For Now…

One morning this past week I woke up and realized it was time to put an official end to this blog. Maybe temporary, maybe not. Most likely temporary. One morning in the future I know I might wake up and know it’s time to resume. And resume I will. But now, it feels like it is a good time to stop.

At least a half of the time when I dig my little black journal out of my backpack, it is still to jot down a thought related to the blog and not to my stories. The blog has become an important part of my life. A tool to share and connect, a tool to comprehend, sort out, express, a tool to keep the words flowing.

In the past month or two, I thought about the blog frequently. My son, my husband, and I went through a big change: Andrei started preschool. Full-time. From never being separated from me to about  thirty hours of preschool a week away from me.

No, it was not what we originally  planned. We thought it would be a good idea to start slowly. A few days, a few hours a week. But looking for a preschool turned into this serious and largely draining journey. After we toured tens of preschools that felt either too new and not well-thought-out (while still outrageously expensive)  or inaccessible as they had a three-year-waiting list (which would have meant that I should have put Andrei’s name on a few preschool lists before he was even born), we saw an ad for a preschool that was under the umbrella of the Settlement Music School of Philadelphia, in existence for over twenty years but accessible only to those who qualified based on their low income or special needs until this past summer.

Within a day Andrei and I toured the school. I fell in love with the arts-integrated curriculum (four classes of music, four classes of art, and four classes of creative movement a week) the school follows, called my husband, and said, This is it! I try to do a lot with Andrei, but I can’t give him what this preschool can.

The only problem was that there was no part-time option. There was only one option: five days a week, six hours a day. You are in, or you are out.

My husband and I decided to go for it. I was delighted that we found a program that felt as right as this one did, and I was scared to death at the same time. So few times has Andrei been separated from both me and my husband at the same time. He was also pretty addicted to his paci, which Andrei’s dentist didn’t think would create too many problems if given up before the age of six. We quickly limited the use of a paci to the night hours to help Andrei get used to being without an access to a paci during the day. In mid-September we went to an open house, then met with the teachers one-on-one, and the following day school started.

For a month before school started, every day I told Andrei this story: “Soon you will start school. Mommy can do many things for you, but Mommy can’t teach you everything. That’s why you have to go to school. Mommy and daddy can’t stay there with you. We will take you to school, stay with you for a little bit, and then leave for a few hours. You will have breakfast with your friends, then play and read some books, then go to Miss Liza’s studio to paint, draw, or play with clay, then you will walk all the way down to the dance studio to play with Miss Kaye. After that you will have lunch with Miss Gene, Miss Irene and all your friends, and then you will go to see Miss Martha and play her drums and other instruments. Then you will go to the playground, have a snack after that, and then…Mommy will walk into your room and say, Andrei, time to go home!

Andrei giggled every time I told him the story. I would ask him if he thought he would be OK for those few hours that he would have to spend without Mommy and Daddy, and he would say  a resounding yes.

The weekend before school started we did a trial run – dropped off Andrei at my friend’s house, fully aware this was far from being a good imitation of school (he loves my friend, but he hasn’t spent much time in her house, which we thought was good – unfamiliar environment). When we were saying good-bye to him, Andrei hardly looked at my husband and me, and when we picked him up a few hours later, he was happily playing with my imaginative friend, not caring much whether we were there or not.

This is really good, I said to my husband.

A few days later, school started. I felt all sorts of things. Fear that my son will suffer from severe separation anxiety. Fear of my own separation anxiety. Nostalgia, because it was mid-September, and the school was starting, and after ten  plus years, I was again part of it. I addition, I couldn’t escape sadness – I couldn’t deny that one period of my life, far from easy, but uniquely beautiful, was ending.

The night before the first day of school we encouraged Andrei to put a few familiar objects into his backpack – a book, a small toy, anything to make him feel at home away from home. We pulled off an early bath, an extra book, an admirably early bedtime.  Once Andrei was asleep, I put together his outfit, then mine, just the way my super-organized aunt tried to teach me to do twenty-five years ago when I first displayed clear signs of tendency to be seriously late.  Finally, I stuffed  my laptop and tons of work into my backpack and said to my husband, I am staying close to the school tomorrow.

In the morning, Andrei and I ate breakfast and left the house extra early. We waited in the lobby with a crowd of other parents and kids. Andrei started playing with the kids standing close to us. Finally we made it to the classroom. Andrei was not interested in eating breakfast, but he was definitely interested in the toys. By the time breakfast was officially over, Andrei was hardly noticing I was still standing in the corner of the classroom. I walked up to him, gave him a hug, and said I would be back in a few hours. Then I left.

I called my husband to tell him how everything went, then situated myself in a coffeeshop a few blocks away from Andrei’s school. I spread out my work papers and started working in  a crazy pace. I knew I was not calm enough to write, but doing the most tedious segment of my work never felt so comforting, so good.

I kept working. Completed projects piled on the table. Every half an hour I sent a short e-mail to my husband.

I miss my baby, but my work is going great.

 I am sad, I am so sad, but I love my job more than ever.

I worked and I kept e-mailing my husband periodically until 11:50. Exactly. I told the social worker from Andrei’s school that I would be calling her around noon to check how things were going. So I did. I decided waiting until 11:50 was good enough.

The social worker didn’t answer. I left a message.

Please, please call me back as soon as you can. I am only a few blocks away.

The social worker called me back around 12:30. Andrei is having a hard time, she said. He was fine until 10, when it was time to transition and go to the art studio. He cried so hard that they had to bring him to her office a few times, where he would calm down and start playing. Then, as soon as he would go back to the classroom setting, he would start crying again.

I am coming right now, I said. I threw my things into my backpack and ran back to the school. I met Andrei as he was arriving with his class to the playground. He was holding Miss Irene’s hand and crying.

I was quite fine dealing with Andrei’s long tantrums on an everyday basis, I was quite fine holding my ground when disciplining  Andrei, no matter how much screaming and resistance Andrei put up, but this kind of crying broke my heart.

The following day went in a haze. I never left  the school. Standing between two flights of stairs, I listened to my son scream, I want my mommy! I followed Andrei from class to class, without him knowing it. I talked to one of his teachers every half an hour, I peeped, I talked to whoever had time to talk to me – the social worker, the director, the grant writer, the receptionist, the nutritionist, the janitor. When I reached the point of despair, I called my husband.

Everyone around me kept saying Andrei’s behavior was not uncommon, this was a process, and we had to stick to it. Go home, the janitor kept repeating with fake strictness .

Yes, I know it’s a process,  I was thinking, I know it will take time for Andrei to adjust, but right now, this process is killing me. I can’t take it, but I don’t really have a choice. Or, do I?

Yes, there were moments when I questioned everything. The necessity of attending a preschool, or even a school. The disciplined, deeply persistent part of me responded, Yes, formal schooling is necessary. Then, another punch in the face: How do I know that a process like this is actually doing any good to my son? How do I know this kind of structure is the right solution for my son? In twenty years, will this be one of those things that I will bitterly regret? Back and forth, back and forth, until I felt almost crazy.

The third day the preschool director suggested I stay with Andrei  the first few hours for a week or so, then try to cut back. I welcomed her suggestion and joined the class. First I tried to help the teachers and play with the kids, then I decided to step back, sit in the closet, and make myself invisible. Slowly, Andrei started opening up, participating, being his normal cheerful self. He had a particularly hard time in the creative movement class so I tried to participate and model following the teacher’s instructions while ignoring Andrei’s whining.

After the creative movement class I would usually leave. Andrei would cry all through lunch, until the kids would start lining up to go to the music class, and as Miss Martha pointed out a few times, he never cried in the music class. Of course not, I said.

After music, Andrei’s class usually goes to the playground, and after the playground is the snack time. Andrei likes both – the playground and snack foods. Even on the days when he cried for more than an hour after I left, Andrei would always look his most cheerful self when I would walk into the classroom to pick him up.

At home, of course, we read books on the topic of separation anxiety, including our favorite, Lamma Lamma Misses Mama. We suggested that Andrei should  always take his imaginary friend Steve to school with him. We made sure Andrei had his monkey key in his pocket (a small toy he can keep in his pocket).

The third week I started leaving after the art class, around 11. The fourth week, after the circle time, around 10. The last day of the fourth week, Andrei told me early in the morning, before we even left the house, that he wanted me to just drop him off and leave. I asked him if my staying with him and then leaving made the day harder for him, and he said yes.

When we got to the classroom that morning, I decided to check with Andrei if he wanted me to stay with him for a little bit or just leave. He said he wanted me to leave so I gave him a hug and left the room. He didn’t cry at all, but his face looked so sad that I started sobbing the second I was in the hallway.

Then the fifth week came. I was afraid of the effect the weekend might have on Andrei. But that Monday morning he walked into the classroom with a smile on his face. He chatted with his friends for a bit, then sat at the table and actually ate his breakfast. Then, when I was ready to leave, he gave me a hug and ran to the play area. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Now is the week eight. Andrei likes to go to school. I stay with him for ten-fifteen minutes, then I leave. Sometimes he clings to my leg for a bit, and I usually give him a hug and offer to stay a few more minutes. But very soon he is usually so engrossed in the play that when I say bye-bye, he waves a casual goodbye and continues to play.

My son has officially adjusted to preschool. We both survived the separation. He loves his school, I like my morning time alone. I either write or work. Or sometimes cook, or (very rarely) clean the house or run errands.

When I write, it’s usually my stories that I work on. That’s how I decided it was time to say goodbye to this blog.

Despite the fact that I still think about the things I’d like to write about. Like this process my family went through. Like Dr. Seuss’ books that continue to delight both Andrei and me. So beautifully written, so imaginative. Narrative poems that manage to teach big concepts while still being marvelous works of art. Just think of The Lorax, a poem that teaches the quite serious concept of caring for our beautiful planet, in language such as, “he says, with his teeth sounding grey…”

However, however, whenever I find some free time, it’s my stories that I plunge into. The three ones I am revising, the three ones that are hatching in my head.

Thank you for taking this journey with me! So long….

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