Sending Kids Off to School

Sending Kids Off to School

From A 5th Portion of Chicken Soup for the Soul

Sending Kids Off to School

The mother’s heart is the child’s schoolroom.

Henry Ward Beecher

I could see how the scene was going to play itself out as clearly as if it had been written in a movie script.

“Five more minutes, honey, then we have to leave,” I called to my five-year-old daughter, who had been frolicking in the Pacific Ocean for the past hour. It was a partial truth. Although I did have a million things to do that day, I decided to collect my child when I saw that she had found some older kids to frolic with. They were bigger and stronger, and the waves didn’t knock them down as easily as they did my daughter. With exuberant five-year-old confidence, she kept following them out farther and farther toward the breaking waves. She was a proficient pool swimmer, but the deep blue sea was a different matter.

Maybe she didn’t hear me calling her name above the roar of the ocean; maybe she did hear and was just ignoring me—it was impossible to tell. It had been an impromptu trip to the beach, so I wasn’t wearing my swimsuit. Reluctantly, I hiked up my shorts and plunged into the ocean. Even in August I drew in a sharp breath as the water came in contact with my thighs.

“Hey, time’s up, we have to go now.” She turned, gave me a “see ya, Mom” look and headed farther into the surf. I splashed out and grabbed her arm. My shorts were soaked. I wondered if anyone was watching our little drama unfold.

“No!” she screamed, “I don’t want to leave!” (Why is it that kids never want to get out of the water?) She jerked her arm away from me and pushed her defiant little body closer to Tokyo. I could see the headline now: “Child drowns while pursued by irate mother.”

Now she was in over her head. Overcome with fear and rage I grabbed her, firmly this time, and began to drag her out. She did not come willingly. She screamed more intensely with every breath. It didn’t stop when we got on shore. She wriggled and kicked, struggling violently in the sand to rid herself of me and charge back into the water. Now people were staring. I didn’t care. I had to get her far enough away so that she couldn’t plunge back into the powerful waves. She screamed and thrashed about like a wild animal caught in a trap, growling and scratching. The gritty sand clung to our wet skin.

By now I was shaking. I could hardly believe what happened next. A firm believer in nonviolent discipline— until now, that is—I smacked her on the bottom, hard. It stunned her enough to make her freeze and stop her hysterical ravings. She stood there almost completely covered in sand and with her mouth wide open, unable to take a breath.

“Come on!” I said through clenched teeth as I pulled her along toward the path that would lead us away from the beach. She hopped alongside of me, seething and jibbering. I realized she was trying to tell me something. Her unintelligible words alternated with jagged sobs as she shifted her weight from one foot to another. Her feet! Now that we were out of the surf, the sand was scalding hot. I had been clutching her thongs all along. “I’m so sorry, sweetie. Put these on.” I slipped her thongs on her trembling feet, then we climbed the path toward the car and headed home.

That was weeks ago. Now it was September, and I was back on the beach, alone. This time the sand was cool. It yielded softly beneath my feet as I walked along the edge of the receding water line. The morning sun had not been up long enough to work its magic. As I walked the beach, tears welled up in my eyes. I could see the image of my daughter earlier that morning, heading into her freshly painted kindergarten classroom for her first day of school. Her new day pack was slung proudly over her shoulder. The design of yellow and purple puppies and kittens verified her tender years.

I’d driven straight to the beach after dropping her off. There was something so reassuring in the never-ending cresting and breaking of the waves. I hoped the pounding surf would soothe my anxious thoughts.

“I love you, Mommy!” she had called out cheerfully from the window as I walked back to my car.

“I’ll pick you up after school,” I called back. I turned to blow her a kiss, but she had already turned from the window.

I had dreamed of this day for years—five to be exact. I dreamed of this day soon after I brought her home from the hospital. I tried holding her, rocking her, and singing to her. When all that failed, I would give her a bottle, her “binky,” her bear . . . anything.

I dreamed of this day when she was only a year old and she spent her days lurching through the house unsteadily, learning to walk. I was so concerned that she might maim herself, I followed her around, hovering with arms outstretched like a giant bear. There was the time she ran smack into the corner of a door at full toddler speed. The blood gushed like a fountain from above her eye, but she was much more calm and brave about having it stitched than I was.

When she was two, I needed a break from full-time mommy hood badly. I had never been away from her for even one night. But there I was, halfway around the world in Austria. I had left her with my parents and had finally taken my break. But when I heard her tiny little voice over the long-distance phone lines, my voice cracked so badly that I could hardly answer her back.

And this past summer, our days on end of being constantly together caused her to demand my unfailing attention. As the summer’s heat grew more oppressive, I got listless but she became more spirited. She wanted more of everything—more pool time, more ice cream, more Popsicles, more playtime, more of me. Every day I heard, “Mom, let’s go to the park, let’s go to the beach, let’s go to the Wild Animal Park, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!”

Why the tears then? I stopped walking and sat on a rough outcropping of rocks, on a lovely beach on a glorious day feeling miserable. I watched the seagulls wheel and dive, their constant motion distracting the thoughts running through my mind.

I should be happy, I thought. No more incessant chatter bombarding me twelve hours a day. Now I could think free, uncluttered thoughts in a stream of connected ideas. I would be free to go back to school or start the business I’d been thinking about. I could have lunch with friends at restaurants that didn’t hand out crayons and coloring menus as you were seated. I could go shopping by myself without having my daughter stand in the middle of the clothing carousels spinning the rack, perilously close to tipping it over while the sales clerk glared with disapproval. I could roll up the windows in my car, pick a CD that wasn’t Raffi or Barney and sing at the top of my lungs without hearing her say, “Don’t sing, Mommy! Don’t sing!” I could even go to the grocery store without having to deal with bribery and blackmail.

The truth is, I’d miss having her by my side. I’d become used to having a constant companion for the past five years. “Don’t worry, Mom, we’ll still have our afternoons together,” she had reassured me at the breakfast table that morning.

With that thought in mind, I collected my things off the beach and headed for my car. It was time to go pick up my baby—oh, my kindergartner—from her first day of school. I was looking forward to spending the afternoon together.

Susan Union

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