Update: This post was featured on Freshly Pressed, the WordPress Homepage, on September 9.
If you’ve read this blog for a while, you may remember a story I posted in May (#3: Mama Just Can’t Say No) about my younger son, O, being sent to the preschool director’s office for bad behavior.
Let’s just say his “Tuesday Tots” class was not his favorite thing.
And so we talked a lot this summer about how to be brave and sit still and listen and meet new friends in school. Maybe I brainwashed (“You will love school. School will be awesome.”) more than I instructed. At any rate, by the time orientation rolled around yesterday, he seemed ready. And now today he’s all smiles as we rush across the parking lot.
We hit a sunny patch with pretty landscaping. Since he’s already smiling, I pull out my camera. “Look at me, Smalls!” I say, using his long-standing nickname that has too long a history to explain.
O’s not a big fan of the camera. He ignores me at first.
“Will we have Cheez-Its for snacktime?” he asks.
“Maybe!” I answer. When he smiles, I snap this photo:
The sun makes him squint, so I lead him to a bench in the shade. He sits obediently, still smiling over the prospects of a handful of cheesy deliciousness.
“Smalls! Look at me, buddy! Look at the camera!” I say.
He smiles quietly at his feet.
“Come on, buddy, look at me!” I repeat. He shrugs his shoulders and looks happily at his hands.
Meanwhile, another mom—a woman I know—approaches with a child on each side of her. “Hi, Maura!” she calls. “Hey, O! Smile, kiddo! What a good boy!”
O shoots her this look:
And then everything changes. It’s like a sea tide; suddenly, O is swallowed by a wave of self-consciousness and worry.
So he collapses, turtle-like, into himself.
Months of hard work, gone in an instant, all because a well-intentioned, kind-hearted woman has shouted a few words of encouragement that ultimately translate to added pressure.
He cries a bit, then, quietly. I have a picture of this, too, but it breaks my heart too much to post it.
My fellow mom winces and mouths “Sorry!” as she leads her children through the entryway. I wave goodbye, then turn back to my sweet, sad Smalls.
So I scoop him up and rock him for a moment before uttering these magic words: “You’ll be ok, buddy! I’ll come right back for you. You’ll have a great day! And maybe you’ll have Cheez-Its! Remember?”
And the wind shifts again to tacit anticipation:
With that, he shakes himself off and marches his way to school.
We wait in the hallway for his teachers to open the door, and when they do, three other children fall to pieces. I give Smalls a hug, he covers his ears as he gives me a kiss, and he walks right through the door without looking back.
It’s as hard as I expect it to be—letting him go, watching him turn his back, walking away as he smiles sweetly at his teachers. I want to hang out for a bit in the hallway, wait until the teachers close the door, then peer through its window. But I don’t. Instead I walk to the car, slide behind the wheel, close my eyes, take a few deep breaths, and switch on the ignition. And then later, I return to pick him up. In the end, we both do fine. O especially.
At snacktime, he has cookies. Which means there could still be Cheez-Its waiting when he returns to school tomorrow.
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