Reflections of a Kindergarten Mother

I didn't think I ever wanted kids. Now Raffi is my favorite musician and I can't picture my life without a small child on my lap. I warned my husband-to-be that I didn't see motherhood in my future and ended up talking him into a third child. We didn't take Luke's crib down until his third birthday. Patrick unscrewed each screw of the crib slowly, reluctantly, it seemed to me--and collected the little metal pieces in his pocket. It was hitting him that this was our last baby.

Well, it's hitting me now. Luke is starting kindergarten this fall. No little boy sucking his thumb on my lap as the older kids go off to school. No more mornings stirring soup while he lies on the kitchen floor playing with his toy animals. I don't want this stage to be over.

 

I've been bracing myself for this transition since last spring, when Luke had only a few weeks of nursery school left. One afternoon we took our familiar walk home together from his childcare center on the St. Catherine's college campus. We had watched the huge oaks and maples on the hill change from the green of late summer to the crimson of autumn. There was something generous and brave about the leaves, I thought, holding nothing back before they fell to the ground.

Winter yielded to spring. We crouched to see the first purple crocuses break through the garden along the side of the old vine-covered stone buildings. Luke leapt and bounced toward home, turning fallen branches into moose antlers, or soldier's swords. One afternoon he picked up a long willow branch and swirled it in wild circles. Whoosh, whoosh, the air broke into glittering confetti around his head.

"It's sad that you are finishing nursery school, isn't it?" I said as we continued walking. He had only three weeks left.

"No, it isn't sad at all," he said, balancing on the curb of the driveway that goes down by the pond. "Nursery school is boring. In kindergarten you learn to read." His arms stretched out on each side, a bird about to take off.

 

When school starts in the fall, I walk with the kids. I say I am concerned about Luke crossing the big streets, but the fact is, I can't bear the idea of all three children trooping out the front door together, leaving me. There has always been a part of me that yearned for more time alone. Now that I have it, I don't know what to do with myself.

The "what next?" question scares me. My days have been structured around caring for these children. My life may collapse on itself now without that sense of purpose. Do I even exist apart from my children? Can I reconnect with the me that is not a mother? Or have I lost her in the commotion of raising a family? I am afraid that I will feel isolated. I will be lonely. I will get depressed. I won't know what to do. I won't know how to find out. I won't be good at anything. I will have nothing to offer. I will be useless, with no sense of purpose, a blob.

Staying home to raise your children has not been a highly valued choice in our society in recent years. In the back of my head lurks the question that reappears when I feel insecure--was this a valid use of my time? I can even feel guilty that I have had the luxury of being able to stay at home and don't have to immediately start earning a paycheck.

It is not only the loss of my children that is hard. It is also the fear that I will not be able to find myself.

 

The first two weeks of kindergarten are hot. Luke and I have the same routine every day. I meet him at school after lunch and we walk home together. Every few blocks on Cleveland Avenue, we rest in the shade of a tree or at a bus-stop bench and swig from the water bottle I brought. At home Luke shrugs off his red knapsack and changes out of his school uniform into cotton shorts and a T-shirt. We drink glasses of cold water standing by the kitchen sink. Then we go back outside to the hammock under the white oak tree.

We lie there in the shade, my usually uncontainable son limp from a morning of kindergarten. Occasionally a late summer bee buzzes by. I stare up at the green leaves suffused with afternoon sun. The hammock holds us suspended in time and space. Its rope mesh returns us to an ancient comfort. I could stay here forever, I think to myself. The slightest movement of air delights me. So does this closeness with my child. At times, though, Luke's head weighs down on my shoulder, pressing into the bone. His elbow pokes me in the stomach as he changes position. I imagine the pleasures of stretching out alone in the hammock.

 

When Daniel, our first child, was about two, I realized that I needed time alone on a regular basis. I began a regular writing practice. One winter afternoon when we still lived in Connecticut and all three kids were under six, Grace, my aptly named baby sitter, arrived at our house at four o'clock for her daily hour of duty so I could get out of the house to write. By that time I couldn't stand another minute of small children or the confining walls of my small world with them. I backed the car out of the driveway and drove down the street with a giddy sense of freedom. At the intersection of Cadwell and Woodland, the hills of Talcott Ridge edged the distant horizon in purple. I took a deep breath. Yes, there was a bigger world out there. I got out of the car at Petersons', the local café where I always went to write, and stood still for a minute breathing the clearness of the cold air into my lungs. The world was gold as the sun dropped behind the library. I wondered, "Will I ever be this exquisitely happy again, having time to myself, as I am at this moment--looking forward to a whole hour of being alone, writing?"

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