Thursday, January 04, 2007

Getting Schooled

I don't remember much about starting school. I don't remember preschool at all--maybe I didn't go? If I did, it was in Oklahoma, and all I remember of that place is junebugs. I have this too-convenient memory of my first day of first grade (which was only across the street) in which my mom got me dressed without underpants (they were all in the dryer) and sent me on my way, and I stood outside the front door and burst into tears, thinking she was playing a joke on purpose.

Mostly I loved school. In first grade, I was in love with math and my teacher, Miss Manning (later Mrs. Brown.) Sometimes she'd pull my braids and tell my mother, "I love her! Can she come to live with me?" and the two of them would laugh while I'd be repeating "Pretty please, pretty please, pretty please?" over and over in my head. I never did get to go home with Miss Manning, not even once, and soon enough I'd had my love of math stripped away, too. But school in general...well, it probably tells you a thing or two that I attended with nary a break for 27 years. September is like a siren call to me, and I am inexorably called to be smashed against the rocks.

This week is Jarrah's first week of school, ever. She was only permitted to attend once she turned two, and she had a good five days of two-ness under her belt before she set off. She will be attending twice a week through June.

The night before, I was a sleepless wreck. What if she paced up and down and sobbed like she did in the old days when we left her somewhere? What if she couldn't understand any instructions and stared blankly and eventually cried? What if she was uncontrollable, and spent the whole time screaming, "No, no, no!" Meanwhile, she was across the hall, snoozing without complexity. In the morning, she devoured a bunch of eggs and a yogurt shake while I packed her lunchbox with tiny Tupperware containers and picked out her "Back to School" outfit with attention to effortless fashion and a dash of flair.

David and I decided to take her together, though ordinarily he will go alone. My heart pounded as we sailed along in the sunny morning, though we kicked ourselves for having forgotten the camera. Jarrah was not alarmed by our arrival. Why should she be? She's been going to this same campus every Friday with me for four months. At the gates, we said hello to a couple other moms and out of the corner of my eye I could see Jarrah explaining to a total stranger about her new lunch box.

When we reached her room, her teacher greeted us and we handed over her Earthquake Kit (the theme seemed to be dried fruit) and Ziploc of extra clothing (there was a small, disapproving silence when I admitted I hadn't Sharpie'd her initials on everything.) And where was Jarrah when these business-like niceties were taking place? Ensconced in a chair across the room from us, cutting stars out of Play Doh. Soon enough, it was time. David and I approached gingerly. She didn't look up. He leaned in for a kiss. "'Bye, Jarrah. I love you." I leaned in, "'Bye, Jarrah. I love you. I'll see you at one o'clock." The last bit got me one brief, quizzical glance. And that was all. We walked quickly towards the exit. The director poked her head around her door and murmured, "I'll call you if anything comes up. But nothing will."

I enjoyed my morning (it felt so strange to be without her in the morning!) but apprehension returned as our reunion grew nigh. I was waiting outside the locked gates at 12:45, along with another mom whose son had also started that morning. "I called--did you? I'm such a dork," she said, and I wondered why it hadn't occurred to me to call. Suddenly there was a stream of children and I raced around the corner, heart pounding. I saw Jarrah, inexplicably sitting in the lap of a man who looked like Santa Claus. (David later reminded me that he is one of the room parents; I had forgotten in my anxiety.) She turned towards me and I thought she'd never looked so beautiful, her cheeks pink and her eyes shiny. She smiled, and then she turned away! I approached: "Jarrah, it's mommy! Can I have a hug?" She hugged me, but immediately took my hand to show me some wooden toys. All around me, children couldn't leave fast enough, but Jarrah was gearing up for another round!

Her teacher was beaming. "Jarrah understands everything. She was very good. And not a single tear." The room parent added, "And she ate such a good lunch!" I was a little dazed. "Well, her grandmother says she's 'a good eat-uh,'" I said, and they laughed. "We kvell from the good eating!" Jarrah took my hand and we walked to the car. She was chattering about "buh-bye." I put her in the car seat and looked back at her in the rear view mirror. "More preschool Thursday?" "Peez!" she said. Oo-kay, then!

The last thing her teacher said as we were leaving is that the real waterworks often come the second day, since by then the kids have wised up and know what's in store--mommy and daddy leave. So I was bracing myself again this morning, even though I wasn't there. David called and said, "It went great! She was already playing when I left."

When I picked her up today, there was a tidal wave of sobbing inside the room. Three or four children were wailing and gnashing their teeth; I didn't see why--utter relief to see mommy again? Jarrah, once again, was smiling and busy, and took my hand to show me how she could wash out a pot in the pretend sink. Both her teachers (one was on vacation on Tuesday) came over, huge smiles on their face. One said, "Let me tell you about your daughter!" and a huge rush of tears filled my throat. Yes, I thought. Tell me about my daughter. My daughter. "We love her! She's adorable!" "So independent!" the second teacher added. "She got out her own lunch!"

The kvelling flowed fast and furious for the next few minutes while I got Jarrah ready to go. She hugged everyone goodbye and showed me her art project. A teacher from another class walked by and said to me, "We're all falling under Jarrah's spell." Holy cherubim, Readers, this was a lot for me to take in. I still hadn't said a thing in order to avoid crying; I just kept bobbing and smiling like an idiot.

So independent, they kept saying. They were really thrilled about this. Part of me was so proud of her I couldn't speak. Part of me felt that nagging "what if" of international adoption: does this mean she's not attached? Amazing how the best news can fill me with doubt.

In the mean time, though, I'm going to try to enjoy this moment. The moment when my daughter embraced the academy, following in her mama's footsteps. This could be the beginning of a beautiful 27 years.


Anonymous said...

NO! It does NOT mean that she's not attatched! It means she's well-adjusted. Well-adjusted and HAPPY. That's the best you can do with a child! Congrats!

Anonymous said...

That's our girl! Yea for you, yea for Jarrah.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Samantha. No, to me, all of that just means that you have done your job to perfection and made the happiest, strongest little Jarrah-girl possible. What an amazing milestone. I kick you for forgetting the camera, too! ;)


Anonymous said...

This is the beginning of a beautiful life.

Best, Gail

Anonymous said...

What a great entry! I am so glad that I stayed up late to read it!

I am right there with the anxiety. Too much mommy-mommy: I worry. Not enough: I worry.

It sounds like she just plain and simple LERVES it!



Heather - The Wanna-be Super Mom said...

How exciting! Congrats on Jarrah's first day at preschool. And don't worry...she is plenty attached...just well adjusted and independent...that is great! If she wasn't attached she wouldn't be excited to see you and show you what she played with that day!
You go Jarrah!

Anonymous said...

What a great entry! I feel so proud of little Jarrah right along with you!

Anonymous said...

She is an amazing little girl and you, an amazing mom! Can't believe your mom sent you to school with no panties! That is a pretty common childhood nightmare for lots of us, and you actually went thru it! Yikes!

Anonymous said...

Beam with pride girl! You and David are doing an excellent job raising Jarrah. Enjoy her success!

Anonymous said...

It's hard to imagine Jarrah not having everyone fall under her spell! She sounds quite happily adjusted. You're having normal mommy worries. I too sometimes have that little attachment thought pop into my head as Gabriella has never met a stranger. But, I do think she is just plain happy and nothing wrong with that!

And, BTW, Earthquake Kit???? Oh my. Something to be said for living on the other coast,huh? Never knew such a thing existed.

Unknown said...

Mary can tell you that this is Laura's story, and it was the same story for preschool, Kindergarten and first grade. She walked into each classroom from the first day forward and never even looked back to say good-bye. Laura once told Mary that her least favorite days were Saturday and Sunday because there was no school. May Jarrah always love school as much as Laura does.

Anonymous said...

Sam, she really is growing up so fast. What a lil' trooper on her first day. She is a brave one. You can still bring a camera and take pics. Looking back you won't remember if they were from day one or five.


Anonymous said...

Your pantie story may have influenced recent events in the news -- I didn't know that Britney was a regular reader too! :) Lix