Back to School

Today, K started grade 5. I wasn’t there.

I couldn’t wake him up with gentle tickles and breakfast in bed. I couldn’t talk him through the fears and uncertainties he has about the new year, with its new challenges, ahead while we got ready to leave for school. I couldn’t pack him a special lunch. I couldn’t drive him to school, sharing interesting events in history (when I am home, and I do drive him to school, he loves our little rush hour history “lessons”). I couldn’t help him get his bag out of the boot. I didn’t have the privilege of waving, not hugging (because that’s not cool at school!), him goodbye at the gate. I wasn’t there to wait for him at the end of the day, to reassure him as he shared his experiences of his first day back.

I wasn’t there for much more than just today. The stationery list came out late, and although I was at home with him until the 3rd of January, there was no time to go out and buy his books, and cover them with him. I wasn’t there for his end of year concert of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I wasn’t there the day his 2017 report came out, to hug him and congratulate him on his efforts. I wasn’t there when he came home from school, hurting and confused because a boy he had considered a friend suddenly turned into a bully. I wasn’t there. I wasn’t there. I wasn’t there.

These are the thoughts that occupy my mind so often, so overwhelmingly, so destructively. They stop me from being proactive, they stop me from appreciating the good and the beautiful (because it does exist), they stop me from being the best mother I can be.

So, I try, and succeed (not nearly often enough, but I’m working on it), in stopping these thoughts in their tracks. Stop, breathe, and look, really look at the positives.

Notwithstanding all I miss, what am I there for?

This morning, after his breakfast, while he was waiting for J to drive him to school, we had a ten minute conversation on the phone. Probably, no definitely, the only real conversation he had this morning. A conversation unclouded by rushing around getting ready to leave the house, a conversation not hindered by me stressing about the traffic, the day ahead, my work stress. A conversation in which I was 100% present. I was the adult who listened to him. Who responded fully, honestly and with zero distractions. See, those ten minutes were the most important ten minutes of my morning. He got to speak to someone whose absolute priority was the conversation with him. As a teacher myself, I doubt many children get ten minutes of undivided attention most days of the week.

We had another ten minutes before dinner tonight. Again, the most important ten minutes of my afternoon. He was frustrated and sad and confused about new rules at school. He goes to a small private Montessori Primary school, so compared to the mainstream alternatives, the kids have it pretty good at his school. His main gripe was that teachers seemed to be disregarding students’ feelings and preferences. And I know, without a doubt, that all afternoon, since being picked up, the adults in his home were doing the same. Rushing around to get out of traffic, to get dinner on the table, to get the toddler in the house settled, to tend to after-hours work calls etc. But then he got his ten minutes with me. On the phone, thousands of kilometers away, yes. But, fully present, listening attentively, truly concerned with him, his feelings, his experience of the day. Again, I don’t know that many children get that. My son does.

Because he knows that he has my full attention, and genuine interest in what he has to say, he shares so much more with me. He really talks when he has a concern. Questions I’ve been asked are “how do you show a girl you like her?”, “how can I tell my teacher I don’t agree without getting into trouble?”, “how do I know what I want to be when I grow up?” etc. I don’t have all the answers, and I tell him that. But then we have an honest discussion about the situation, we share our thoughts, feelings, fears and questions. And he knows I have his back.

One benefit of being a distance mother is that I take my relationship with his teachers very seriously. Every three months, when I go home, I meet with them, and/or the principal. When he raises concerns or problems at school with me, I email or call them. This has led to me being able to sort out a number of situations, even from far away. So today, when he expressed his unhappiness with events at school today, and I promised to look into things with the school, he said “I trust you mommy”.

That is priceless. We might not have every day, but we have trust. We have a real connection. We have love.

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