an open letter to The Kidling and to kidlings of a certain age*

The Kidling was happier than this to return to school. I swear.

The Kidling was happier than this about her return to school. I swear.

On this day that is traditionally the first day of school, The Mama stands in

Sappy, whiny, sentimental

solidarity with family members everywhere sending their

Kids who are totally ready to go to school and have probably been ready for months but whose parents/grandparents/responsible adults are worried sick. Seriously! Think of all the things that could go wrong! I could send lunch money when all the other parents packed lunch, I could pack lunch when all the other parents sent lunch money, I could forget to pack lunch or send lunch money, thereby making me a pariah and–

babies to the first day of kindergarten. May your worries be unfounded, may your tears be few, and may the force be with you… or something.

_________

A few days ago on a morning run, my running pals and I were making conversation. Idle chit-chat, at first glance. The kind that helps us get through the miles but that, in the aggregate, shines light into the corners of our souls.

“How are you dealing with Kindergarten?” the fastest of us asked.

“What?” I replied. “Oh. Great! Honestly, I am just excited for her. She is damn smart. She is really ready to be a reader.”

And with that, I brushed aside all thoughts of anxiety regarding my youngest–my only–child’s matriculation into the garden of children… until two Saturdays ago. On that day, it all came. At first it whispered, politely tiptoeing toward me. Shortly thereafter, it spoke more firmly and picked up its pace. Then it whacked me right over the head.

Jerk.

Because on that fateful Saturday, I found myself at Generic Department Store. Yes, the same one that gave me corduroy shorts with opaque tights in adolescence. Perms and bad bobs in my childhood. But that day, it gave me something else: anxiety.

On that far-from-fine day, The Mama decided to buy The Kidling’s new school clothes. Pretty striped cotton dresses, practical tees and leggings, perhaps a fall jacket… things that scream “The Kindergartner from The Middle(west).” And I did find those things. It’s just that I also found other…

Things.

Things that I wasn’t ready to see in size 5.  The details aren’t worthy of recounting,

Tight things, short things, one-shouldered things, things with words I don’t want to read in places I don’t want to read them

but the outcome is: fear. Genuine, chest-tightening fear. Fear of the influence of the world. Fear that The Dada and I will no longer control the message. Fear that–god forbid–The Kidling will actually want those awful things.

Fear that the world won’t be kind.

Fear that The Kidling won’t be kind.

Fear that she will struggle–with friendships, with learning, with anything.

Fear that she will be cruel to friends who struggle.

Fear that she will be judged.

Fear that she will judge.

Fear that she will be hurt.

Fear that she will hurt.

Fear.

Fear.

Fear.

Fear.

Fear.

I was so busy with my fear that I nearly forgot to notice today. But first times are sacred and deserve to be memorialized. So, to you, Dear Kidling, I write:

_________

Dear The Kidling (and friends);

This morning

After you went outside in your perfect first-day-of-school outfit and played with sidewalk chalk in your perfect-first-day-of-school outfit and covered your perfect-first-day-of-school outfit with said sidewalk chalk and apologized for covering your perfect-first-day-of-school outfit with sidewalk chalk and went inside to take off your perfect-first-day-of-school outfit and changed into clothes.

you went to Kindergarten. Kindergarten! I know you are a genius, but this seems extreme. You were, after all, born just yesterday.

A few weeks ago, we sat on our front steps and ate ice cream. When I thanked you for being part of my life, you laughed at me. Then you shrugged your tiny little shoulders

Shoulders on which the weight of the world seems sometimes to rest.

and said “Well, you created me,” because you had no choice in the matter.

Which is kind of awesome, because I know you would choose Nana.

Whether by choice or by nature, I am ridiculously lucky to have you. Not that I am foolish enough to think that you are meant to be had. Rather, I am so, so fortunate to have you here. With me. With The Dada. Every day, as part of our crazy little ride on this planet. And, for what it’s worth, I have no idea what I did to deserve you, but whatever it was, I am damn glad I did it. And if that thing that I did occurred in a past life, then I am seriously thanking dead-previous-The-Mama.

Really. Thank you for not being a total jerk to someone with the power to ensure future-The-Mama got screwed over with a boring, bratty kid.

On such a monumental day, I don’t have nearly as much advice as I wish I did. What little I have to offer is so very important: No matter what, be you. Always be you. Even when you forget who “you” are. Even when you lose “you.” Even when the “you” you find is wholly different from the one you lost. Be you. Strong, kind, quirky, clever, smart, stubborn, loving, rambunctious, curious, agile, witty, loud, beautiful, spunky, mouthy,

but not too mouthy

you. Because I love the shit out of you. And I always will.

Love,
The Mama

_________

* This post originally appeared (in an ever-so-slightly different form) in Kidlingville on September 3, 2013. And you know what? Not a damn thing has changed.

our obligatory back-to-school post (but this one is pretty good)

You might have noticed that The Family has been MIA. Not actually MIA, so don’t go making any phone calls. But seriously, how funny would that be:

Operator: 9-1-1, what’s the emergency?
Dear Reader: I want to file a missing people report. The Family has been too quiet lately.
Operator: Your family?
Dear Reader: No. The Family. I haven’t heard much from The Mama in the last couple of months.
Operator: Your Mama?
Dear Reader: Hey, you don’t have to be rude!
Operator: No, I mean your mother.
Dear Reader: Huh? Oh, no, not my Mama, The Mama. And The Kidling!
Operator: The killing? Is someone hurt?
Dear Reader: No! The KiDling. My favorite kid who I haven’t ever actually met. I know she talks nonstop, and I haven’t heard a peep from her all month. I’m a little worried.
Operator: Okay. We can send an officer out to do a welfare check. What is their address?
Dear Reader: The Family lives in Our Town, The Middle. Oh, and don’t forget to check on The Pup while you are there.
Operator: (silence)

Which is all to say that you might not know what is going on in Our Life. A brief summary: we had school, then it was summer, and now it isn’t.  Now that you are all caught up…

Without going into too much detail, The Kidling has been feeling pretty under the weather. Nothing serious, but she has been sick in that way that includes both naps and steroids. In other words, she was about as ready for bed last night as I am after my third espresso. So, after her shower, we went for a walk. Accompanied by a moonlit sky and striped pajamas, The Mama, The Kidling, and The Pup meandered around the neighborhood until we landed at her school. We walked through the open field past the playground, stopping to count windows in order to determine which teacher was still there working so late into the night. Once we had figured it out, this child of mine–

the same child who told me her retirement plans by December of her kindergarten year. The one who, just weeks before this summer was to begin, looked her teacher square in the eye and told her, “I’m sick of learning, I’m sick of working, and I’m sick of talkin’ about readin’!”

 –gazed up at the three-story brick building, eyes bright in the moonlight, and said,(sigh) I love this place.”

I do, too.

The Kidling and The Pup

The Family recently grew by one member. No, I did not produce any more precocious progeny; this time, I bought it. The progeny. Of a dog.

We got a dog.

This was an ongoing conversation in our home, with The Kidling actively involved. We looked at old dogs, puppies, and middle-aged dogs. Rescues and breeder pups. Near and far. When I finally found a pup I was genuinely enamored of, I showed The Kidling a picture.

She flipped.

Cries of When can we get her?! and How many days is that?!?!? filled every waking moment at Our House. I deferred and deflected while working out a plan, then I did something new.

I lied.

“I am working with the woman who has her, Kidling. I think we can get her sometime next week,” I assured her.

The covetous response was overwhelming. More pleading, this time with Can we get her as early as possible next week? and How many days is that? erupting from her 6 year-old mouth with angst befitting a child 7 years her senior. I explained the approximate amount of time that would be, stressing that it was really just an estimate, as we were still figuring out the details.

Pants on fire, Mama. Pants on fire.

I had a plan. Damn genius, if you ask me. You see, The Kidling was spending the weekend with The Grandma, and I made plans to get that sweet little bundle of fur the day before The Kidling returned to Our Town. I would drive to the agreed-upon location to pick The Kidling up, she would be so so so happy to see me, then TA-DA the pooch would prance up accompanied by squeals of glee, lick The Kidling’s sweet face, and we would all live happily ever after (yes, I am ignoring the teen years in this scenario. Sue me.)

The cutest dog in the entire world lives in Our House. Coincidentally, so does the cutest (and smartest) child.

The cutest dog in the entire world lives in Our House. Coincidentally, so does the cutest (and smartest) child.

The big day arrived. There was a minor kink in the form of a freaking monsoon that made its way across the Middle U.S. that afternoon, but otherwise, the plan went off without a hitch. Her face registered shock and delight in that beautiful moment where she first laid eyes on The Pup. Joy radiated from every tiny kidling pore as we loaded up the car and drove back toward Our Town.

I basked in The Kidling’s reaction, watching and feeling and hearing evidence of her bliss. “Do you like her?” I asked knowingly, as the car rolled down the rain-soaked highway.

I like her even better in person—I mean—in animal!”

Yes, The Kidling has met her new best friend.