Just a little bit longer
This is it. Today is the first day of kindergarten for our fourth child. She is the last of the bunch and today she begins her first day of kindergarten.
I have been dreaming of this day; a time when I was no longer tethered to a child all day long. Hip deep into motherhood where I felt I was always pregnant or nursing a baby or catering to a toddler, I was definitely looking forward to having time where I wasn’t constantly catering to someone else. There was a time when I couldn’t go to the bathroom by myself or run on the treadmill without hearing, “Mama? Where are you? What are you watching?” and finding myself watching yet another episode of Miraculous Ladybug with a sidekick solidly at my side while I pounded out the miles.
It’s been fourteen years of having a constant sidekick. Just as one child was gaining independence, I had another child waiting in the wings to be my person for more than five years as we waited for his or her turn to begin kindergarten. I did this cycle four times.
My last little one has been my constant sidekick for almost 6 years. Pre-pandemic, she was my grocery shopping buddy, my volunteer sidekick, my ever present person. And I loved it. It took me nine years, but I had finally learned how to navigate life with a constant partner by my side. Even though I was looking forward to having more time for myself, her presence was a comfort as we completed our errands together and we never lacked for a lunchtime companion.
As she began preschool I had 5 hours a week where I was alone and it was weird. It was bittersweet. I am so accustomed to being someone else’s person that I was at loose ends about how to be my own.
My husband insisted I spend the precious few hours I had per week to do the things I wanted to do. The grocery shopping, laundry, house cleaning, and anything other chore I could conjure up that I felt I should be doing could and would wait. Getting time to myself was never to be taken for granted.
Last year, as I dropped off my youngest for preschool, I was dreaming of this day, a brand new school year, when I would have uninterrupted time to run without having to hurry back for a mid-day pickup from preschool. I was looking forward to having solid time to write my stories. I was even looking forward to the task of decluttering, which never seems to get done in a house filled with six people and all their interests.
However, the beginning of this school year is different from what I expected. Yes, all four children are in school full-time. But they are also home full-time as they participate in distance learning.
Unlike dropping off a kindergarten for a day of learning and socialization, my kindergartner needs me as her companion as she navigates distance learning on a laptop because as she reminds me, I can’t read, yet, Mama. She doesn’t realize that she’s tiptoeing her way to independence, even if she still rubs her baby blanket unobtrusively off camera while she listens to the lesson and tries to maintain focus.
This is a school year of firsts: First foray into high school for my oldest. First time in middle school for my daughter. A first day at a new school where no one knows his siblings for my second son. The first day of kindergarten for my youngest. For me? The first time all of my children are in school full-time.
But, this is not the year of firsts my children expected. They had looked forward to their respective schools and the firsts that they would bring. Fortunately, kids are pretty resilient and they have been able to pivot when the news came that they would begin the school year online. Though, the one thing they miss the most is making new friends and catching up with established ones.
It’s not the kind of year I expected. I was hoping to use my time exploring and reacquainting myself with my love for long trail runs and typing words on a page with nothing but the hum of the dishwasher or the whistling of the kettle as my companions in an empty house; filling up my tank in ways that remind me of who I am in addition to my beloved title of “mama.” I was looking forward to finding myself again and delving into my passions: running, writing, crocheting, and volunteering. Life had other plans. And I’m not talking just about the pandemic.
Thanks to the Rona and a pesky thing called cancer, my trail runs are on pause. Pandemic fatigue is a thing and I can’t find the motivation to do it just yet. Or is it treatment fatigue? At this point they blur together. So I’m relegated to the treadmill for when the inspiration and energy strikes and I can make it to the basement in search of solitude, peace, or a little rage running.
The tapping of the keyboard is a little more inconsistent as every time I get into a groove I inevitably hear, “Mama?” which reminds me that I am sharing my space and my time with the most important people in my life; who at times, I wished, would wait until I finished my sentence, thought, or story before calling me just to check if I’m still nearby. But I understand.
They need that assurance that I’m still here because cancer robbed them of that promise that I’m always around. They no longer take for granted that I’ll still be here. With everything else uncertain, they are comforted by the sound of my voice. I can see in the way that my daughter looks at me that she’s memorizing my face. I find myself memorizing hers, too.
This school year is a learning curve. My kids are learning to work in shared spaces with family who are on the same time table, but different schedules. They are finding their independence as they navigate classes on their own. It’s bittersweet. I spent years helping them cultivate their independence, dreaming of it, and at times demanding it.
And here we are as they shuffle to their designated learning space to meet with their teachers and peers online and no longer need to hold my hand or need me to remind them of their responsibilities. Except for the littlest one. She still can’t tell time or read. But give it time and she won’t need my presence by her side for much longer.
As we’re all finding our way in an expected year filled with uncertainty, a pandemic, a health crisis, and attending school from home, I think I’ll be grateful of this gift of extra time together and hold onto my sidekicks a little while longer.