I don’t know why it takes so long for three women in one neighborhood to find one evening where we all can meet; but it felt like the night came after a year of us saying, “Let’s get together soon!” and “Yes!” and “Text me!” before we actually got serious and committed to a date. It was casual, after bedtimes for the youngest of our kids. I don’t really remember exactly, but I probably wore the t-shirt and shorts I’d been in all day. We sat around a kitchen table.
Talk circled around our summer travels and the kids. And then when the upcoming school year and teacher assignments and classroom things came up — I grabbed a handful of toasted Cheez-It’s and listened.
Because I knew nothing.
And had nothing to say.
It was kind of like being in a different country with two people who know English, but revert, effortlessly and mid-conversation, to their native tongue. They want to include you, they even look at you as they talk, as if they expect you to answer, but they haven’t realized you don’t understand anything that is coming out of their mouths.
Apparently, a bunch of teachers left last year. Many moved grades. New teachers were hired. We have a new principal. The school district has big administrative issues to deal with.
Munch, munch, munch.
At some point, there was talk about a teacher who either got married or had a baby or left or I don’t even know. But it was big news and I had to stop them. Excuse me, you’re speaking Dutch again, can you go back to English?
“Who are you guys talking about?”
“Seriously, Sonya? Were you living under a rock last year?”
Um, yes. Yes, think I was.
I grabbed another handful of snack food and continued listening, pretending to understand.
I gave birth to Asher, our third child, in the fall of my oldest’s (Nadia’s) first-grade year. I politely bowed out of all volunteering while still pregnant, enjoying all the time I could with my four-year-old at home, and saved my energy for that baby.
And then after he was born — well, you know. It was just survival.
I was so, so tired. And so, so pleased with myself for delivering Nadia to school on time, dressed, with a packed lunch each day. That (with a baby and a preschooler) is quite a lot, my friends.
So, sometime around April of that school year, when Nadia came home, again, saying that her teacher was absent and that there was a sub (again), it was like seeing a scarred and dark landscape come into view, my new-born fog suddenly disappearing. One day it was there, the next day gone. I studied it, the landscape, for a while. Nadia would come home talking about sub after sub after sub and then one day, she said it was a man who didn’t teach anything, he just sat there while they played and — well, six year olds can be sketchy with details — so I thought I should figure out what was happening and put a call into the principal.
Meanwhile, I looked at her notebooks, the ones where she was supposed to be gluing first-grade things onto its pages. But it was mostly empty. But maybe that was how it was for all the kids? Six-year-olds don’t need to know very much, do they?
At school pick-up one afternoon, I asked another mom who had a child in the same class, “what does Luke’s notebook look like?” She was a mom of twins and her other child was in a different class. She looked at me with concerned eyes and said, “It doesn’t look like his brother’s.”
Heat flashed in my chest. What had been happening?
There were extenuating circumstances with the teacher that were totally understandable. But, I felt so guilty. For not knowing. For not being on top of it. For my mind and body being so preoccupied with my baby and the other child at home, that just getting through those first six months, I didn’t realize what was going on in my first baby’s first-grade classroom.
[For the record: she was (and is) fine. It in no way altered the course of her life.]
But I just couldn’t get over the fact that I was trying so hard to do the everyday things: feeding, clothing, breathing, changing diapers, napping, that I didn’t have the bandwidth to know what was happening with my daughter at school.
Today is picture day. The boys ate breakfast and brushed their teeth before putting on their shirts that I ironed and proceeded to fix their hair (pomade and hairspray were involved) before I lectured them about the envelope I was placing in their backpacks.
“Hand this to the photographer. DO NOT LOSE IT. This needs to go to the photographer. The photographer.”
Phin, the older one, asked, “Are you actually going to buy them?”
“I already did.”
“What do you mean?”
“I paid for them already. You just have to hand the envelope to the camera man and smile for the picture.”
“So you’re really going to get them?”
He’s a smart kid. But he’s asking me this because his and his siblings’ pictures framed on our hallway wall? They aren’t from last year. I’m a little fuzzy with the dates. But I think they are from two years ago.
And what’s worse? Our school takes school pictures twice a year. (I know! It’s a conspiracy.)
Although I’ve had ample opportunity, for parents like me, who forget to send in the money for the real picture day, then are told we can buy them online, we think: Perfect! I’ll do it later. And despite my personal track record of doing absolutely ZERO PERCENT of all the things I’ve ever said I’ll do it later about, I somehow continue to say it (and believe!) that I’d actually do it later.
And that spring picture day? I just convinced myself that I’d buy the fall ones. So they go to school their cousin’s hand-me-down tie-died painting shirt from the place we’ve never visited and even though the picture is cute, I’m not spending my money on it.
It was probably May of this year when I did get last fall’s pictures in a cart and even had my credit card with me, but I needed some special code that I couldn’t find. And like with many would-be online purchases, I abandoned my cart for another day. (Translation: no day. I have abandoned carts all over the internet.) But I thought that maybe I’d do it later. During the summer?
Except this summer was full. I traveled a lot. Enjoyed downtime. I read books and intentionally rested. It suprised me how different I felt after time away and time to reflect, how rejuvinated and relaxed I could be. With my kids, my husband, myself. With my whole life. If I found that silly code I needed, I probably would have ordered their pictures.
But I never found it.
What I did find was some space. A fog lifted.
There are seasons where we don’t realize just how hard things are until after it’s over. It might be after babies or simply a season with a very full plate. What may seem like a lot to some is fine for us. And what could be looked at as easy to others, feels like more than we can handle. It’s hard to know, really.
But it’s easy to feel bad about it, after the fact.
This past year? Everything on the surface had felt “okay.” I’d even go so far to have said good, if you had asked me about it. But, looking back, I was trying to hold and balance and learn and stretch more than I was capable of. Last year, I was living under a rock.
I looked at my son and said, “Yes. I’m getting your pictures and I’m going to put them on the wall.”
It may not seem like much of an accomplishment to a lot of people, but to me, to us? It’s a big deal.