Thursday, August 17, 2006


School days

In three weeks, Tristan has his first meeting with his junior kindergarten teacher. In four weeks, he has his first small-group, delayed admission first day of school. Ten days after that, he has his first full-class day of school.

One of those is his first day of school, but I haven't yet decided which one it is.

It's hard to believe my son is school-age already. I remember being in JK - not clearly, but in fuzzy snapshots of event and emotion. I used to walk to and from school myself, through a big field and a park. It's about the same distance that Tristan will travel, but he will have to cross a relatively busy suburban street. All the same, I still can't imagine the day when I'll just open the door and kiss him on the cheek and say, "See ya, kiddo. Have a great day!"

I don't think I'm going to be one of the moms with fingers laced through the chain link fence on that first day(s), sobbing disconsolately for my lost baby, but I definitely won't be clicking my heels and doing the viagra dance either. Going to school is a big transition, no doubt, but sending the boys off to daycare was way more daunting.

It would be more difficult, I think, if it weren't so obvious that Tristan is more than ready for school. It's more than just his early forays into reading and math and his inate curiousness, though; where I really see his readiness is in his interactions with other kids. Funny, just as I'm typing this I'm realizing that my deepest fears for him are not how he will do academically, but how he will do socially. He's plenty bright and quick and curious, and I have no doubt he'll do relatively well with his reading and writing and arithmetic, and I have no reason to doubt he'll do just fine socially - but it still makes me breathless with anxiety to think about it.

School was a minefield for me, socially. Sometime in the early primary years, for reasons I've never understood, I became one of the target kids. I was always an outsider, picked last for teams, and teased mercilessly. We moved when I was in Grades 1, 4 and 7, which although gave me a couple of shots at a fresh start, also meant I was pretty much continually the new kid. It got worse instead of better, and by the time I was in high school I was deeply afraid nobody would ever find me worthy of love. (Which left me hugely vulnerable to my first serious boyfriend, who turned into my first husband when I was barely 20 years old. Who me, issues?) Not to say I didn't have a terrifically happy childhood with plenty of blissful memories, but when I think back to my school years pretty much through the middle of high school, the first things I remember are the excruciating awkwardness, the overpowering desire to be liked, and the mystified hurt of rejection.

As a toddler, Tristan was relatively shy. He is often just as happy playing by himself as with the group, and he doesn't seem to share Simon's gregarious bravado. But over the summer, I've seen him suddenly start to notice the other kids, and to want their attention. We go to the park almost every evening after dinner, and my heart alternately aches and soars watching him interacting with the other kids. He gets a look of joy on his face when the other kids include him in their games that makes it painfully obvious that he's going to have the same need for inclusion and affirmation that his mother has - poor wee soul.

I wish there was something I could give Tristan, something I could do to prepare him and to smooth the way for him. I wish that in hindsight I could look back and say, "You'll be fine if you just avoid XXX" or, "Above all, just make sure you XXX" - but I have no idea what formula separates the happy, popular kids from those on the fringes or worse - the kids who become the targets.

It also occurs to me that I'm doing a lot of fretting on this one in advance of there actually being anything to fret about. He hasn't even started school yet! But he's growing up, my baby is. He's becoming his own self now, so much more than an extension of me. The whole world is about to open up for him, and I couldn't be more proud, or more excited. But I can also see on the horizon the first of many hurts that I won't be able to heal with kisses and a Scooby-Doo band-aid, and that's the part that I'm simply not yet ready for.

And I thought the labour and delivery would be the hardest part of mothering...