September means many things for me nowadays. As it did for me as a student and then as a teacher, it brings to mind the crisp smell of new workbooks, the smooth surface of contact paper or the perfect points of newly sharpened pencils. September is school to me and so many others.
Since 2001, however, this month, one filled with the first sightings of red and orange leaves and the chilled breeze of the early morning, also makes me think of 9/11. Of the feeling not only on that day but on the days before it, before we knew of the horror that was to come. And on the days after. The days spent waiting and watching, crying and wailing, falling down and standing up.
When I thought about writing a post for this month, I couldn’t decide what to discuss: the back-to-school part of September or the day that changed everything.
This year is Rosemarie’s first in school. At three years old, she has begun Pre-K and on Wednesday she had her first real day of school ever. This year, then, I will talk about school. For Wednesday—a happy day, a good day of good things—changed Rosemarie’s everything too.
Pencils, Books and Mom’s Sad Looks
Almost every day of Rosemarie’s life has been spent with me. Of course, there are exceptions: the two weeks I spent in the hospital for my surgery last summer and the weekends I spend away every year with my girlfriends or with the cheerleading team I coach.
Most days, though, Rosie is with me and she is with me for the entire day: from the moment she wakes up and clomps over to my room to climb in my bed, to the time I pull her blanket over her shoulders and kiss her cheek and nose and cheek again to say good night.
School changes that. Of course, I will still be there for the majority of her days. Of course, her three little half days of school don’t technically change that much. And she did attend camp this summer. I did drop her off two days a week for a half hour longer than she will spend at school.
But still. This is different. There is an entire place in her life now that doesn’t involve me. It’s a room painted different shades of blue with a weather chart and a birthday board. A snack room with round tables and miniature chairs and a gym with a plastic basketball hoop and Playskool slide. A place where Rosemarie will exist without me.
School is a world that is all her own and that is something she has never really had before.
This makes me think. It makes me wonder. It makes me ask questions as I picture my little girl in her classroom, her messy Elsa braid she insisted on wearing the first day and her navy skort too big for her tiny hips.
I know I am not alone. I know other mothers must ask the same questions. I think some other mothers will nod along as they read this list.
Is everyone being nice to her?
The truth is until our children go to school, we choose their friends for them. Rosemarie does not spend time with any children if I do not set up that time for her. Her best friends are her cousins and the children of my best friends. I know each of them and I know them well. I know if they take a toy from Rosemarie, she will probably take one from them ten minutes later. I know if one of them pushes her, next week Rosemarie will do the same.
And I know my sister and friends will deal with the behavior as I would. We may not have the exact same parenting styles but I trust each of them and I know I never have to worry that Rosemarie is being mistreated by one of their children.
There are other children in Rosie’s world of school, though, that I do not know, whose parents I do not know either. Am I saying all other children are mean and their parents absent-minded? Of course not. I know these children, my daughter included, will take turns misbehaving.
But I still don’t know how they are treating my little girl and I can’t help but wonder about it. I can’t help but wonder if she is making friends. If the other kids will find her as charming as I do. Will they find it funny when she says “Gimme a chance” in Steve Martin’s Little Shop of Horrors voice? Or will they think it’s weird? What if they just don’t hear her at all?
I am not asking for her to be the most popular. I only want her to find kindness in others. I only want to know she feels happy and safe.
Is she different without me there?
I’ve heard it said that children sometimes act differently in school than they do at home. I heard it as a teacher from my students’ parents. My own niece, who is now 18, was a goofy, crazy chatterbox at home and a quiet, shy mouse in school.
I wonder if that will be Rosemarie as well. At home, she is a ball of energy. She loves to sing and run and jump and flip. And she never stops talking. She will ask me the same question 27 times. She will tell me about the same doll over and over again. In the car, my entire ride is filled with the sound of her voice:
“Um, where we going?”
“We’re going to the supermarket to buy food?”
“Where we going?”
How will this all translate in school? Will she be talkative, so talkative she gets in trouble? Or will she be entirely different? Will she be shy or quiet? Will she clam up when asked a question?
I look forward to the day I find out because I truly find it fascinating. Who will she really be in life out there in the real world: the person I see each day or the person she shows the teacher?
Does she miss me?
As I said before, I am the one with whom Rosemarie spends her day. I am there when she wakes up and eats breakfast, when she takes a bath and gets dressed. I am there when she plays with her Legos and Peppa Pig house. I am there when she sings “Let It Go” around the living room. It is me who listens when she cries, who hugs away her tears. It is me to whom she runs when she stubs her toe or bangs her head.
But there is another woman in her life now: an adorable, blonde young woman with a kind smile and tiny feet. Another woman who will calm her and play with her, another woman who will teach her new things and give her praise.
I know. I sound jealous. I would never discourage Rosemarie from getting to know her teacher or from admiring her. But it does hurt my heart a little. It does hurt just a bit to know I am not the only one anymore. Yes, I am her mother and she will continue to adore me. But gone is the time when it was only I. Gone is the time when I, and I alone, was her teacher.
I don’t want her to be sad at school but I do hope deep down she misses me. Just a little. Just enough.
Because I certainly miss her.
Am I a bad mother if I enjoy my alone time?
Yes, I miss her. I truly do. But I wrote this post while sitting in Dunkin Donuts with my laptop. I took breaks from typing to sip my iced coffee and break off pieces of my plain whole wheat bagel. I wrote for two hours with hardly any interruption.
I do miss her but I am glad to have this regular, scheduled alone time. I’m glad to be able to sit and write or read or maybe shop or sleep or get my nails done.
This is the one question to which I know the answer. No, that does not make me a bad mother. I think it is a good thing that my feelings are mixed because as two o’clock draws near even if I want my alone time to continue, even if I want to read one more chapter, I simply can’t wait to see my girl with her happy eyes and a backpack so big, it covers her behind.
I am a woman. I am a writer. But I am a mother too and I am always a mother first.