Kindergarten is happening

Wednesday night

Lunch prep: Day 1

Lunch prep: Day 1

Tonight I put together Olivia's lunch for school. Tomorrow. Because school starts tomorrow.

I never really understood the people who created designer lunches. Sushi shaped like faces. Carrot smiles and sandwich cut-outs to look like eyes, pretzel noses and broccoli ears.

It's complete overkill. But now I kind of get it. Because whatever I put in this little flower-patterned lunch bag is what she will have when I'm not there. This is what I send with her. And I want there to be a moment in her day when she opens the bag and sees how much I love her. How much I believe in her, and how I'm so proud. Even though she's bravely entering this world of school and new friends and new activities, I want her to know that her mama is still here loving her and I always, always will be.

Now how do I show that with food?

Thursday morning

We got up at the earliest possible time. I wrote out our plan on my white board (Lord I love white boards) and referred to it occasionally. As long as I get out of the shower by 6:40 this will all work out.

It didn't matter. We got to school a half hour before the bell rang. Like maniacs. There were still cars pulling in as we left, way after the bell, and the worst part of me was like, how are all these people *just* now getting here? Don't they love their children??!! (kidding)

We went into the cafeteria where the kids wait for their teachers to come and get them and lead them off to class. Several families looked like ours: two parents, a little sibling, all eyes on the kindergartner. Olivia looked so small and her backpack looked so big and the school seemed enormous and perfectly clean and the parking lot was chaos but inside everything ran like a well-oiled machine.

Two kids from Olivia's daycare ran up to her and hugged her, so excited to see her after hardly seeing her at all during the summer. And I sent a little prayer of thanks up to the heavens. Thank you! Thank you for sending these friends to her. Please let them be helpful and nice and make her look cool and popular. Okay, just joking about that last part but if it's not too much trouble, it wouldn't hurt, you know?

Eventually the moment came where we had to say goodbye and we had to do it without crying. That would have completely freaked her out. So I smiled my biggest smile at her, and gave her one last hug.

"Have fun today, okay?"

"Okay, mama."

"But not TOO much fun, okay?"

"Mo-om!" (laughter)

And the bell rang, and the teacher gathered her group, and the little ducklings waddled off behind her single-file. And the two parents and the little brother watched until she was down the hall and out of sight.

"Olivia school," Henry said. "Yes."

Saturday night

My sister and I were talking. It always starts innocent enough. How are you! How's the house? Ok, so how is Kindergarten going? How's it really going?

Okay, well, here's the story. So I told her how it went.

"This is not an easy story to hear," she said to me. Or maybe there was an exclamation point there, because it wasn't easy [!] It was hard! There were tears!

And so we had some tears, her and I. It felt good to be understood. Even though I still don't completely understand.

Sunday night (1 week later)

Sunday was book club night. Several mamas whose children haven't started school yet, some with no school kids, and two of us who just started. So it was a good time to hash it out. We talked about the details, the pick-ups and drop-offs, the classrooms we hadn't fully seen inside, and the kids who were mean on the playground this week.

These are all part of the picture. But it's still hard to explain the emotions behind the Kindergarten transition.

Earlier in the summer I really didn't think it would be a big deal. Lil O has been going to daycare since she was 8 months old, and she loves it! She loved the summer preschool program we enrolled her in. And I knew she would. Because she is social kid. A rule-follower. A born learner. Like me, she tries to get all the gold stars. Like Jake, she is charismatic, she thrives in a crowd.

But she is also my baby. Watching her walk down the big hall of this big school in single-file behind a teacher I felt like I was watching her walk straight into this next phase of life. A very tangible transition.

When a baby learns to walk, there is no "first step." People try to capture this moment and they might tell you that they did. They'll say that Baby So-and-So walked on THIS date. But in reality, learning to walk is a long process. It's a lot of inching out and falling down, inching, letting go of the coffee table for a second, then grabbing again, then letting go, falling, getting up, and so on. One day you look at her and realize she's walking more than crawling. Thank goodness, you think, that took forever. 

Not school! School happens on one day, ready or not. There's no grabbing the coffee table a little longer for stability. You just let go. The bell literally rings, and you let go of them, and they walk into Kindergarten. It's beautiful. And heart-wrenching. And perfectly normal.

Please, God, let her just walk into that classroom like it's no big deal. Let her fit right in. Let those JCPenney clothes be just the right thing we were supposed to buy. Let her backpack be cute. Let her lunch remind her that her mom and dad love her. But do not let the carrot sticks remind her too much of home. Keep homesickness at bay, please oh Lord. If there are tears, let them be mine. If there are scraped knees, let them be some other kid's. Or maybe hers. Let her days be filled with equal parts challenge and triumph, timidity and reassurance. May she grow to love learning. May she grow a bit slower (please?) but always just surrounded by love.

LightLife Guide: How to Manage Children's Birthday Parties

Everyone has been asking me how to politely manage the many issues surrounding children's birthday parties. Fear not! I'm here to offer my answers to your pressing questions with 100% accuracy as per Ms. Manners.

1. It says "No gifts." Do I bring a gift?

Maybe. Obviously the child's mother wrote this, not the child, and not generally the dad. Unless there are two dads, then it was a dad. Best thing to do is to ask the mom, "Why no gifts?" Do it just like that. The fewer words the better. Don't be judgy (Why on Earth would you deprive your kid of gifts?!), and don't be relieved (Thank goodness, no gifts! I didn't want to spend a dime on that kid of yours!). She will either tell you that she really doesn't want any more clutter and the kid is fine (that means don't bring a gift). Or she will tell you that she just put that so the grandparents don't go overboard. That's code for "bring a small gift, gifts are happening."

2. I was invited to a party where I don't know anyone, do I have to go?

Three possible answers here:

a) Your kid and their kid are besties: You should go.

b) Your kid doesn't really know anyone either: Don't go.

c) Your kid doesn't know anyone but you know the adults there in some professional way and it would be good to make an appearance: You should go for a short time.

3. If I'm only going to the party for a short time, how do I get out of there politely?

Don't tell the hosts you are leaving if they are busy. In fact, wait until they're occupied with something else. Then tell a mutual friend that you are leaving (so that no one thinks you got abducted). Why? Because the party parents don't need any wet blankets thrown on their fun. They (and most people present) are having fun. You are ending your fun. That's fine, but it's your thing, so let the fun train keep on rolling. Make sure you've done something memorable or thoughtful during your time there. Like winning the 3-legged race. Or eating your slice of cake without using your hands. Nom nom!

4. I can't go to the party but I feel really bad about it, should I RSVP as "maybe"? 

Here's the common convention on Facebook invites, Evite and the like: 

"Yes" is the new "maybe" 

"Maybe" is the new "no"  

"No" is the new "f*@# you" 

*I actually stole that from somewhere. It's hilarious, but sad, but probably true. 

Here is another plan of attack when you must regretfully decline:

a) Be the first to decline. Everyone forgives the first person to decline.  

b) If you can't be the first to decline, state your reason for missing it (assuming it's a good reason) and apologize a bunch. Not excuses (no one cares), just sad emoticons and sorrys. 

c) If there's now more than 5 people declining, don't pile on. Just don't RSVP. Don't "Maybe"!  

d) If you have to RSVP, send a separate message to the host with a funny self-deprecating explanation. This will add a touch of sincerity and (if done well), will generate a laugh, further endearing you to the host.   

e) If you forgot to do all of the above, your only option left is this one: The Last Minute Cancel. 

The Last Minute Cancel is controversial. It looks suspicious (how could they have forgotten about this visit from MeeMaw when I sent the Evite??). It looks a little insincere and cold. But! It happens sometimes. People get that. Be super DUPER sorry, only state a reason if it's real good, and make fun of your delinquent inability to keep a proper calendar. You silly goose.  

Another thing about "good reasons:" let me be clear, your child's nap is not a good reason. This has always somewhat irritated me. Not because I don't think kids should nap. Obviously, they should, they turn into total monsters without naps. Not the kind of monsters I'd want at a party. But that doesn't mean you go and TELL THE HOST that your kid's nap is more important than the day of their child's birth. All I'm saying is this: do what you need to do regarding naps, just don't tell the host all about your napping woes. They're celebrating the day their child entered the world and their lives were forever changed, glory halleluia! Don't be all "yeah, but Baby Joey needs his full 91 minutes of snoozy time!" It won't play well.

5. If I miss the party, do I still send a gift?

No. 

6. What do I wear to kids' birthdays?

Clothes, generally. No bikinis. No beer shirts. No visibile stains (this goes for your kids as well ... if you own such a thing).

That's about it. You're all ready for your next Bday invitation! Go forth and celebrate!