Wednesday, May 16, 2007

“So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, good night…”

The anxiety building in our house right now is intense. Ben is taking MCAS, a standardized test every kid in Massachusetts has to take to move forward in public schools. Zachary is taking his first round, as a third grader, next week. And Jake, as a mere first grader has been suggesting that he, too, is going to have serious tests in the upcoming weeks.

He’s not, but he so hates being left out.

On top of the testing? It’s Ben’s last year in the elementary school. He’s ‘graduating’ to middle school. Sixth grade.

Ben is a kid who tends towards anxiety- sometimes hysteria- and the calmer transitions can be, the better it is for him. When I left him at preschool, I knew I had to give him a kiss, say goodbye and walk out the room.

No matter what.

The teachers supported and encouraged this kind of parent departure. They would explain to the child, parents leave, they come back, all is well. If you need to check, the teachers advised parents, peek through the window. But don’t get caught.

I peeked in a few times but got over the need fairly quickly. Maybe because I saw my son was perfectly happy with his world, the very mother he insisted on needing to stay with him forever, not even an afterthought.

I cried. He did not. I got over that, too.

I learned an important lesson very early on- if you make transitions quick and short events, kids tend to roll with them. Show a moment of hesitation? The kids with their pure radar for parent ambivalence, whether it is about a toy in the store or an ice cream after dinner, zero in on it like sharks with fresh blood.

Tears flow, deals negotiated, and once in a while, a screaming child would be held by a cheerful teacher suggesting a bye-bye wave to Mommy. Or Daddy.

My son never cried or had to be held. I took the teachers cue- what did I know? Giving birth does not give me a single ounce of common sense about parenting- and it worked out. As Ben grew older, he did not grow out of the need for clear-cut, simple transitions. His brothers have but he has not.

If I were really honest, I’d admit I’ve never grown out of it, either. I hate change. Not all change- move my furniture around and I’m delighted- but make me shift into an entirely new routine or place? Don’t make me think about it until that day.

It reminds me of how my mother dealt with my dentist appointments when I was a kid. She never told me until the morning of so I would not work myself into a frenzy of anxiety. The dentist was a sadist, mind you, never giving Novocain for fillings and zero tolerance for squirming children. If I had a little Novocain, I bet I could have sat still. Regardless, my anticipation of the event became so problematic my mother simply removed it. She would not make the next appointment within my earshot. The day of, she handed me a note to be excused from school and the appointment was always in the early morning. The transition was quick, and while my mouth would ache for hours, I didn’t dream about the pain for days beforehand.

After the state mandated tests? There will be twenty straight days of good bye parties, welcome to middle school parties, this is the final good bye party, the final school play, the final song, the final final good bye party and then after whipping the entire fifth grade class into a frothy frenzy of goodbyes, there will be the last day of school. Arch day. When they walk through the arch of balloons for- you got it- the final time.

It makes me anxious to think about having to sit through all those reminders that he's leaving the school he's been going to for what seems like his whole life so far to venture off into the world of middle school. It reminds me of the song from the Sound of Music, child after child saying goodnight.

All right already, get in bed! Would have been my not so musical answer.

Ben will make it through relatively unscathed, minus the time out or ten for hitting Jake or criticizing Zachary’s art project. I sat on his bed last night explaining how kicking his brother on the stairs was not only unacceptable in our house, it was dangerous. I also tried to remember how miserable I was while driving to the dentist. As an adult, I’ve learned to understand anxiety is a feeling and will pass.

As a kid? It crawled over my skin and felt like a hand clasped over my mouth.

He agreed to try and control his body. There’s so much going on, he confided.

I know, I replied. You still can’t kick your brother.

What I wish I said? There will be changes and changes and changes again, all though your life. You can turn your head one-way and see doom, another and see glory, but if you look somewhere in the middle? You’ll find a place where the anxiety is mixed with excitement. Where your skin tingles and your breath is short, and you can’t wait until it’s over.

And you can’t wait for it to start again.


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