By Guest Blogger Andrea Ropko
When it was time to consider whether or not to send my oldest child to preschool I had what I would consider a mild case of Holy Moly, his entire emotional, physical, spiritual, and intellectual development and self-confidence hinges on my making the right decision, and if I make the wrong choice, I have forever ruined him anxiety. I remember talking to the school Director on the phone, trying to get her to decide for me whether or not my two year old was ready for preschool. Two days a week. Three hours at a time.
How is he with transitions? she asked.
This question left me sobbing, unable to finish our phone call. I think I may have even hung up on her. I was stunned by her question. It wasn’t unreasonable. And the answer was not too terrible to utter. As a matter of fact, the trouble was I had no idea how to respond, because I didn’t know what she was asking. Once again, I was stumped by parenting.
It’s been awhile since I’ve been asked this question, but I am happy to report that I am quite clear on the answer.
How is he with transitions?
And I’m not just talking about the big ones. One caregiver to the next. Going from the 4s class to the 4/5s class. The end of a playdate. These are, of course, troublesome, but I am also referring to the space between drying off after a bath and putting on pajamas. It’s a nightly habit, with zero surprises, yet the amount of tomfoolery that can take place between the two non-event events can leave me heavy-breathed and clenched-jawed.
Fortunately, I have picked up a few tricks of the trade. Consistent schedules. Time warnings. Stating expectations. Velcroed pictures of activities to be yanked off after completion to keep us on task. This one was very effective. Until it wasn’t. Tweaking our system is our only constant.
So I wasn’t at all surprised when I was met with some resistance on Kindergarten Beginner’s Day at our neighborhood elementary school. He refused to get dressed. He refused to put on shoes. He refused to ever go to Kindergarten. He refused to have a summer break that would end with him going to Kindergarten.
With every shriek and scream of dismay, I chose the don’t respond and get hooked in the chaos approach. With few words on my part, he somehow managed to get in the car, fully dressed. He was saying no with his mouth, but his actions said, maybe, just maybe, I’ll go see what Kindergarten is all about.
On the ride to school, I thought I would take the moment of quiet to share my personal experience with Kindergarten anxiety. As I started to regale him with shared feelings of jitters, he cut me short with a simple request.
Can you stop talking, mom?
I complied and drove in silence the next couple of blocks. As we turned into the school parking lot, he spied a neighborhood friend getting out of her mom’s car.
I changed my mind, I’ll go in, he announced as I parked the car. A little familiarity was all it took.
All the rising Kindergartners were shuffled off for an hour or so of what I assumed was a sneak peek at the exciting world of elementary education, while the parents gathered together for classroom/curriculum/extracurricular activities details. Mum was pretty much the word when Heath rejoined me in the school library. It was a slow leak of minimal information over the next week as to exactly what went down while we were apart. There was a snack. That’s all I know, and it took three days before he parted with that nugget.
Despite his withholding information, he requested a calendar to cross off the days until his first real day of Kindergarten. So far I’ve only had one anxiety attack regarding the school choice, which resulted in me searching online at 4 am for other alternatives, including un-schooling. Visions of the Ropko 5 happily travelling the country in a silver bullet air stream for an entire year, visiting every National Park from coast to coast, danced in my sleep-deprived noggin.
In the light of the “morning-post-apocalyptic-you-have-to-brush-your-teeth-before-you-go-to-school episode,” a happy Heath was dropped off for a morning of whole child growth with his pals. I drove out of the school parking lot feeling quite certain he will be more than okay at his new school in the Fall.
How is he with transitions?
How am I with transitions?
****ing horrible. My baby is going to Kindergarten.
Seven years have passed since I originally wrote this blog post and I am pretty sure if I added the number of transitions I have encountered with my children since then, I would say it’s close to a million and ten. That includes walking from our back door to the car. Some days this is not a seamless feat. I know for a fact that I had the “We Really Should Be Able to Just Get in the Car” speech with my kids at least twice this summer.
But a shift in the big transitions has happened. As a matter of fact, I really had not given any thought to this until I recently stopped to pause on this old blog post. I don’t know the exact experience he was going through when he first asked me this, but I do know for some time now my oldest will occasionally check in with me about some aspect of his life, and he always begins the dialogue with some version of the following: Has that ever happened to you?
The answer is always yes. Yes, I felt like barfing before every swim meet. Yes, I have received a way less than perfect grade on an assignment. Yes, I have had trouble falling asleep. Yes, I still get nervous about school starting. Yes, I have been disappointed in myself.
Reassurance. He is seeking reassurance. Reassurance that his feelings are not unusual.
I can tell you it doesn’t go well when I try to talk him out of his feelings. He is not interested in long tales that seem to be loaded with the message: No, don’t feel like that. He just wants to know that he is not alone in having felt a certain unfamiliar, and perhaps, uncomfortable way. By hearing me say, “Yes, I have felt that way too,” he seems to be able to breathe in and out and carry on with his almost-teenager life.
I know personally having those check-in people in my world is what helps me breathe in and out and carry on with my forty-something life. As my oldest grows, and his life transitions morph into even greater, heavier experiences, I hope I can continue to be someone with whom he can check-in. And I really hope I can continue to be honest and say, “Yes, I have felt that way too. Yes, that has happened to me.”
So. How are we with transitions?
Thanks to shared experience, and much grace, we can breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat.
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