Saturday, July 07, 2012

The First Day of School: Age 2--Preschool Summer Camp

A quick play by play on the First Day of Preschool:
I was suddenly moved to write her name on her jacket, in case she took it off after recess and another little girl had the same jacket, and they got switched, and someone noticed, and no one noticed, and just in case... I didn't want to have to dig through the lost and found box at the principal's office looking for it... Did I mention there are only six kids in her class? Clearly, I was freaking out.
In my freak-out cleaning/writing/reading frenzy, I didn't end up going to sleep until about 3 a.m. Which was good, because Justin wasn't scheduled to get off work til 3 a.m., so I could still pretend I'd done what you're supposed to do on the night before the first day of school: go to sleep early.

I had everything ready though (including the labelled jacket and photograph of said jacket), so my chances at a mellow morning to set the tone for the day were good. Ella woke up 30 minutes before the alarm, so that bought us even more time to drink a leisurely cup of milk/coffee and eat breakfast and even read a book and sing You Are My Sunshine. It's so frustrating that you can't tell a kid to "hurry up and eat" and expect any positive results; I'm going to have to protect this getting-ready time and be a diligent about preparing things the night before. When I first saw her in the morning I asked, "Guess what you get to do today?" 
She squealed, "Preschool!" and then pointed at the dress we had laid out the night before and said, "Dress!"

We said bye-bye to Daddy while he was still bleary eyed. He got home from work less than four hours before we left. That didn't stop me from asking him to take our picture (with my cell phone, so he didn't have to focus.) I love this one because she is kissing my hand. It felt like she might be sensing a Momentous Occasion in the works, but I was trying really hard to be calm yet enthusiastic and not a bit nervous.

With the wall behind us like that, it feels like we were getting our passport photos taken.
I got her into the car as usual, reminding her that "preschool is far away" and that we had to drive there. I usually listen to NPR and sing children's songs or strike up pleasant two-year-old conversation as I chauffeur her around town, but this time I had to turn it off right away so I could concentrate on being calm, being enthusiastic, driving safely, singing "You are my Sunshine," and reviewing The Process. "When we get there, I'm going to take you out of the car, and we're going to go inside and meet your new teacher and your new friends, and I'm going to say, "I love you, Ella! Bye-bye!" and then I'm going to go away and you get to stay and keep playing with your new teacher and your new friends. And then after a while, I'm going to come back and get you and we're going to go home and have lunch and take a nap. It's going to be so fun!"

She asked me to carry her, and I wasn't going to argue with the opportunity to hold her one last time, but I put her down at the top of the stairs and told her I was going to take her picture for the First Day of School. "'merican flag!" she squealed, pointing. Sure enough, the American flag was right there on the flagpole.

What a fittingly patriotic first day of preschool for this mini-Marine Corps girl.

This photo is for keeping me honest. As we drove closer to the school, my stomach was sinking and my heart was racing. We reviewed what to do if we missed each other (from The Kiss Box: we have 100 kisses on our fingertips and we can hold them to our heart and feel a kiss flying from me to you).
As we walked up the driveway I knew I was very close to holding back tears. I'm pretty sure she felt the excitement mixture in the air. She wanted to be picked up again after the photo, but I gently discussed whether it would be a good idea to walk through the door herself at preschool. She was willing to walk over the threshold and three or so steps before she wanted to be picked up again. I was happy to oblige. 

There was playdoh and coloring (with markers!) when we arrived. She asked me to sit on the chair next to her and to help her flatten out the Playdoh, but was happy to use the knife on her own.
I could feel my chest filling with air as I took quiet deep breaths, remembering all those days I felt homesick as an elementary school girl. I was the girl crying at lunch when we first moved to the United States and I started first grade in the middle of the school year. Eventually, they called my parents to come meet me at lunch time to eat with me. I was the girl crying outside the classroom of my second grade class because I didn't realize I was in a combined class with the third graders and I was too scared to go in. I'm the one who told the kids and the teacher at the sixth-grade camp breakfast table that allergies were the cause of my eye redness. (Thank you, Mrs. Held, for saying that your eyes were bothered by allergies in the mountains as well.) 
I told her "I love you! Bye-bye!" and gave her a kiss just like we'd been practicing, and then she started helping Miss Veronica clean up so they could start their day. I knew that since I had said goodbye I had to actually leave immediately, so I got up and started walking toward the door. No one even acknowledged that I was leaving (at this point, it was four kids, a teacher, and an assistant teacher--the sum total of the class for that day). 
I walked quickly to the door and let myself out. On the driveway I let the breaths come more loudly and deeply. I made it to the car without crying, but as I sunk into the driver's seat, I caught a glimpse of Ella's empty car seat in my rear view mirror. 
I started the car anyway and drove around the block in the residential neighborhood before parking a few houses from the school and accepting the tears. 

To calm myself, I did what I do. I posted photos from the morning and a status update:
She's totally fine. I might be sitting in the car, trying not to cry and failing. It didn't help that the first thing I saw was her empty car seat in the rear view mirror. Two hours and 42 minutes to go. 
It worked. Ella's Godmother called twice, knowing I was crying alone in my car, but I didn't answer. I just needed to be in the moment with my thoughts and my feelings and my girl a few doors down. By the time I posted the photos, I was wondering what they were doing in the classroom. I posted: 
I wonder what will happen when she realizes I'm gone. I'm already starting to think I can run to the grocery store and clean up a little in the house before I come back to get her. I just have to avoid looking at the empty car seat.

I got a text while I was driving on PCH. I glanced down (quickly!) and saw the word, "Fun!" under a photograph from a number I didn't recognize. 
I re-posted it with this note once I got out of the car: I love her preschool! They just texted me this picture. Yeah, it choked me up, but I'm going to get a coffee now. Breathe.
I enjoyed a mocha and a croissant while reading the newspaper and sitting on a couch without having to share or keep my drink out of her reach. I went to the grocery store and whizzed through it, easily picking up the few things we needed from the far reaches of the store without having to tell her not to touch anything, to watch where she was going, that I wasn't going to carry her through the store but that she had two choices: ride in the cart or walk beside Mommy. I took everything home and put it away. I got some paperwork done. 

I set my alarm to remind me to leave for the school 45 minutes before class gets out. That way, I can wrap up whatever I  am doing, get ready to go, drive there (possibly in road construction traffic), and be on time. 
Back in front of the school. 18 minutes early. Woohoo! We did it! I got coffee and a croissant and actually sat on a couch in the shop to eat it. Went to the grocery store for just a couple of things. Gathered some paperwork at home. Can't wait to see how she is!!!

The parents of one of the girls were already waiting in their car. I told myself I I could go in 10 minutes before the end of class, because I heard one of the other mom's tell her son that she'd be there for the story at the end. When I got out of the car, I ended up chatting with the mom who was in the car until the mom who meant to be there for story time arrived. We checked on each other--talking about how emotional it all was and that we couldn't wait to see how they did. We were standing near the closed door, wondering if it was OK to go in yet, when the teacher came to the door and let us in. We were sheepish about lurking around, but Veronica said usually she has parents lined up with their faces pressed up to the window, so we were really doing quite well. 

I am so thankful to have seen Ella's face light up when she recognized me. She showed me her Fourth of July art: 

We used it as part of our Independence Day party decorations. I will keep it forever.
Her teacher said she did great, that she asked for help, that she got in line to do the art project again (she liked it so much), and that she didn't cry. "Not even a sad moment."

I am astounded/elated/relieved/grateful/proud. 

As soon as we got out the building, she asked for a snack. She ate as much as she could in the car and then had lunch at home. 
As we drove, Ella kept saying, "'ronica! 'ronica!" and then, "'ronica fun!'"
After lunch, Justin helped get her ready for bed. Whereas I sing two lullabies, rock her in the rocking chair, give her water, sing again, give her more water, cover her with her blankey, cover The Guys (Dolly, Baby, Penguin and George) with the blankey, and finally leave her room, Justin took her in, tucked her in, and left the room. 

I had to wake her later, so that we could go to the park to meet some friends for a Fourth of July park party. 

Nothing wakes a girl up like being pushed in a swing by a friend.

Dropping Ella off at preschool the second day was practically no big deal, except that I learned already that I absolutely must stick to my Plan for Morning Efficiency and Setting the Tone, or things get a little dicey.
The teachers rotate Summer Camp responsibilities, so it was a different teacher and three new kids and one boy from the first day. Miss Veronica came in anyway, just to help Ella feel more comfortable being left with a new teacher. The three other kids included a five-year-old girl and a younger boy and younger girl--the teacher's three kids.

Ella was being quite shy, so I stayed for a few minutes again to help her with dry erase markers and with play-doh. I told Ella she was going to stay at school and play with her new friends, and the boy from the day before said, "I'm not a new friend!" Miss Veronica was working with Ella on using play-doh scissors when we exchanged "bye-bye! I love you!"s, and I slipped out the door. 

When I returned three hours later, I walked into the school with the mom of the boy we met yesterday. Her son squealed, "Mommy!" and jumped up and ran to her. 
I took one look at Ella and said, "It looks like you've got a new friend!" The teacher laughed, "Does she ever!"
Ella was sitting in the five-year-old girl's lap. Lounging, really. The girl was sitting criss-cross (Indian-style, to all you old schoolers), and Ella was leaning back into her. She looked exhausted. I walked right up to them and asked if she wanted to go home, and she just stared at me vacantly. I'm pretty sure she even said, "No." I laughed and told her OK, I'd just sit down next to them, then. I kinda thought she'd get up and sit with me, but she didn't. The teacher, the girl, and I were all telling her it was time to go home and that she could come back next week, when finally the girl lifted Ella out of her lap. Then, Ella took my hand and pulled me to the sliding glass door that goes to the playground. "Outside!" she kept saying. 

"Did you guys go outside today?" I asked. The teacher said yes. Ella tried to open the door and said, "Outside." 

I knelt and told her we couldn't go outside there again today, but that we could go home and have lunch and maybe go to the park after nap time. She bought it, said goodbye to the group and we left.

I think this preschool thing is going to work out just fine. 

1 comment:

B. Wilson said...

Ella is going to LOVE reading this when she's older. It's just so well written and beautiful.

I'm no where close to your journey, but I can imagine letting go, if just for 3 hours, to be difficult.

I'm so happy she enjoyed her school. Keep the updates coming!