Monday, August 23, 2010

Thirteen Sleeps

It's so difficult to explain the concept of time to a five year old. We’ve used “two more shows” to explain an hour, and our old reliable is “sleeps” to explain days, but explaining weeks and months is damn near impossible.

Since the end of the 2009/2010 school year, Rory has been asking when he starts “big school”. First we flipped through the pages of the calendar and told him it was too far away to start counting yet. Not satisfied, we tried to explain to him that he’d be starting in seven weeks, which backfired on us after seven days lapsed and he was convinced school was the next morning. Finally we gave in and started counting the sleeps. Our count began at 58 sleeps, like a theoretical Advent calendar with no daily chocolates.

I have dueling perspectives about the whole “big school” situation; on the one hand, I feel a sense of freedom I haven’t felt in five years. I’ll be able to go about my business every day – every single weekday – without the usual distractions. No loud sound effects, no tantrums, no more of the ever-ready, “PLEASE can I get it?” that I’ve become so used to. I won’t have to wait for that episode of Spongebob to end before I leave the house, and I won’t have to cut a trip short because my shopping partner has to pee.

I can start a job. I don’t have to interview a string of babysitters, and it won’t cost me as much money to pay one as I’d make in an 8-hour shift. I’ll likely have the occasion to converse with adults about topics other than Transformers. I’ll put on work clothes and maybe even not have them covered in chocolate fingerprints by lunch time. When someone asks my kids, “what does your mom do,” they’ll finally say something a bit more flattering than, “nothing.”

I’ll see my youngest off into the world. It’s a largely un-discussed milestone, but the first day of school means they officially cross the threshold from babies to kids. He’ll be starting his first of at least thirteen years of school, making friends that could potentially be life-long, learning things I never knew he could, and becoming accustomed to independence.

On the other hand...

I’ll be going about my business every day, alone. I’ll have no shopping partner, no one to keep me company or make me laugh, or to screen my purchases (“no, Mom, we don’t like that cereal”). The teachers get to enjoy him now.

I’m probably going to start a job, which means the end of a lot of the stability he’s enjoyed his whole life. I haven’t found anything yet, so he’ll be getting off the bus and coming home to Mom and snacks every day for at least the first week or two. But, once I find a suitable job, he’ll be going to an afterschool babysitter. Supper won’t be ready at five o’clock on the nose. Chaos will replace repetition. That will be a big change for us.

I’ll see my baby off into a world that terrifies me. Even as I type it, I have tears in my eyes and I could choke on my own fear and heartbreak. It’s a completely selfish set of feelings, I realize, but that doesn’t make them any less valid. I’m scared he won’t make friends easily. I’m scared no one will make sure he eats his lunch and has his hat on. I’m scared he’ll miss me. One of the best things about staying home with him over the past five years was that I never had to wonder if he was being taken care of properly - he was, because I was doing it myself. That changes now.

But he’s ready, as ready as any other kid starting school. The groundwork was laid with the Kindergarten program and a summer of reading and alphabet practicing and number reciting will surely do him good when September finally rolls around. We’ve gone out to get the school supplies, we’ve bought “cool” sneakers like his brother’s, he’s got a new jacket and backpack, and he’s set to go.

Thirteen sleeps, that’s all that’s left. It’s an eternity for him and a blink of an eye for me. Playing with his dinosaurs on the living room floor, he doesn’t see me staring at him and wondering where five whole years went. Surely I’ll take it as well as I did the beginning of pre-school, but this leading-up period is a killer.

Thirteen sleeps.

Wish us luck.