I love listening to my two very different children play together. Right now they’re playing with their Minecraft stuffed animals. M insists there is a wedding and has dressed her animal in a sparkling cape. P is willing to go along with the wedding theme so long as there is lava at the wedding. And explosions. When M gets worried about the safety of the guests he agrees the lava should be cordoned off with caution tape.
I was driving home the other day and I got a bit turned around on the way home. My new office is a longer commute than I’m used to, and involves crossing a bridge. I ended up taking a wrong turn, finding traffic, heading over an unfamiliar bridge and not knowing exactly where I was. My cell phone was dead and I was on my way to pick P up from swimming. Suddenly I felt a panic – I was late. And what if no one could reach me? And what if something had happened? I cursed every stop light and raced there as quickly as I could.
When I pulled up, the scene was calm. P was not yet out of the change room and certainly hadn’t noticed my tardiness. I enveloped him in a bear hug. I leaned down to talk to him at his level. I indulged his desire to linger at the nearby library, even though the girls were waiting for me at home. We took out books even though he hadn’t returned the last ones.
And he was happy to see me. But he didt have that overwhelming joy that young children get. When I peppered him with questions about the day, he said “Can we talk later? I’m trying to read.” All of a sudden my small boy is gone, and I’ve got a kid. A delightful kid, but a kid. And I realized maybe that’s what I was racing toward. Maybe that’s where the panic came from – this feeling that I needed to get there as soon as possible. When you’re in the moment, their babyhood seems to last forever, but you blink and suddenly it’s over.
We’re gearing up for kindergarten tomorrow, and the importance of this milestone is suddenly hitting me. I love having an almost 5-year old who tells knock-knock jokes, warns his sister that she is doing something “dangerous” (or warns me!), beats me at dominoes around 50% of the time, and tells me that he is a “little worried” about his first day at school. But sometimes I wish I could go back in time and snuggle this little guy.
P had his first day at “big kid” school this week. He’s been in the same wonderful home daycare since he was 11 months old, but he’s getting ready for kindergarten in the fall. He’ll be in an out of school care program, and they recommended that we start him at one of their summer camps this month so that’s he’s not having too many transitions at once. This way he’ll get used to after-school care, and hopefully it won’t be too many changes all at once. So we sent him off to their day camp with his backpack and lunchbox and dozens of other kids. Instead of being greeted by the motherly woman I’m used to, it was a couple of 20-somethings. They were very nice, but they were so young! P has to walk to his cubby and put his stuff away. He has to remember to put his hat on, and keep track of it when they go out. He constantly forgets what I’ve packed, so he doesn’t realise he has a swimsuit or a change of clothes. Or we forget something, like today they went off to a waterpark and we forgot to send a water bottle on this scorcher of a day.
For the last four years he’s been in a cosy home daycare where he was one of four kids. In a lot of ways he had outgrown the place, particularly this last year. I could have sent him somewhere different, and he did go to preschool a few days a week. But I trust my home daycare provider so implicitly. I never worry when my kids are with her. She’s so incredibly gentle and kind. For some people taking care of young kids really is a calling, and that’s the case for her. My instincts also told me P wasn’t ready to be a in school-like environment where he’d be with kids only his own age. He has years to be in school, but I wanted him just to be able to play. It was good for him to be around babies, and toddlers, annoying as they might be for him at times. I think it’s been wonderful that he and M literally spend 24 hours a day together (minus 2 hours of preschool), even bunking down in the same room at the end of the night.
So he’s spent several years in this wonderfully gentle environment. The woman who runs the home daycare ferries them all around the neighbourhood, toddling them dozens of city blocks to parks, the family centres, the library and the community centres. I’ve never heard this woman raise her voice, or even act annoyed – and I have spent a lot of time watching her reign over those kids. She also does almost everything for them, which meant that P doesn’t have to keep track of belongings, or apply his own sunscreen. When the younger kids nap, he gets her all to himself for some quiet time. P was such a high-needs baby, I really can’t imagine it otherwise. When he was tiny, he was always in her arms when I’d pick him up. He needed that, because even last year, he’d stand for several painful minutes mournfully waiving goodbye from the preschool window. Until very recently, he had no interest in ever being “dropped off” somewhere. I was even unsure if he’d last at the two hour bike camp I signed him up for while we were on vacation. (He loved it!)
Something has changed in the last few months. When we dropped him off at the daycamp, he just started playing. He wasn’t phased by the goodbyes. And now, instead of being the biggest kid, he’s the littlest. But although he loves older children, but they don’t always love him, and the interactions he tells me about are sort of poignant. They went to the splash park today and I asked him who he sat next to on the 40-minute bus ride:
Me: So did you sit next to E on the bus?
P: No, I chooseded to sit next to someone else.
Me: What was his name?
P: Um, I don’t remember. I sat with him both ways.
Me: Well did you have a good talk?
P: Yeah! I talkeded and talkeded. But he doesn’t know a lot about stuff. Like when we were in a tunnel, he thought it was a submarine.
Me: Well he probably knows about other stuff. What else did you guys talk about?
P: Well, when I sat down next to him on the way back, he said “Oh no! Not again.” But he got me anyway! [pause] Actually, we didn’t talk much on the way back. Oh, well one time he did say “Stop that!” when I fell on him. But it wasn’t my fault cause the bus turned around and everyone fell.
The wonderful thing about P, is that he really isn’t bothered by it. He tells me all of this in a matter of fact voice. Maybe he’s oblivious or maybe he doesn’t care, but he teaches me something. I was always such a sensitive kid. I still get misty-eyed when I remember how someone made fun of a drawing I did when I was 5.
I don’t think the transition will be entirely smooth. I notice already he’s being a bit more naughty to get our attention, but it doesn’t surprise me that much given how exhausted he is at the end of the day.
I was in someone’s office at work a few months ago, and stole a few glances at the graduation pictures of his kids. He saw me looking at them and said “You know, you’re looking at those photos thinking that time is so far off for your kids. But it isn’t. It goes by so fast.”
It sure does!