Mixed - FamilyEducation

Mixed

July 28,2008
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

I think you can do everything you possibly can to get your child (and yourselves) ready for back-to-school day, but when the time comes, it's still difficult and bittersweet for all of you--at least that's the way it is at OUR house. On Sunday L. spent the day in his room, playing with his Playmobil and nurturing a healthy case of Back-to-School-Denial, with a capital D. I was in and out of his room all morning, doing laundry, folding clothes, trying to help him organize his things after our return to the beach.

"Do you think you'll want to wear track pants or shorts tomorrow?" I asked him at one point.

"Mama, don't talk to me about school," was his reply, and that was that.

When I run into parents I know in the stores or out and about, we all invariably commiserate about how long summer is, and how it will be good to get back to the schedules and routines of the school year. At the beach last week we ran into one of T.'s preschool friends and her parents at, of all places, the Fort Fisher Aquarium. After we had laughed about the sheer coincidence of running into each other there, the mom and I talked about how we were looking forward to back-to-school day. She regarded me with envy when I told her L. goes back to school this week.

The truth is that while part of me looked forward to L.'s return to school today, a larger part of me is left behind, feeling sad and churned up inside at the thought of it. My emotions channel backwards, as if through a long, winding tunnel, back to that day when I first left three-year-old L. at preschool for the very first time. I feel that heavy emptiness inside at the separation, the first to mark many more to come. I think that each year, whether L. is eight or ten or fourteen, I'll always feel that pinch in my heart.

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We have been working with L. for some time on the concept of "mixed emotions"--a tricky concept, if you think about it, and even more difficult for someone like L. to grasp. He'll rage and rebel against decisions about things he clearly wants, because he cannot prioritize them, or sort them out in his own head as things he wants. And feeling both happy and sad, or excited and nervous, confuses and frightens him.

"Do you have a case of mixed feelings?" we'll ask him, and then present him with alternatives that include both the things he wants or needs.

"Yes!" he'll say, and his face will clear with relief. "I have mixed feelings!"

This morning we walked L. up to his new third-grade classroom and watched him explore the room and set up his own new desk. I said good-bye, and as we turned and left, I realized that my feelings were decidedly mixed; I had a case of Mixed Feelings, plain and simple.