You know that cute little blond girl I write about sometimes? My darling daughter, Chloe? Last week she started kindergarten. Fully integrated, full day.
It was a strange day, that first day of school. She had a drop-off orientation day the day before, and though I didn’t cry, my belly twisted into a knot as I watched my little girl, standing a head shorter than most of the other kids, walk into the school with her little walker, ushered by her helpful aides.
Sean drops her off in the mornings, and so I was saved the agony of having to watch it a second time. After Theo rode away on his bus, I walked home to the empty house. The empty house is not foreign to me, but this early, with this amount of time stretching out ahead of me was definitely a new feeling. It was not sad. It was not excited. It was more like, “Huh.”
I wandered. I wandered the house looking at the piles of stuff that had developed over the past couple of days as we prepared for school’s start, but it did not occur to me to pick up any one of these piles and distribute the contents to their rightful and designated place as I continued to wander. I thought to myself, “This is what I will put away when I clean later.” I did not entertain the possibility of saving myself the second trip around the house.
I wandered around the internet. I looked up articles on the importance of traction control in a winter climate. I looked up the release date for the new iPhone. I read USA Today on my iPad. I dared to tap the alluring red square “P” that is the Pinterest app. I wandered around the geek page.
I stood up from my chair, determined to do…something. I stretched and sat back down again. While I sat I thought of things I needed to remember to do when I decided to give standing another go. I played around in my head with the idea of a sort of pulley system for to-dos, notes clipped to a string above my noggin, so I could visually see something there, or notice it’s absence once it is completed. Because that’s where my to-dos live, hanging over my head.
I started to cry a little during lunch. I can’t eat when I cry, so I cried a little more because I really wanted to eat the leftover Chinese food in front of me.
I sat down the night prior and wrote out things I wanted to do while the kids were in school, to avoid a day like this. I estimated how long the “have-tos” would take, and gawked at the time left over. My mind filled with glorious projects. I did all that to avoid all this. But I knew I would need some time. I honestly imagined I would be a little more emotional than this. I didn’t plan to do anything with anybody that day for this reason. There is, after all, a time to cry. So maybe my lack of direction came from a lack of breakdown.
I envisioned myself sitting down to a nice cup of tea this afternoon after the kids got home, you know, to relax after a hard day’s mindlessness. And because I apparently couldn’t have a stupid cup of tea then, with the house all empty and stuff.
I came to the conclusion that I might need a babysitter. For myself.
I had to write the teacher a letter about Chloe and I avoided it. I was afraid I would slip, and lose this good grip I had maintained, because I easily become overwhelmed with emotion when I sit and stare at a blessing for any amount of time, and as any writer will tell you, when it comes down to it, the only way to successfully communicate the true essence of something is to stare at it a really long time, until you have no choice but to write the truth of it.
Chloe has become a natural at seeking out faces, finding your eyes, making contact in one of the few ways she can. She gazes into my eyes and I wonder, What are you thinking? She will laugh with me when I laugh, she will seek out my face when the dog barks and scares her, her face beginning to melt with the fear. But I can barely bring myself to ask what I need to ask.
I need to look right into her face and ask her, What do you want your teacher to know? What do you wish your classmates knew about you, that you can’t tell them? I can’t bear to ask because I know I will be answered with silence. The silence is sometimes too heavy. It is what breaks my heart the most, knowing her mind is busy thinking, creating, puzzling, loving, and that I cannot witness it. Theo, my son, rarely stops talking, and though it may start to get to me sometimes, I am always keenly aware of the miracle of it.
Ah. Here it all is, all I have been holding on to all week. I can barely see to keep typing, and I want to stop— stop examining, stop wondering. Stop feeling…what? What is this? It is such a strange mixture of pain and relief and bliss I cannot contain it. Because even though I cannot know just what Chloe’s voice would sound like were the gates opened to all she has had to keep from us these past five years, there is unrelenting evidence to what she is thinking sometimes. Like when she reaches over and puts her hand on the hand of a stranger, and smiles at them. (Hello, new friend.) Or when she squeezes her arms around the neck of an old friend. (I love you, friend.) When she laughs at the wind in her face (I love this feeling!), or even when she laughs after she throws her cup across the table (Crashing is hilarious!).
I mourn what I cannot know. I mourn the loss of something I never had.
What did I write to her teacher, who never imagined that the small request of “tell me what you think I should know about your child” could pose such a heartbreaking conundrum? I wrote many things. But to sum up: just watch. Just watch, and you’ll see, a language you never knew. Chloe is learning, she is hearing, and she is telling you: I’m so happy to be here.
For another post on Chloe’s experience with school, read Super Sister.