Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Home Sweet Home

Some days I can scarcely believe that both of the girls are off to school already. It's a time I hardly trusted would ever come. I have been anticipating this season for so long, sometimes with more than a little eagerness, sometimes with great angst.

I'd love to say that this season came with well-prepared children who eagerly embraced the new horizon before them. Though they were quite well-prepared for the change they did not necessarily embrace it with arms wide open. Or at least the sweet baby girl Ainsley did not. She did not take to kindergarten readily. The schedule itself was the biggest hurdle. In the first week there was not a single day when she did not ask why school started at night. She couldn't begin to imagine that people actually got up willingly at 6:15am (when it is still dark outside) after what felt like such a short night's sleep and had the audacity to call it "morning." I knew she was legitimately tired from the change to her routine and the long scheduled day she'd stepped into. But I was equally weary from the daily cheerleading routine required of me at the very same unholy hour of each day.

My attempts to convince her that school would prove to be a fun place to go fell heavily to the floor. All the while she continued to let her dislike of formal education known to us all. Dirk gently asked her just what it was about school that she did not like. I braced myself for the answer. She has a problem with the alphabet, with rhyming words, or with counting numbers. Instead of any of those things I heard my youngest girl say, "I just don't like leaving mama." Bless this child. Bless her to the center of her heart. She loves her mama. Listen, kids like their moms at this age. I get that this is not exceptional news. But it blessed me. She has not been a textbook baby or a simple puzzle to put together over our six years together. But baby girl knows she is so very much loved and she loves me back. She finds being at home with us the best gift given. Mission accomplished. But the girl still needs to go to school each day which means I had to dance a new dance and find a new approach.

I was out of tricks until I remembered the one thing that most parenting books warn against but that has worked quite well for me in the past. I have a long list of things that fall into this category come to think of it but the one that's never steered me wrong is the bribe. Sure, it's not advised to bribe your children to do things that they should willingly do in joyful obedience. But when the yellow bus is beating down the street and there's an unwilling pupil in the midst, a mama's gotta do what she's got to do. I promised her that if she woke with a willing heart and came to the breakfast table with a smile and no complaint for an entire week, I would buy her a giant stuffed lollipop on Friday.

It was something she'd eyed on a recent shopping trip and asked if she could have it. I had no intention in the free world of ever buying it. It's of no obvious use and is big and fake - not that a giant "real" lollipop was better - but it's not been featured on Pinterest in "Darling Bedrooms for Young Girls" even once. Yet I willingly dangled the bespangled carrot before her eyes of blue.

The next day we woke her as usual but her response was different than it had been. She walked down the stairs and silently took her post on the stool at the kitchen island. She willingly ate her strawberries and yogurt without complaint. She dressed and walked toward the bathroom and in reaching for her toothbrush she said to me, "Mama, I'm really trying to be happy." I'm not sure I have had a prouder moment with her. I loved her honesty. The fact that she was trying. That she understood that happiness is so very often a choice and sometimes one with grit on its teeth and muscle. It's the harder choice, the better choice. But it is a choice. I loved that she made that choice even if only for a foam core lollipop.

Since then she has readied herself for school without complaint. She still doesn't revel in the fact that in order to go to school and avoid a visit from the truant officer, she has to leave me each day of the week. But she goes willingly and with a smile. And you know what? Now the happy heart in her is genuine. She has found things to enjoy about kindergarten and has great stories to share each day when she comes back home.

When I meet the big yellow school bus at the end of the day I can hear her say "Home sweet home!!" as she bounds down the steps and onto our brick path. Home is all the sweeter for the time she spent apart from it and a foam lollipop is only a small reason why.

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