Oh, these little boys. Be still my heart.
One of the most heartwrenching parts of motherhood, I’ve come to realize this fall, is watching your child go to school. With other kids. Who will be sweet sometimes, tease sometimes, play nicely sometimes, hurt feelings sometimes. How hard to think that all those little ones sometimes will feel lonely or left out or embarrassed or sad. I know those are good emotions, too (we’re striving for wholeness, right?) but maybe not for him. Maybe just happiness for this child, okay?
Toby has had a somewhat tough time adjusting to a new school with new kids, many of whom have known each other for years. He enjoys school overall; he just has wobbly moments here and there. Plus, four-year-old Toby still seems so little. An exchange at the neighborhood playground the other day:
Another four-year-old: “Have you ever seen Star Wars?”
Toby: “No…have you ever seen Elmo?!!”
Well, as usual, the brilliant Jenny Rosenstrach must have read my mind because she recently wrote a Real Simple essay about her seventh-grade daughter, who was having a tricky time with some school friendships. Jenny didn’t know how to help, so she did what any self-respecting adult woman would do: she called her mom. Here’s what happened:
She told me what I already knew: I’d have to sit this one out, as well as the next one and the one after that and the one after that, too. It was time to let the kids figure this stuff out on their own. But in a vehement tone that I imagine she reserves for her most unruly clients (she’s a real estate attorney), Mom did give me one tangible way to help: “You just make sure that when those girls walk in that door every day,” she said, “they never doubt that home is the most comforting place for them to be. That is what you can do.”
So that is what I will do: Make sure that when my children walk in the door every day, they never doubt that home is the most comforting place for them to be. We’ve slowed down our evening routine and added some rituals. We light candles at dinner, we play games on the floor, we pile onto the sofa to read books. And Alex and I have started putting Toby to bed together—instead of switching off, we focus on him, and lie down (with Toby in the middle), and talk and sing songs and give “challenges” (like “what sound does an owl make?” or “pretend you’re swimming” or “count to 20”) which Toby loves. And, the next morning, when Toby pads into our bedroom at 6 a.m., and stands at my side of the bed saying “Mama? Mama?”, I pull off my ratty sleep mask and give him a huge grin, no matter how exhausted I am. Home is a haven, a soft landing place, and no matter what happens in the outside world, they will always have that.
(Photos of Toby and Anton playing ice cream shop by Winnie Au.)