The apartment was clean and neat, but definitely showed some wear from years of prior tenants. It felt empty, devoid of personality with no roommates at home and few personal items in the shared living space. Kiki and I hauled her belongings up three flights of stairs in the hot afternoon and stacked them in piles by the door of her new bedroom. Shopping came next to fill her fridge with the food she will eat and to buy a desk/table for her to work on. We carried those loads up as well.
Then it was time for me to go. I had a three hour drive back home. We sat for a moment in silence, in the empty apartment, with Kiki’s things in piles before us. Last year I’d dropped her off into a crowd of familiar roommates. She’d been immediately swallowed up in continuing friendships and chatter. This time we both remembered a little too clearly the hard parts of the semester before. The emptiness of the apartment left space for those memories to bounce around and become worries.
In a small voice Kiki asked “Will you help me assemble my desk and chair?”
I stayed an extra two hours helping with assembly and buying pizza for dinner. On our return from fetching pizza, we pulled in at the same time as one of Kiki’s roommates. Having a friend banished the emptiness. I bid Kiki goodbye without feeling like I was abandoning her to loneliness. This was confirmed later in the evening via Skype when Kiki was cheerful and partially moved in.
Patch was headed out the door for his first day of junior high. He asked me where his hoodie was. I answered and watched as his fingers twisted the hem of his shirt. The twisting was a small sign of the anxiety he felt, as was him asking for his hoodie. It wasn’t cold outside, he felt safer with the hood wrapped around his head. Gleek walked him to the bus stop. School for her didn’t start until the next day. This was an orientation day for seventh graders only. I watched them walk off together, Patch taller than his sister by a good two inches. Last fall Gleek was still taller. I’d been carefully biting my tongue for the last two days. I’d wanted to ask Patch a bunch of questions, to talk through all the things which might cause him stress or anxiety. My mind reviewed all those worries as he walked away. Would it be too overwhelming? Would he ratchet up in anxiety? Would he have panic attacks? I hoped not. But I knew that obsessively talking it through was more likely to create anxiety than to relieve it. Anxiety is a transmissible ailment for those who are prone to it. I did my best to keep mine to myself. We were much better off treating this departure for school as routine.
He came home carrying his hoodie, not wearing it. At some point he felt safe enough to take it off. I limited my after school questions to three. How was it? Good. Anything stressful or anxious? Not really. Anything exciting? His German teacher. The ease of his answers was as reassuring as the answers themselves. He met my eyes with his shoulders and arms relaxed. One day is not a useful measure to evaluate a school year, but it was a good start.
Link was already awake when I came to his room to turn on the light. He grabbed his clothes and headed for the bathroom. I was glad of this. I like the mornings when he is self-propelled much better than the mornings where I feel like I’m pushing against a mountain to keep him moving. I expect those mornings will come, but not on this first day of school. Link came to prayer and scripture time far more alert than either of his siblings. Patch was dragging and sleepy, not yet adjusted to the early rising. Noting his schedule written on a note card attached to the fridge, Link said “3D graphics? Cool!” This was his only commentary on the classes he has for today. I drove him to the school building and watched him walk toward it. This is his senior year. Sort of. He didn’t finish half the school work from his junior year, so he’ll have to hustle if he wants to graduate with his class. That is a conversation I need to have with him in the next couple of weeks. He has to decide whether the cap and gown ceremony is important to him. There are other conversations to have. So much growing he needs to do. I would really like to see that growth. It feels like I spent most of last year watching him shrink. None of us know what this year will bring, but the first day started well.
Gleek was out of bed before I entered her room. She had night-before-Christmas type anticipation about the beginning of school. She typed up her morning journal, only getting momentarily distracted by YouTube. I hardly had to pay attention to her at all as she dressed and readied her pile of things for school. “It’s nice to have a schedule.” she said as she loaded a dozen writing implements into a zip bag. The bag went on top of her stack of five notebooks. She was defended against boredom and the need for drawing supplies. When time came to leave she told Patch it was time to go and they walked out together.
Coda: The parents
I was grouchy this morning, though I wasn’t conscious of it until a minor frustration had me tossing a spatula into the sink rather harder than was necessary. Part of it was pure fatigue. My body is not accustomed to being awake at 6:30am. That long string of school mornings stretched ahead of me filled with 6:30ams. The weight of responsibility chafed as I prepared breakfasts on a timed schedule. I remembered how to do it all, but I didn’t want any of it. I know that school is the best way for my kids to grow right now, but I’m still tired from last year. I’m still too aware of how hard it all got.
The kids were all out the door by 7:45 and the house was quiet. The quiet felt empty, substantially different than the quiet of people doing their own quiet things. “I miss summer. I don’t want to go to work today. I miss Kiki” Howard said, echoing my unspoken sentiments. Of course we will go to work anyway, because the work is important and we love the work enough to do it even on a day when we’d rather not expend effort.
The school year has begun. Thus far the only unpleasant things have been in my head. One day at a time we’ll proceed.