Someone Hit Pause: I’m Just Going to Need a Minute

I lay awake. The pillow feels all wrong. “Is this my pillow?” I wonder. I enter that weird space between waking thought and REM before my eyes snap back open in the darkness. My heart races, and I see him.

He’s a tiny newborn too jaundiced to latch without falling back asleep. He makes the tiniest whimpering sound (like a puppy) as my mother holds a cold washcloth to his feet, attempting to keep him awake. The cold washcloth, it tortures all of us. Then he’s eighteen-months-old with full red lips and blonde hair curling at the base of his neck, all sweaty from a nap. He looks like a Norman Rockwell painting. And then I see him running at age two, in those tan corduroys I loved so much. He bounces down the cobblestone sidewalk at the shopping center where I took him to Gymboree. He jumps on and off the planters, holding my hand for balance. He giggles as older shoppers look on with sweet smiles. My belly is big with his sister. We go to a café where he gets mac ‘n cheese and a cookie, our weekly tradition. He dips his bread into my soup and eats only a fourth of his cookie. He forgets about the rest.

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He’s now four and a half.

I could tell you that those Friday afternoons in the café feel like a different life. It was a different life, but it really does feel like it just happened last week.

Just recently I noticed he has become long and lean. I try to playfully pinch the fat on his cheeks, but there is none. Before he gets into the tub I look at his body from behind. His legs, butt and back look just like his tall broad shouldered Daddy.

His breath stinks now when he wakes up in the morning. His feet smell now too. He will be five in a few months.

Five. An age that for me has always signified the entrance into actual childhood.

And here I am at midnight, restless.

I’ve been here everyday since that morning the doctor pulled him out of me with forceps, my whole body shaking from the pain, from the relief. My boy and I have been together everyday, but somehow I feel as if I missed it. Missed it all.

I lay in the dark and tears start to stream down my face. I wish I could hit rewind.

I remember when he was just a baby listening to other mothers talk about No Child Left Behind, standardized school testing, and opting out. I stood there with him in a baby carrier and thought kindergarten was a million years away. I thought to myself, “They’ll have all this stuff figured out by then. Education will improve, or at least I’ll know more by then.”

At the eleventh hour we have decided to enroll him in public kindergarten in the fall. I don’t know anymore now than I did then. It was always my intention to keep him at his private Montessori school for kindergarten. I wanted to delay. I wanted to keep him little. I told myself it was what was best for him.

But we’ve had to admit it’s not what is best for him.

There’s something about it that feels final, like there’s no turning back. The school district handbook freaks me out with its chapters of state and federal laws. The charts on minutes spent in school. The intense focus on bullying. The idea of not just fire drills but now the drills they must learn in case of a violent incident.

I want to fold him back into me. I want to keep him home. I want to move far out into the country and homeschool him.

Only I don’t.

Not at all.

I CANNOT teach this child. He is far too much like me.

When he has a “bad day” at school I listen to his preschool teachers with understanding. I try to be a grown-up and not make excuses for my child like those idiots who think their kid is blameless. But every damn time I want to say, “Oh yeah? Really? Did he, really? Well screw this place, we’re outta here!”

I want to burn rubber in the parking lot and never look back.

But I know he is to blame. So instead I listen. I swallow my pride. I ask for advice. I take him out to the car and ask why he’s had a bad day. We talk about respect and listening. I hold him while he cries broken with shame. I kiss his face all over and remind him that he had a bad day but he is good all the way through. From the top of his head to the tip of his toes. We talk about having a better tomorrow.

I can see the teachers inside watching me stand next to my car for ten minutes as all the other parents load kids up and drive away. I feel like I’m being judged. They probably think I’m too soft on him. They probably think his defiance is the result of my parenting.

But they don’t know my boy.

We drive home and listen to Joan Jett. I don’t give a damn about my bad reputation.

We do dinner, bath time, PJs, and read books. I lay in his bed and we talk more about listening and respect. We talk about what his father and I expect from him. I ask him what the best part of his day was. He often answers, “Being with Mommy.”

I kiss him. I smell his hair.

And then hours later as I lay in bed I have the deep desire to sneak back into his room and snuggle him while he sleeps. While he’s still little.

While it’s still ok.

I know five is nothing. I know kindergarten will pale in comparison to him getting a driver’s license one day, or getting drunk for the first time, or smoking a joint, or getting his heart broken. I know we have many more “bad days” ahead of us. Days that will be light years more difficult than the first day of kindergarten.

I know.

But my first baby becoming a boy? This one is going to take me a minute.

I just need a minute.

Your Kid’s So Well Behaved, One Day My Son Will Hire Him

Recently my mother told me a quote that resonated with her. She spent her career as a high school guidance counselor. The quote was from a coach she’d worked with. He said, “Un-coachable kids grow up to be unemployable adults.” Having spent thirty years dealing with teenagers she could definitely relate. But she seemed to miss the irony that she was telling me this as we sat watching my son screw around at his gymnastics class. She had her head turned, talking to me as I watched my son dangle from the parallel bars while the rest of the class was doing handstands.

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Screwing off as usual.

I remember another little kid that didn’t pay attention at gymnastics. A kid that got yelled at by coaches to stop screwing around. A kid whose mother often said of her, “She will most likely become the dictator of a small country.” A kid whose kindergarten report card read, “She took some chairs out into a hallway and tried to start her own class.”

That kid was me.

And yes, I started a mutiny in kindergarten.

I’m a mother fucking boss lady.

Figuratively and literally.

When my son was one we learned about a charter school in our school district. It’s a public school, but it’s run like a private school, complete with uniforms and strict academic enrichment programs even in the summer. My husband (the product of a private NYC boy’s prep school) agreed we should put our baby on the waitlist immediately. I knew nothing about the school but I knew I wanted every possible option for our son’s education.

My son is now four, and the kindergarten talk has already begun amongst his friends’ parents. Depending on which school Oz goes to he’ll probably start kindergarten next fall.  And so at our recent preschool parent/teacher conference the conversation was all about where he should go next year. We were informed that they don’t believe his personality would be a good fit for the strict charter school. He doesn’t conform well to structure. Or as his teacher put it, “He’s smart, a little engineer, but when he builds something he refuses to take it apart and put it away. He won’t let other kids play with the materials,” she explained as a slow smile crept across my face.

This is a problem we’ve recently encountered at home. He builds what we like to call “art installations.” Then I spend the next five days or so attempting not to disrupt the hexagon built out of foam pirate swords, or the tower of plastic skeleton bones interspersed with Legos. These “installations” are usually in my living room or a busy hallway.

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An art installation in the kitchen.

Hearing that he was doing this at school should have made me concerned.

It didn’t. I felt proud.

As his teacher spoke I was having a flashback to a pre-meet/last chance gymnastics practice in middle school. The other girls got into an argument over who was next to practice their floor routine. Meanwhile I just kept rewinding my music and hogging the floor to run through my routine again and again. When one of them finally realized and called me out on it, I replied something to the effect of, “Hey, you can practice or you can keep running your mouth. You’re wasting everyone’s time.”

I’ve always been efficient as hell, even at twelve.

I have no use for standing around talking about what to do next. “Go! Go! Go!” has always been my work mantra. Lunch breaks are for suckers.

Our boy has inherited the best and worst of us.

He has leadership ability.

“Leadership ability” is a polite term teachers use to describe a kid that is a total pain in the ass. I smiled when his teacher said, “He has leadership skills for sure.”

“Yes, we know. That’s why he’s in preschool.” I replied, still smiling.

But the real reason he’s in preschool is that preschool is where we learn social skills. You know, like letting someone else play with the blocks when you’re done. Sure, what you built might be way better than whatever half-assed, claptrap, piece of shit tower the next kid’s going to build, but that doesn’t mean you should stop him from trying. Basically, preschool is just the place where we learn how not to be a dick to other people. Which is pretty damn important if you ask me. Like maybe the most important life skill.

Don’t be a dick.

But what I really want to say here is that these “leadership skills” are a good thing. And the idea that un-coachable kids become unemployable adults doesn’t sit well with me. My husband and I were always good employees, great actually. So damn great that we always thought we were doing the job better than everyone else. We didn’t want anyone to help us build the tower, or take down what we built, or use the materials to build their own claptrap piece of shit.

Nope.

We could always do it better, even better than the boss.

That’s why we both eventually ended up successfully self-employed. The majority of millionaires in this country are self-employed. That’s a fact.

No one ever got rich working for someone else.

Of course we’ll continue to work with Oz on sharing, and you know, not being a dick to other kids. We do a lot of talking about listening to his coach and following instructions. We want him to be kind to people and to know that sometimes following direction is actually in his best interest.

And when it comes to growing up and having a career I really just want him to find something he finds fufilling. But if I’m being completely honest, I’d have to say that when my boy grows up, I don’t want him to be employed.

I want him to employ.

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