Do I really have to send them to school again?

This is a short week, school started on Wednesday, and the idea of hauling them all up again and packing lunches… it’s more than I can handle on only one cup of coffee.

Thus far, this school year isn’t off to a rocking start.  Sammy is struggling with some major anxiety – his transition into third grade was not handled well at the end of last year, and he’s holding it together at school and a hot mess at home.  All of Jessie’s really close friends are NOT in her class, and so far – the only thing that seventh grade has done for her is introduce her to eighth grade bullies.

Maybe next week will be better.

It should – I’m an optimistic girl.  Julie starts kindergarten, and I love her teacher.  Love her.  (Which brings me back to being bitter about how badly Sam’s transition was bungled this year, and I start to spiral back into worry and bitterness…).  But next week should be easier.  I think it’ll help Sam to have Julie at the school with him.  I think it’ll help Julie to know that her big brother is there too (unless she pays too much attention to the fact that he hates school and has spent the past two nights begging me to quit my job and homeschool him).

Let’s try this again.

Things aren’t all that bad.  Sam has, in fact, gone to school every day so far.  Yes, there have only been two days, but it’s still better than it was when he started kindergarten.  And he loves recess.  Jessie is still happier at Goddard than she ever was at Flagg.  She’s excited about learning, ambitious about her future and happy to see her friends.   Julie is coming to work with me today, and Marc will pick her up before going to pick up the other two kids.  Then he’ll come home, and make a lovely Shabbat dinner for us.

Tomorrow is Saturday, and that’s even better.

Just because it’s a rough start doesn’t mean that the year itself will suck.  In fact, I’m sure it’s going to get much better.  Maybe we got all the crappy stuff right at the beginning and the rest of the year will be smooth sailing.

On the upside, next week, my childcare woes officially disappear (as long as Sam keeps going to school…), and I’ll officially transition to a working mom with all three kids in school.  Julie is going to love kindergarten – I’m really excited about watching my girl thrive.  I think she’s more ready than either of the other kids at this stage, because she’s so familiar with the school, with her teacher, and she’s been watching the older kids going all her life.

It’ll get better, it will, right?

Jessie is short.  It’s been an established fact of her existence for a couple of years now – with her older sisters towering over her.  Glennys was the same way – we’d have these four girls bouncing around the house, and three of them were super tall, and one was adorably… not tall.

She didn’t like being short, and there were many, many conversations about WHY was she sort, and would she ever grow.  I’m a big fan of judging kids like I judge puppies, and Jessie’s paws (her hands and feet) are tiny.  She’s four shoe sizes bigger than her baby sister.  Her little brother has bigger feet than she does.

I liked her being short.  I mean, she’s my daughter, so I like just about everything about her, but the fact that she was on the shorter side never really concerned me.  My sister is short, my cousin Becky is short.  My grandmother was short.  I’m on the taller side, and Marc is obviously tall – but there are recessive genes and so what if she’s short?  I always kind of wanted to be shorter.

Then she grew.  All of a sudden, and all at once, she’s suddenly tall.  She’s a few inches shorter than I am now.  She’s within striking distance of Glennys, and it seems as though every day, she’s just a tiny bit taller.  Just a little bit, but it keeps happening.

I can’t get used to it.

Yesterday, we went out, and she was in heels.  Which is not an every day occurrence, but she couldn’t find any shoes (which happens far more often than it should) and grabbed a pair of heels she had snagged from my sister’s goodwill box.  She just started wearing her hair in a side part, and with the heels, and the sunglasses and hair… it was surreal.  Suddenly, she wasn’t just a little girl anymore.  She was almost as tall as I was, and so staggeringly gorgeous, with her ridiculously long legs, and perfect little face.  She was tanned and wearing a bright yellow top and blue denim shorts… it was very different from walking around with my little baby girl.  Because she was eye level, all of a sudden.

The milestones are different when they get older.   There’s no place in a baby book for the first time you go to a restaurant with your daughter and the teenage waiter is surreptitiously checking her out.    I don’t know that it’s a milestone, that’s not the right word.   But it was definitely something – and one thing I know for certain – I’ll be hiding those heels.  I’ve still got a few more years before my baby girl grows up.

I was reading to Julie last night, and she had chosen a book called My First Day at School by Nancy Skarmeas.  It’s a perfectly lovely book, about a little boy who’s scared to start kindergarten, and (surprise, surprise) ends up really liking it.

I literally had to work at not sobbing in the middle of it.

It sneaks up on me – mostly, I’m all excited about the first day of school.  I’m mildly worried about Sam, as I always am when he starts a new year.  I’m thrilled to betsy for Jessie. Which mirrors how both of them feel – Jessie is flat out thrilled at the start of seventh grade – she adores school and can’t wait to get back. Sam is mostly excited, but a little bit nervous.

I’m sure that Julie will thrive in kindergarten, I’m not anywhere near as worried about her as I was about Sam when he was this age.  I know that she’ll be nervous and shy on the first day, and there will probably be a few tears on her side at drop off – but I also know that she’s going to be fine.  I know that she’s ready for this – academically, she’s SO ready to throw herself into school, and socially, it’ll be great for her to be in a classroom with a bunch of other kids her own age.

So it’s not worry for her – it’s just me.  My baby is going to kindergarten, and as I type that sentence, I feel misty and sentimental all over again.

I have been so focused on how much EASIER it’ll be once she’s in school.  How much easier her transition to be, because she hasn’t had me at home with her all summer (okay, yeah, maybe I am crying a little bit – because what the hell was I thinking, going back to work and missing out on this time with her?).  She’s my last little baby – and the idea that she’s big enough to go to to school freaks me out just a little bit.

Julie is my third baby.   It doesn’t get any less momentous or amazing.  It doesn’t get any less hard to kiss her goodbye and send her out into the world.  Yes, yes, I know… she’s not going out in the world really.  She’s just going to kindergarten.  But the reality is that she’s always had me (or her dad, or a brother or sister…) as a buffer between her and the rest of the world.  She’s going to have relationships with people I don’t know, interactions I know nothing about.  She’s going to grow up more this year, in a lot of ways, than she has since she was born.

So I get a little misty.  Not sad, precisely.  Not delighted either.  A combination of both, plus a general awareness that time keeps marching on… and while the future is bound to hold all kinds of exciting things, and truly, the alternative is unthinkable – I’m emotional as hell about the fact that my baby girl will be starting school in a week.

Now I just have to hide it from her.   Because if I cry, even once, it’ll scare the bejeezus out of her.  I stay endlessly upbeat and encouraging.  I’ll wait until she walks away to let the tears come.

It’s been a season of transition and growth around here at the Cohen household.  Between Marc starting his new job officially (moving from the four month intern process to full blown insurance dude) and me going back to work after more than a decade at home, there were huge sweeping changes about how we live our lives.  The kids have all grown up a lot this summer.  They’re working together more and more (not that the fighting and squabbling have stopped altogether…) but I’m seeing glimmers of a closeness that wasn’t there at the beginning of the summer.  This has been the summer of the Great Hair Crisis of 2015, the summer of Minecraft and learning to write.  (Can you figure out which kid matches up with which descriptor?)

Even with the struggles around childcare and the guilt, the never ending laundry and dishes and no time to do any of it – there were still moments that I’d live over and over again if I could.

– Taking the kids to the ocean for the first time.  It probably wasn’t the first time – but it felt like it was.   I couldn’t get them out, they love, love, loved the ocean.  It was blissful – to the point where the flat tire we got on the way there didn’t detract at all from the overall fabulousness of the day.  Becky came with Abby, so we had three adults, and a buddy for my water-phobic girl – but watching Jessie and Sam in the ocean that day is going to be a memory I’m going to cherish…

– Storyland.  We always meant to get back there, but the summers haven’t traditionally been a time where we had a surplus of wealth or time in the past.  We went the last time when Julie was a few months old, and it was great – but this time was so much better.  We brought Lilli and Sarah with us, and stayed for two nights at Annie’s house. Becky and Abby came too (which makes any family occasion so much better, not only because I adore Becky, but because having Abby meant that Julie had a partner in crime and Sam could be with the older kids).

– We got an XBox and an itty bitty flat screen television.   We aren’t really a materialistic sort of family – for a very long time, we had one old school cell phone that Marc and I shared and only one television.  We’ve added to that list of electronics substantially over the past couple of years, but getting the XBox and the television so that Marc and Sam can play minecraft together was a brilliant idea.

– The bunk beds.  Moving Julianna out of our bedroom was a HUGE step, and there were moments when I was kicking myself for doing it at the same time that she was adjusting to not having me home with her every day.  June was NOT a good month for my baby, and it was because there were just so many transitions all at once.  But putting those beds together, and shopping for her new comforter and pillows, and then her obvious joy and delight in having her own big girl bed and her own space – it was wonderful to watch.

– Working.  My job, after being at home with my kids for so long, is such a lovely surprise.  I had been wondering for a while about what my life would look like, after Julianna started kindergarten.  Without a kid at home, did I need to be here?  But… how could I give up that time after school?  Lose those conversations with Jessie after I picked her up, and miss out on seeing their little faces coming out of the door.  Try and cram homework, dinner, togetherness, and bedtime into just a few short hours after work?  But how could I find a job that would allow me to do pick up and drop off?  Getting the job at Literacy Volunteers was a dream come true, and that was before I even started it.   After two months and a half months of working – I still love it.  I love working at the library, I love opening the office every morning, I love talking to the students and working with women I respect and genuinely enjoy hanging out with – this is nearly an ideal working experience.  And starting next week, it’ll get even better, because I’ll be out in time four days a week to pick my babies up from school.

– Camp Grammy.  Because I’ve been home for the vast majority of the kids’ lives, they missed out on a lot of one-on-one Grammy time.  I like my mother too – so if they were going over to her house, so was I.  But this summer wouldn’t have been possible without my mother, and her relationship with Julianna is lovely to watch.  Julie really blossomed, having that time with my mom, and I’ll always be grateful for that.

– Yesterday afternoon, there was this moment… I had been at work all morning and came home for early afternoon.  And it was so hot, so ridiculously hot and the sky was grey and threatening to pour, so we didn’t want to go anywhere especially… the girls and I painted our fingernails, and then the three kids and I just hung out in the living room.  I was reading, Julie was sitting in her little “hide-out” that she constructed in the corner of the room.  Sam was on one couch, and Jessie was curled up right next to me, and there was something on television – it was so peaceful and relaxed.  Yes, there were dishes waiting, and laundry to fold and I should have been shopping for back to school sneakers or making the bed, or doing something more constructive than curled up with my girl, with my other two right there, but I didn’t want anything more that what I had, right at that very moment.  Then Marc came home, and it was like everything was perfect.

This season in my life is very different in a lot of ways from what I had before.  My identity has changed, my world is bigger.  My kids are growing, and their worlds are bigger and richer as well.  Jessie is ready for seventh grade, and has grown up so much this summer.  She’s responsible and beautiful and I’m so proud of my girl.  Sammy is going into third grade, and I can’t wait to see what this year will bring for him.  Third grade is traditionally a good year (at least it was for Jessie).  Brand new teacher this year, and he’s both nervous and excited.  Julianna’s the one who’s life is going to change the most – starting full time kindergarten is more of a game changer than anything she’s experienced before.  Marc is looking at opening his own office here in Worcester.   Everything is settling in – the older kids start school in a week, and Julie goes the following Monday.

After doing this parenting gig for almost 13 years, there were two big areas where I was pretty much a dismal failure, at least according to the currently accepted wisdom.  I was utter crap at bedtime and family meals.

I’m a co-sleeper from way back, and with the exception of when I just had Jessie, I never had one of those routines that involved putting the kids to bed and then going about my day.  I had kids in my bed all the time, and kids who thrived on a lot of nighttime parenting.

Then we got bunk beds.  Suddenly, I have this really traditional EASY bedtime routine, involving putting them bed.  I just put them to bed.  Julie falls asleep on her own every night and sleeps in her own bed.  Sam is a little more high maintenance still (last night, he couldn’t fall asleep and conked out in my bed).   Jessie crawls into her bed and reads or watches netflix on the top bunk.

The other big change this summer is family dinner.  When I was home full time, dinner was my break.  When everyone was occupied with food and a kindle or a book – it was my downtime.  I’ve always preferred to read while eating – and because we were together all the live long day, I never felt this need to force family togetherness around the dinner table.  My dining room table was mostly covered with bags and papers and mail and books anyway – so I just them them eat wherever.

I always felt a little bit guilty about it – after all, family dinner is supposed to be this magical panacea, able to guarantee straight A students who never drink alcohol or experiment with drugs.  But not guilty enough to clean off the table.

Then I started working – and miss, miss, missed the kids.  I missed that time with them, with all three of them, and decided to start making everyone sit at the table to eat.  I didn’t want that quiet time with a book (okay, I did, I really, really did, but wanted the kid time more.

We’ve sat at the table for dinner every day for the past week.  We laid ground rules – one that was critical for me was that you do not ever come to the dinner table if you can’t be nice. Crabby or grumpy or just needing space – it’s totally okay to say “I’m really not in the mood to be at the table…” and they can go eat wherever.  Everyone’s got baggage, and one of my my issues is a massive aversion to being trapped at the table with people who are fighting or miserable. With three kids, the potential is there for one kid to be in a bad mood and take it out on everyone – so I’d much rather they opt out rather than spew it out on everyone.  Thankfully, that’s only happened once, where I had to send a kid away from the table.  Mostly, everyone just sits at the table and we talk and chat and hang out.

My family looks very different from the way it looked three months ago.  Mama out of the house working, Daddy with a flexible and less demanding schedule, kids sleeping in their own beds, and family dinner every night.

This has been a tough summer in a lot of ways.  Going back to work is such a big adjustment, and while I’m so grateful for my job, it’s been a struggle to adjust to not being at home all the time.

I think it’s mainly because it’s summer.  During the school year, my job will be dovetail perfectly with their school schedule.  It will be easy, in so many ways.  I can drop off the kids, bop off to work, and leave just in time to do after school pick up.  There’s only one day that I can’t do pick up, and it’s Fridays – a day that Marc can be at home, picking up the kids and getting ready for Shabbat dinner.  In three weeks, my job will be absolutely ideal.

But I miss them.  It’s not just the agonizing over childcare, and worrying each day who’s going where, and what time. Yesterday, I just straight up MISSED being at home with my kids.  I missed reading with Sam, and talking with Jessie about her questions about Edward Snowden.  I missed cooking with Julie, and eating lunch with them, and going to the swimming pool or down to the playground.  I missed my kids. These three kids – who aren’t perfect, and they fight and squabble and whine – but they’re funny and sweet and I adore them with ever fiber of my being.  I’m used to a LOT more time with them over the summer.  I’ve been a stay at home mom for most of their lives, and I really, really loved it.   Being a mother is such a huge part of my identity, it’s been my whole world for more than a decade, and I miss being able to focus on it exclusively.

I love my job, and I love getting paid. I love being home with them more, and working when they are home is hard.  I know that the school year will start up, and it’ll fall into a routine, and everything will be easier.  I know that working is the right thing to do for this stage in my life, I know that the work I do really makes a difference in people’s lives, and I’m so grateful for the ability to do this.  I’m aware that this is a transient problem.  I know that Julie’s adjustment to kindergarten will be that much easier, because she’s been able to adjust to being without me during the past two months.  Because I’ve been at work, she’s been able to adjust to it while her life mostly stayed the same, she was able to stay home, or spend special time with Grammy – instead of adjusting to missing me and getting used to a whole new school environment.  Three weeks from now, they’ll be in school all day, and I won’t feel as though I’ve left my heart sleeping at home while I head off – but right now…

I had two meetings, one on Monday night, and one on Tuesday night, and by Wednesday morning, I was a teary-eyed mess at the thought of leaving my kids again.  I came home, and made everyone come with for Julie’s doctor’s appointment (she failed her hearing test at the pediatrician’s last week, but passed with flying colors at the specialist’s).  We all went trooped to the doctor’s office, stopping off for McDonald’s sundaes first.  Then we spent a half hour or so wandering around St. Vincents Hospital – we rode the glass elevators, and I showed them the one that I was in when my water broke with Sam.  Then we went to the gift shop and I bought gummy worms for everyone.  I let them gorge on them (I never do that – although it totally worked, Julie hated them, and both Sam and Jessie ended up throwing them out when they came home – once they were readily available, they realized how much they don’t really like them).  We all went to the grocery store together, and finally made it home.

The thing is – working is absolutely the right thing for this stage in my life.  I’m reluctantly coming to terms with the reality that there won’t be any more babies, and all three of mine will be out of the house in three weeks.  If I had taken the time to design my ideal job, it would be this one – working five minutes from the school, in THE LIBRARY, and with hours that perfectly dovetail their school schedule.  I love what I do, I love the people I work with and the people we help.

I really loved my life before, though.  And as much as I love my job, my heart breaks just a little bit, every day, when I walk out the door and leave them here..