Volume 18 • Issue 19 | Sep. 30 - Oct 06, 2005

An emotional swing back into the school year

By Jane Flanagan

So ladies, how has your back to school season been going? If you stopped short of sobbing to your kid’s teacher, you were a step ahead of me.

Oh yes, it’s been quite a time.

Thinking back to that first week of school….

My son, Rusty, 7, was way off schedule. He was going to bed too late, and either waking up too early or refusing to at all. This combined with a new teacher, new routine, new rules, well, he just didn’t know what to do with himself. And neither did I. He was quick to tears, bouncing around at bedtime and frequently breaking into an unfamiliar angry grimace.

The climax came on Friday morning. He woke up unusually early and used his spare time to flounce around on an air mattress. This led to the inevitable banging of a body part – this time his knee. He started to cry. I gave him a hug, then ran for the ice pack, and continued hugging and ice packing as I watched the clock tick by. Meanwhile, I was all the time stifling my scream, “Why are you slamming into the air mattress on a school morning in the first place!”

We somehow managed to make it out of the apartment somewhat on time. But the whole way to school he hung onto my arm complaining that his knee hurt. Yet he wasn’t limping and it wasn’t swollen. Since he’d never faked aches and pains before, I had no idea what to make of it. So I said that if it didn’t feel better by the time we got to school he could go to the nurse.

This gave him a new mantra. “I want to go the nurse, I want to go to the nurse.” I then began pinning my hopes on the miraculous schoolyard recovery. He loves the playground and often the mere sight of it has put an abrupt end to many a morning disgruntlement.

But stepping out into the yard with its morning sunshine and smiling children, he took a half-hearted look around and said, “I want to go to the nurse.” So I walked him over to the assistant teacher and reported our plans. As he was hiding his face behind me, I mouthed, “I have no idea if this is legit.” She took the cue and said, “Oh yes, of course, go to the nurse to make sure everything is in good working order.”

Upon arriving at her office, however, we found that the nurse wasn’t in. In fact, the place was locked and dark. I later realized this might not have been a coincidence. How better to effectively discourage knee pains and tummy aches during the first week of school?

I turned to Rusty. “What do you want to do now?” I asked.

“I want to show you my self portrait,” he said, referring to the picture he drew the first day of class which was now hanging in the hallway near his classroom. Taking this as a major positive sign, I eagerly accompanied him upstairs. While I delightfully gazed upon the drawing for a full two minutes, my reverie was suddenly broken by the refrain, “My knee hurts.”

I turned around to see a forlorn looking child. Spotting a table and chairs nearby I suggested we sit down. I pulled out a piece of paper and he began to draw. He did this for a few minutes but then dropped his head to his hands and said, “I don’t feel good. My tummy hurts. I don’t want to go to school.”

Suddenly the assistant teacher appeared at the top of the stairs with the class coming up behind her. We both watched as she began leading them toward the classroom. At a loss, I took out another piece of paper and scribbled a note. I said that Rusty was unusually tired, and that if it turned out he simply couldn’t make it through the day, the teachers could call me and I would come get him.

We then stepped in line and I slipped the note to the assistant teacher. As Rusty reluctantly walked over to his locker, I turned around to make my way out the door. Suddenly the head teacher came hurrying toward me, the note in hand saying, “I can’t do this, I can’t do this!”

That’s when the tears started.

“What should I do?” I asked bewildered. “Take him home? He never does this.”

She pointed me to a nearby empty room. As we sat down, I was surprised by her warm smile. By that point, I was feeling about 7-years-old myself and assumed this new first grade teacher was mean.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ll take this seriously now that you say he never does this. When I saw your note, I assumed you were an hysterical mom.”

Imagine her getting that impression.

She then asked me about the summer and I said that Rusty and I had spent it in Connecticut. She responded with a knowing “ah ha,” explaining that transitioning back was often tough. She then said she had two kids herself and that she understood how hard it was sometimes for Moms.

She also kindly called me later that morning to report that Rusty was being a model student and that there was nothing wrong with him. Likewise, that afternoon, my sitter was picking him up at 2:50 p.m., so I reached her on her cell at 2:52. She reported that he was cheerfully running around the yard.

Yet that evening he again complained to me about aches and pains and over the weekend he was not necessarily a happy camper with me.

But my luck changed. On Monday morning a brilliant solution presented itself. My husband took him to school.


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