Celebrating the One Hundredth Day of School

I was raised one of many children in a poor household. Money was a concern at all times. We did not take extended vacations. I have not been to Disney World. My clothes were hand-me-downs and second hand. My resources were limited at times. We lived in a fairly wealthy area, and my teachers assumed that we would have internet access at home, even in 2001. We did not.

Much of my clothing fit poorly. I was acutely aware of that.

I got my first job at fourteen. I worked for a butcher on Saturdays from 8-6. I babysat on Mondays from 4-9. I cleaned the neighbor’s house on Tuesdays for two hours after school. I got a full-time babysitting job in the summer. I used that money to pay for trips to the movies and clothing so I felt better about me.

This is not a complaint, I assure you. I was raised poor but loved. My parents had little, but they gave everything. We did not travel far, but we spent at least one day at the shore every summer. Sometimes that was literally a day. We would wake before 6:00 and cram into a single minivan, children illegally sitting on the floor to fit. We would drive the three hours to the ocean, spend the morning in the sun, eat sandy sandwiches for lunch, shower off in the locker rooms of the public park, eat pizza at Dad’s favorite place, hit up the boardwalk for cheap rides and kitschy stores, and pile our sunburned selves back into the van just as the sun began to set for the ride back home. My parents could not afford much, but they could do that. There was always cake on birthdays and presents under the Christmas tree.

They had little to give, and they gave it.

We were lucky. We were loved. Other kids had things and parents who fought bitterly. Not all, of course. But we knew what we had.

We had each other. We had laughter and song and built-in friends. We had playing school on the back porch. We had an exercise trampoline in the basement. We had fires in the backyard. We had everything we needed and just enough of what we could want. Tastes of wants. Not enough to be gorged on our wants, but enough to be satisfied in knowing what they tasted like.

My parents are the working poor. They work hard. They instilled in me the value of hard work. But their hard work will not result in their getting ahead.

Saint Daddy and I are not part of the working poor. Our children wear mostly hand-me-downs, but I am more selective about what is acceptably secondhand. They also have access to more of their wants than I did as a child.

Part of this is because of my awareness as a child of not having what the other kids had. I want my kids to have everything and to feel no shame.

Sunshine is in kindergarten, and I recently became acquainted with this event known as the One Hundredth Day of School. I did not know this was a thing until this year. Specifically, I did not know that this was a thing until the Tuesday before the Monday that marked the One Hundredth Day of School when Sunshine came home with a letter from her teacher letting me know that she could wear a special homemade shirt to mark the occasion.

I took the letter to Saint Daddy where he sat in his office, finishing his work for the day. “Look! A project for me!” Because Sunshine is five, she is unlikely to be able to figure out a way to put one hundred items on a shirt. Not to mention the fact that Sunshine cannot drive herself to the store for materials. Oh yes, we had plans for both Saturday and Sunday that weekend. And, oh yes, I had two assignments due for my grad class that same Monday.

Piece of cake!

Sometimes, I think about my mom with her multitudes of children, her night shift job, her limited means, and her exhaustion. She would not have made me a shirt. She may have stopped at AC Moore to pick up a $3 t-shirt for me to decorate, but it most likely would have been puffy paint polka dots that I did myself.

But Sunshine’s teacher sent a link to a Pinterest album for ideas.

A Pinterest album!

Have you seen Pinterest?!?

Puffy paint polka dots would stick out like a sore thumb in 2019.

What would people think?

What if I am that mom? What if Sunshine is that kid?

No, I could not allow it.

“Sunshine, what would you like on your special shirt?”

Bows. Like JoJo.

Saint Daddy took to Amazon as I put Grumpy and Sleepy to bed that night. I told him to look for craft bows. He ordered them along with special fabric glue for my hot glue gun and a white shirt.

Sunshine and I discussed design. She wanted her shirt to say 100, which is one of her favorite numbers. The other being her current age.

I told Saint Daddy that I would figure out how to make it when the weekend arrived. I always figure it out. I would spend part of a morning doing it. Maybe Saturday. Although Sunshine has ballet. Or Sunday. Although I run six miles on Sunday mornings. I would figure it out.

I always do.

And I did. Sunshine loved it.

Over the next week or so, I watched other moms figure out the One Hundredth Day of School. There were capes and costumes, children dressed as their one hundred year old selves. Stress and questions. Where to buy? What do do? How much to spend?

Why?

To not be that mom. To not let our kids be those kids.

Which mom?

The mom who does not care enough to buy craft bows and hot glue. The mom who forgot. The mom who does not have it together for her kids. The mom who is not able to figure it out.

What kids?

The ones whose parents are not paying attention. The poor ones. The misfits. The struggling ones. The ones who are different. The ones who have to sit around feeling self-conscious in their regular clothes on a special day.

And, like, what does it matter?

Would Sunshine be any less wonderful on the One Hundredth Day if I sent her in her usual uniform?

Who is to say?

I cannot answer this question.

But I see you, momma. I see you with your hot glue gun and your Cricut machine, working long hours, with no need for one more thing, but doing it anyway. I see you with paint under your fingernails and a smiling kid. I see what you did when you post your pictures to your Instagram. Your kids are happy because they did the thing, but I know. I know you are the one who really did the thing.

Congratulations, momma.

You would not be less of an amazing momma without that cape on your baby’s back, but you still pulled it off and I am impressed.

Until the next time you will decide to be supermom to not be that mom.

We are in this together.

How Did We Get Here?

I sent that text to my BFFL this morning after putting Doc on the bus and seeing her kids’ first day of school pictures online. She and I were pregnant together. She was carrying her second, and I was carrying my first. She and I worked together at the time, before we both left for other ventures. My leaving put four hours of driving between our homes, but it put no distance between our hearts.

She was the first person, besides my husband, who knew that Doc was coming. On Tuesdays, the small grocery store near our work made taco salads at their deli counter. On many Tuesdays, she or I or both of us would walk over to the store, pick up $5 taco salads, and bring them back to work for lunch. They were delicious, and I miss them. I miss her more, but that is different.

On that particular Tuesday, early in September, I thanked her for walking to the store before I was able to join her because if I did not eat soon, I was sure I would throw up. She said, “Are you pregnant?” And I said, “Maybe a little.” And she said, “Me too.”

We were due less than two weeks from each other, and having her there, going through it with me, was an irreplaceable experience. Since she was two weeks ahead, every single procedure was still fresh for her when it was my turn. We saw the same OB, we went to the same hospital, and she was a constant comfort. We worried together and we experienced together.

Her baby, a boy, came a little early. My baby, Doc, came a lot late. And our little ones ended up just shy of a month apart from each other.

Today, four hours distant from each other, they both started kindergarten. So before I pulled away from my home on my way to work this morning, I sent her that text. “How did we get here?”

How did we get here?

I do not want to wax philosophical about time slipping through our fingers. At the same time, how were taco salad Tuesdays so long ago that our babies are school aged?

This morning, Doc felt a brief surge of nerves. She was all excitement until today. She wants to read so badly, and her teacher is going to help her read. But there she was at the dining room table, eating breakfast with Saint Daddy, when she said, “My belly hurts. Can I lay down?”

She went to the couch, and I sat with her. I told her she was not sick, just nervous (a thought I have to tell myself nearly once a day). “What is the scariest thing about today?” Doc was scared of riding the bus because she did not know anyone who would be on it. She wanted to know if I could ride it with her. But I could not. She understood.

I reminded her that after the bus was her classroom, and her teacher is very nice. She will learn so many things and make new friends. Not only that, but her own BFFL is in her class, so she would be seeing her as well. And then, at the end of the day, instead of boarding the bus to head back home, I would be there waiting to drive her home and listen to every story she could muster up about her first day.

That last bit, about me being the one to pick her up, changed her completely. She glowed. She did not want to finish breakfast, but she did want to put on her uniform and have me braid her hair. She was ready for pictures on the front porch with the pretty sign I ordered from Etsy and the bus stop.

At the bus stop, she asked Saint Daddy to lean down so she could ask him a question. “Will you hold my hand for a little bit?”

Then, right on time, the bus came down the hill toward where we stood, the lights began to flash, it came to a stop, and our little Doc climbed on board. I kissed Saint Daddy, told him we did really good, went immediately to our family car, and drove to work, crying the whole way there.

I thought about Doc all day. I could not believe how long a day can feel when all you can think about is how your baby could be needing you and you do not know anything about it.

I left work and drove to her school to pick her up. One of my middle of the night, I will never sleep again panics was that Doc would not be there when I went to retrieve her. But she was. I had to pull out of the line while she was retrieved (cue the near hysterics), but she was there, and she was thrilled to see me.

She had a wonderful day. She learned the Spanish word for eye, which she swore is rojo but maybe I am right that it is not. And she missed her brothers terribly. She wanted to wake them up as soon as we walked in the door.

So, dear BFFL, I do not know how we got here. I may not ever understand time. But I do know this. At the end of the day, the things I will remember about today are:

  • Doc was so happy that I would pick her up at the end of the day that her nerves completely disappeared.
  • Doc really needed to hold Saint Daddy’s hand just a little while longer.
  • Doc’s face was pure joy when she saw me walking toward her in the school parking lot.
  • Doc shrieked her little girl sounds of happiness when her brothers crawled down the hall after their nap.

Our babies are somehow school aged, but they are still our babies.

I know I have many days ahead of me of wondering if Doc needs me without my knowing it. I know I am still destined to cry over the cruelty of time. I know I will continue to lose sleep over who she is and what she does and where she will go.

But I also know that today was a good day.

Anxiety usually means fruitless worrying over the future. It is unfair to the present, but it is inescapable for those who deal with it. I told Doc this morning as we walked to her bus stop hand-in-hand that the best way to conquer her fears is to experience the thing that scares her. For her, it was that first bus ride. When I asked her about it in the car this afternoon, she said, “I thought it would be as scary as the whole world, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t even as scary as my whole leg.”

I thought her first day of school would be as scary as the whole world, but it was not. It was only as scary as my whole leg.

Did I Love Her Enough?

I know that my first post should be about what brought me here in the first place, but I will come back to that later. Or maybe not. Maybe I am already there. That title up there? That is what brought me here today.

I asked myself that last night. It was shortly after midnight, I had been trying to sleep for a few hours, we had somewhere to be first thing in the morning, and I was thinking about my daughter.

She is five and kindergarten begins on Wednesday.

I know. This is trite. The pining, reflective mother thinking about her first born being ready for kindergarten. Everyone collectively roll your eyes. Is that out of your system? Great. We can begin together.

I remember the day she was born. Of course I do. How could I forget the most painful event in my life? I remember forty-two long weeks of pregnancy. I was trying to beat some famous pachyderms in regards to gestational fortitude. It was me against science back in 2013. Science won. Well, Pitocin won. Pitocin fought a hard battle. I bow down to Pitocin. I remember sitting with my husband in the summer of 2012 and saying, “No, really. I think we should have a baby.” And him saying, “Let’s do it!”

And I remember the day she was born. I remember holding her and thinking, “How, on Earth, am I officially responsible for this little person’s entire life? What am I supposed to do with her?” I remember late nights with this Timeline of a Breastfed Baby and thinking about each of the milestones she would reach. I would hold her to my breast and look at the two of us in the mirror hanging in her nursery, and I would will myself to imprint the image of the two of us in my memory as clearly and completely as possible. I wanted to absorb her tiny self, feel the weight of her, and protect her forever. I remember tears. Tears of frustration, tears of hopelessness, tears of joy. I cried for myself and my baby and for mothers everywhere. There is something that feels truly connecting about holding your firstborn child in your arms in the early morning hours. Billions of mothers have done it, and I was doing it too.

So, like billions of mothers, I am preparing to send that little soul off to kindergarten. She has been home for the last five years. Besides a single year of three day a week mornings at preschool, she has spent every day at home with my husband, a work from home dad and a saint. We are not Catholic, but I am sure that Francis himself would agree that my husband deserves canonization.

She is ready. I know that. She is stinking smart. Like, by the age of three, she had decided that her favorite constellation is Orion, her favorite dinosaur is a brachiosaurus, and her favorite parent is Momma. Poor Saint Daddy lost that one with our daughter.  She knows things that her ten year old cousin does not. She is so excited to learn how to read, and honestly, heaven help her unsuspecting teacher who will become another audience for the hours of stories she wants to tell every day. She is an empath. She feels what others feel. She wants to be a doctor, and I believe she has the focus and brain to do it, if that is the path that she still wants to be on in fifteen years’ time.

But I am not ready. I have stopped sleeping. I told Saint Daddy that I might never sleep again now that she is going to school. A few nights ago, I could not sleep because I realized that we had never really told her how to help prevent the spread of head lice. Truly, that was the thing that kept me up all night. Out of all of my possible concerns, I could not sleep because I never told her not to share hats with her friends. I tossed and turned. I considered waking her up at 2:37 am to tell her about head lice and how I could potentially have to cut her hair and bag up Tiana, her favorite doll, and it would be a nightmare, so please, I am begging you, never touch another child. Do not even look at another child. What would we do with lice in the house? Would I have to shave her baby brothers’ heads? Would I have to burn the house down?

In the morning, as she ate her generic marshmallow cereal, I told her about head lice. “Don’t share hats, hair clips, hair brushes, or pillows with your friends. You don’t want lice.” Sidenote: My word! I hope I do not give her my anxiety!

Last night, my concern, the thing that kept me up, was this question. This burning thought. Did I love her enough? Will that love be enough to sustain her in the years ahead? My brain keeps telling me that this is it. That kindergarten starting means that I have no more opportunities to show her my love. It is over now. I had my chance. So with that in mind, did I love her enough? Could she feel my love during those forty two weeks? Did the Pitocin mix with my blood and enter her veins filled with my love? Did she get it from my breasts as I read about her upcoming milestones? Every time I kissed a boo-boo, every time I washed her hair, every time I hugged her close, did she feel my love? Did I love her enough?

Now, I know it is ridiculous to think about kindergarten as the end of my opportunity to show her my love. But part of being the person who I am is being someone who knows her thoughts are ridiculous but feels them anyway.

I just hope I filled her to the brim with love during the last five years. I hope that love holds her when she sits on the bus for the first time surrounded by children she has never seen before. I hope it sustains her when she feels her first sting of rejection. I hope my love carries her through heartbreaks I have worked hard to guard her against while she was here with us alone for those first five years of her wonderful, beautiful, remarkable life.

And I know that I join billions of other mothers who have had that thought.