Tomorrow is Maddie and Riley's first day of kindergarten.
I feel like I'm less nostalgic about it all than most parents. I have many fond memories of early grade school, and I've always loved order and routine, so even when the teacher wasn't great or I struggled with the lessons, I remember feeling comforted by the routine of it all. I often find as a parent that it's hard for me to move past my own memories and expectations, so now, as Maddie and Riley prepare for this new adventure, my instinct is to assume that they are eager for it to begin, as I was. They give no sign to the contrary; frankly, the seem completely ambivalent.
It's true that they are going to the same school they went to last year, but now for a full day instead of a half. Still, I think going to a familiar place with some familiar faces makes the idea much less novel. We met their teacher on Tuesday; she is all business. To her factual statement and no-nonsense delivery of, "I have 28 kids in this class and no teacher's aide. I need parent helpers." all I could reply was, "I'm a single working mom; it's impossible for me to commit to a regular volunteer schedule, but I'd be happy to help with any kinds of tasks that can be done at home." I felt guilty, that working mom guilt, but it passed pretty quickly.
The working mom guilt is strange. I find that my guilt relates less to not being with Maddie and Riley, who have been blessed with excellent caretakers and seem to take my working in stride. My guilt comes when I think of all the parents that are in the classroom once a week, twice a week, maybe more; the parents who run the PTA and teach after-school classes; the parents who host Maddie and Riley for playdates. There is a vast array of unpaid, underappreciated volunteers who have a significant impact on Maddie and Riley's daily life and learning. I take full advantage of that—not in the sense of abusing it, but in the sense of benefiting from it—and yet I rarely give anything back to that system. This is not something I can change right now, and my guilt is overwhelmed by my immense gratitude that others can pick up that slack mixed with frustration about our school system and the fact that there is so very much slack to pick up. Alas.
I remember when Maddie and Riley were babies, when John was so sick and then shortly after he died. I remember thinking how very far away this day was, this day when Maddie and Riley would be in school full time. It was impossible to imagine. I won't say that the time has flown. In some ways it has, but in others, not at all. I think the difficulty of the first two to three years of our lives together makes it easier for me to be less nostalgic about this rite of passage that so keenly marks the end of baby, toddler, and very early childhood into this age of the school years. That is not to say that these years will be easy, or even easier. But it feels significant to say goodbye to a period of Maddie and Riley's life during which it was often hard for me to appreciate all that we had together, and when I was often sad and frustrated and feeling alone despite their presence.
Tomorrow morning the kids are allowed to wake me up at 6:30 a.m. There will be baths and showers and new clothes. There will be a choice of lunch to pack or buying lunch at school. My mom and stepdad will come, and we will all walk to school together. Pictures will be taken, the milestone noted and celebrated. Kindergarten. Dios mio.