on my phone, the other clasping itself in prayer. Then I spent a few hours by myself and felt like I could breathe again.

Last week we also said goodbye to the Yankee Mom and Dad, visitors for a couple of weeks who were a wedding gift from my sister–at her wedding, to me, when she married their son and I welcomed them into my life as second parents during my stint in New York, when they lived an hour and a half away by train and always served dinner and wine should I need it (I needed it often). We have known each other for thirteen years–the length of my sister’s marriage SO FAR–and they’ve seen the ugly moments of me: the time I missed a brunch early on because I was hungover on my future bro-in-law’s couch; the time I left my sister’s wedding shower early to pin down an apartment in the city; the time I barfed after their niece’s wedding; the times I was super right-wing. They’ve stuck by me for some reason, and even seem to think I’m a decent person, which makes me question their judgment and enjoy their company. Having them around was tiring in the sense that having anyone around besides myself is tiring, but it was also relieving: being understood, and known. No play-acting required. Also, we drank a lot of champagne.

And every time we have guests, we get to know them more and show them this city we are knowing more. We are learning each other, and this place, by heart.

I’m learning my kids by heart, too. Which can sometimes be very painful for all of us.

TK said it from the back seat this morning: “I don’t want to go to school today. I’m just VERY SAD.” Thankful that my need for him to go coalesced with his best interest, I stood firm. “You have to go,” I told him, not bothering to ask again if he wanted me to go to jail–I’m too fragile that early in the day. “But I’ll share your sad with you.”

“You’ll share it?” he asked.

“I’ll be sad with you,” I said.

This quieted him. We arrived at school and he was less agitated than yesterday. His teacher was there for the first time–the (hopefully) last big change for awhile–and he pulled my hand. “I want to go talk to her,” he said, and my heart swelled with pride. He is constantly out-braving me. When it came time for them to line up and enter the classroom, he grabbed my hand and I sensed another epic goodbye meltdown. Then he dropped it and grabbed his therapist’s, and it relieved and saddened me. Joy and pain: the components of all the most meaningful moments.

Over the weekend, we drove out to Costco, a forty-five minute haul, and TK said he’d never been there before. We explained that he actually had, it’s just been a year so he doesn’t remember it. A lot can change in a year, after all: people in the school yard become friends, their understanding replacing uncertainty. A two-year-old turns three, abandoning his nappies for underwear and talking up a storm. Two boys learn to swim. Their mother cycles into a depression and, slowly, back out again. A mammogram comes back clear. A place becomes home.

As the four of us walked toward the entrance, TK skipped a bit, and, as though he hadn’t missed a beat, grinned, and announced, “It’s good to be back.”

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