(As always, please forgive any typos/poor grammar. I usually edit posts days after the fact.)
September 8th, I shared the following on instagram:
"My baby started preschool today and Mia is on a plane heading back to Germany. I am not coping well."
We call this #anawkwardaliselfie
Dropping Forrest off at preschool happened first. As a means of comfort, I told myself that if he protested my departure or had a rough transition, I would simply pull him out of preschool and try again in January. With my three oldest, I was confident that they were ready to begin preschool. With Forrest, however, I had doubts. Sure, he talked about going to school often, but lately he had been having a hard time when we left him in nursery at Church. This, along with other signals, made me wonder if we were being hasty.
I realize that no one is forcing me to send him. Many would argue that age three is to young to send a child to school. I understand each of the differing view points. Knowing how much my older children loved their preschool experience was one reason why I thought it was time to send him. Also, having had a speech delay, his therapist and I both thought that school would be a good thing for him. So we signed him up! Forrest goes to school for two hours on Tuesday and Thursday. And as I already mentioned, I knew before that first day that if problems arose, I would not hesitate to keep him home with me.
Forrest was told that if he learned to use the potty, he could go to school. He was definitely frustrated that I didn't make good on that promise immediately. Adding insult to injury, he had to wait a few weeks after the older kids to begin school. He didn't understand why their adventures got to start before his. Needless to say, he was very happy when I announced that morning that it was finally his turn to go!
"But you'll stay five minutes, Mom?" He asked for this reassurance again and again. "Yes, sweet boy. Mama will stay five minutes." It's been a month since school began and I still stay with him for the first five minutes of class. I hope his teachers don't mind because I am not ready for the traditional daily send off yet. Maybe it's more painful to do it this way, but he and I feel it works for us.
Most mornings he is reluctant for me to leave. He'll ask me to stay longer and watch him while he plays with the cars and trucks on the floor. When he realizes that I am serious about going, he'll stop what he's doing and rush toward me for one more hug and kiss. It is a sweet little ritual, but oh... walking out that door still stings so sharp. He is my baby, my sidekick, my partner in crime and every other silly cliche in between. Motherhood is hard. It's messy; both emotionally and literally. But oh my goodness; I love my children so much. So when a chapter or phase concludes so suddenly, the pain reverberates for a long time.
This "first day of school" beginning is hard because I don't have another baby at home waiting to be spoiled by my undivided attention. It's also hard because it is Forrest Daniel Flegal who started school. The sadness I feel when I send each of them to school is unique. It's always there because they each own a different section of my heart. Having three older kids may help me be aware of what possible positives and negatives to expect, but those experiences don't make the send-offs any easier. Another way of making this point would be to say that my joy and happiness wasn't diminished on Henry's baptism day because as parent's we already had the experience of seeing another child be baptized. I felt brand new joy and gratitude for Henry's decision that day.
Oh my gosh. It's not even that time of the month and I am feeling THIS sentimental. It's probably because lately my intent with each post has been to catch up on life. But right now I'm allowing myself to tap into feelings that are fresh and close to the surface. This is why I love to write. It helps me to process life.
Allow me to return to Forrest's first day of preschool. I remember that Mia was up early that morning so she could say her final "Goodbye" to the older children. Eliza and Henry would still be at school when she and I left for the airport. Mia came with me to drop them off that morning. It was funny because she was in her pajamas and had left her shoes at home. That didn't stop her from walking the kids down the gravel path, across the playground and over to their respective doors. As the bell rang that morning, she gave them one more hug goodbye.
Returning home, I finished getting Forrest ready for his big day. We put on his new little lamb t-shirt, combed his hair, brushed his teeth and put on his brand new shoes. Next, we went to the front porch where I took a dozen photos of him with his "First Day of Preschool!" sign. He was so compliant and wiling to let me snap those photos. Mia came with me to drop him off (but she brought her shoes this time!). After waiting my five minutes, I hugged him "Goodbye" and headed outside to my car. I started to bawl. It didn't matter to me that Mia was there. I couldn't help myself.
I was so grateful she was there. She had a few errands to run that morning so off we went. We ended by having breakfast together at McDonalds. Finally, it was time to go pick up Forrest and Lottie. I couldn't WAIT to see him. When I first caught sight of him, I noticed that he had a blue bubble wand in his hand. When he saw me, he BURST out of line and hollered, "HI MOM!!" His teacher wanted him to practice waiting on the porch so she called his attention back to where she was. Doing as he was told, he turned from me to follow her instruction. Finally, he was given permission to go to his Mom. As soon as I could, I scooped him up into my arms. As I began to kiss his face uncontrollably, he said,
"I love my preschool, Mom!" I felt joy and sadness all at once. I was so happy that he had a positive first day but also sad because I knew that he was going to adjust just fine to school. The quiet hope I carried that he wasn't quite ready was dashed.
As good luck would have it, Mia landed a lunch date with the boy next door. This sudden and happy development quickly elevated my mood because I knew how much it meant to her! I was content to watch Forrest and Lottie play bubbles in the backyard while I quickly typed up a letter for her to read on the plane. As I saw them back together, I was reminded that I still have my two youngest home by lunchtime. They have the afternoon together before the big kids rejoin them. It feels like it did last year, for the most part. And, if I am going to be completely honest, the two hours of free time I have on Tuesday and Thursday are starting to feel less sad and more amazing. I feel like I am betraying my children with this confession, but it's pretty great. Often times, I use that window of time to volunteer in my older children's classrooms which I love. Other days, I get something done without being interrupted. I can't complain about that either.
And just like all those Flegal kids, Mia was days away from beginning school as well. Our wonderful month with her was over. It was time to drive her to the airport. I have likely overstated how "sad" this day was, so I probably won't be able to adequately express how terrible it was saying "Goodbye" to her. But believe me. It was. (Click here to read what it was like for us when left Germany back in 2007. The emotion was similar.)
When you live as far away as we do from the Auras family, it's hard to know if and when we will see her again. It was eight long years between our last two visits. That's way to long! Yes, I was sad for my kids; Forrest especially but mostly sad for myself! I looked forward to seeing her every morning. We had the best conversations. She became my close friend right away and having her leave left a giant void in our home. I still get choked up when I think about it. The night before she left, we skyped with her parents. I remember putting my head on my table, unable to look at them because I was overcome with emotion. I said to her parents jokingly,
"If I had known how hard it would be to say bye to Mia, we would have never let her come!" But as a friend pointed out, that sadness is evidence of the special time we had with her. She and I still message daily, sometimes for hours, and skype every few days. I hope, hope, hope we see her entire family soon!
Things went smoothly at the airport. After checking her bags, we walked up to the security gate and said our final goodbye. She and I were both in tears. It was the worst. We love and miss you so much, Mia!!
(the day before she left)
We stayed up many nights playing Settlers of Catan.
"It's been a long day without you my friend; and I'll tell you all about it when I see you again."
We love you Mia! Thank you for choosing our family to spend your summer holiday with. Michael and Johanna, thank you for sharing your incredible daughter with us. We love her so much.