Its 3:30am. Ivy’s wide-eyed-awake-worry has gotten the best of her. “Is today school,” she asks. I want to lie to her little 3 year old mind and say no, just go back to sleep. But it IS in fact a school day in New Caledonia. After six weeks on and two weeks off to romp around in the south pacific sun, the kids will be dropped back into the rigors of Ecole Jean Mermoud (public French school) in just a few hours.
I pretend to model sleep as she tosses about.
“I don’t want to go to school.”
“Its so boring.”
“I don’t want you to leave.”
“How long is it gonna be?”
“I’m just not tired mom.’ (as she yawns).
After 45 mintutes of this angst, she falls into a light sleep and I slip away to my bed. Just as i fade, i feel her face staring at mine. She climbs into my bed now and starts the cycle again. Now she is crying real tears. She’s worked herself up into a tizzy. Her face crumples and she sobs that she doesn’t want me to leave.
With the hope of sleep lost, I try on empathy, cradle her and tell her the story of my first day of kindergarten and how sad i felt (I remember it vividly). It really sucks to be a kid sometimes. Ivy didn’t find this story too directly helpful, but she did change her tune. No longer crying, she starting making bold statements about what she was going to do.
“I’m going to go to school and return my binder, then come home with you.”
She’ll often follow her demand with a light question.
“All right, mom?”
“Thats an interesting idea,” i say. “So, you want to go see your teacher Mrs. Manuella?”
“No, mom. I just want to go to school and return my binder, then walk home with YOU.”
“How about this Ivy. I’ll go to school and return your binder, and you can stay home and take care of Paloma and hang out the laundry,” I suggest.
“NO mom. I can’t reach to hang out the laundry. And i DON”T have any milk. Thats a bad idea.” she says.
This kind of dialogue is great news. I can see that she wants to go to school but can’t figure out the right story to tell herself. The right way to make it okay. We do this dance for a long time. Her coming up with ideas. Me not reacting. Her annoucing. Me reflecting and gently redirecting.
I put some grounding oatmeal on the stove, fix her a glass of her milk. “Warm, but not too warm, mom,” she says. I put some pep-in-your-step-music on and do my best to covertly, subversively, subconsciously influence her energetically, all the while keeping her moving forward so she doesn’t get stuck in the worry. I give her the chance to choose often so she can feel in control of her little world.
“Which chair do you want to sit at for your breakfast?”
“Do you want to wear a barrette or a headband today?”
Ironically, Ivy was the first one to eat all her breakfast, the first one dressed in her school clothes, the first one with her bag on her shoulder and ready to go. I don’t know who she is kidding. She LOVES a challenge and she LOVES school.
She didn’t even need a hug when I dropped her off.
I keep seeing this principle in action. That the THOUGHT of something is usually considerably worse than the actual moment. The ANTICIPATION of an event is where we lose it. Stressed, sad, worried, scared, all the emotions pound on us. Sometimes to the point of cancelling, depression or even physical manifestations like hives. Kids and adults alike. There is no way Ivy would have taken her self to school given the choice. I could have absolved all her worry by saying she could stay home, which would have been her preference in the wee hours of the morning. But she saw the worry through to the other side and found out school is not so scary after all. Its perplexing to me that this happens over and over yet we rarely recognize that worrying about something in the future tense, just produces unnecessary stress.
I get it, but I’m not sure how to awaken the kids understanding of this life lesson. Perhaps if Ivy sleeps past 3:30am tomorrow, it will be evidence that she gets it!