Right now is a win: I’ve got a cup of coffee at my side, a fire on in the woodstove and a sleeping baby in my left arm, so I can type this with my right. The dishes are mostly done, a load of laundry is ready to be hung and the sun is shining for me to do it.
And my four year old is at school.
This time last month was a total disaster. While Wren started out liking school, it went downhill quickly. When she realized school wasn’t a one-time thing, her anxiety peaked. The attacks began hitting her the evening before school was to begin, and would continue on through bedtime until she’d fall asleep due to exhaustion. Then, she would wet the bed hours later because she had refused to get ready for sleeping, in fear that that meant the morning would come sooner.
Justin and I cried. We cried because she was so sad. We cried because we were both shy children and knew how it felt to be scared of school. And I cried because I wanted some freedom, and school was my ticket to it.
We met with the teacher and strategized change that we hoped would help her adjust. I became “that mom” who organized afterschool play dates with children whose parents I only knew via facebook creepings. I called my mom and cried. I called my dad and cried. And I cried to myself, and cried because I was the only one who would be truly affected by pulling her out. I wanted her there. Through the crying and the meltdowns, I still wanted to give it a fair shot, though my husband wanted to take her out. And I’m ready to tell you why.
Yes, I am otherwise at home all day. Yes, I have the resources, also known as the time, to give her at home, and yes oh yes, we could stand to save that money that we use for preschool for other things.
Yes, I care about her feelings of fear about school, and yes, I know that she’s only four and that she needn’t be in preschool at all. Yes, I know that it’s hard for a four year old to do a full day of school when they’re used to running and playing at free will in their yards buttnaked. Yes, I hate packing lunches I know she won’t eat. Yes, I believe she might be happier to sleep in and not have to get dressed every morning and eat at a reasonable time and stay home with me.
But here’s what I’ve learned with baby number two, and believe me, it took awhile for me to have the guts to say it, but, I matter too.
For all of May, June, July and August I had the girls to myself. I had a newborn and an active three year old in my care. It was summer, and like today, the sun was shining. Birds were chirping and the garden grew. And you know, life was pretty beautiful for those four months. Justin worked like a dog to support our family, and most importantly, the girls had the chance to bond with each other, which is something I wouldn’t trade for the world.
But you know what else? There were days I hated it. I resented not being able to give either one of them the attention they deserved, and there were days the big emotions of a very stubborn toddler directly collided and exploded with the big emotions of a postpartum mother. Wren and I fought hard, and often. She likes structure, and knowing what happens next, and in that season of motherhood, I liked watching Scandal and wearing pajamas til five minutes before Justin would walk in the door from work at 5:30pm.
Sometimes these days brought about a dark and angry side in me. A violent side. And that was scary for both my kids and myself to experience, and I desperately wanted to lock that person away. But that side of me kept trying to creep back when my toddler would roll around on the floor for three hours at a time because I asked her to relieve her bladder of the pee she hoarded up in her body for ten hours that day.
I know in retrospect that we were both grieving, in a way, the easier days of our pre-Millie routine. Though she vehemently loves her sister, her sister takes away a good chunk of the time that used to be spent, just she and I. And I grieved the fact that I was losing all control, in general.
So as September approached, both slowly and quickly, I looked forward to it with great anticipation. After much debate and consideration, guilt and excitement, we decided upon sending her to the French public school, which hosts a preschool at a price we could afford. Her last name is French, and both Justin and I see the merit in learning a second language, though if our pocketbooks would allow it, our hearts would send her down the road to the private South Shore Waldorf School, where she’d get more attention, more outside time, a lower teacher to child ratio, and, she’d experience less anxiety.
Here’s the thing: we had to make a hard decision, and we had made it. And sometimes, that is all we can do as parents is to do the best we friggin’ can at the time. When she wasn’t adjusting well to her new routine and class of 27 children, it did not surprise me. I persevered because it was the right thing to do, overall, for my own personal mental health, which in turn, benefits my family’s overall health and happiness.
And you know, we’ve been seeing huge improvements. There are still some tears in the morning, but she’s tolerating it, just like she’s beginning to tolerate wiping her own ass: she can do it, even though she’d rather not.
And that’s why I sit here today, alone with Millie. Now that I’m on baby two, I now know that I am not always enough. I no longer try to pretend that I’m good at a certain aspect of parenthood (like dealing with a four year old 24/7) that I am not. I happen to know that Wren needs some space from me, and that I desperately need some space from her, and I no longer view that as being selfish. She needs to be able to push herself to make some friends and interact with other children, and I need to be able to eat breakfast, take some walks in the woods, and bond with my second baby as I had bonded with her when she was this size.
Unfortunately the mommywars are alive and strong, and so I’ve felt some guilt about having made this decision, whether other moms meant for me to feel it or not. But today I can tell you this is what works for me, and if I’m expected to be a good mother most of the time, I have to be good to me at least some of the time.
So Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays are for me. And today is one of those days. So yeah, today my cup overfloweth with coffee. And I’m gonna drink it up while it’s hot.