Posted by: Kate | September 15, 2009

Becoming Jacob

We’ve survived this year’s round of first-days-of-school, and really it all went off without a hitch.

Willem started last Tuesday, teaching at a small private college in downtown Boston.  The teaching itself – the part which would send my brain into all kinds of knots and spirals if I had to do it – was never a worry for him, even when they asked him to take on a last-minute sixth course for the semester.  His learning curve came, instead, in the form of commuting: buses, trains, subways, that nether region of central Boston that is busy and   full of businesses and colleges and such but is not within easy reach of a subway.  And there was also the need to dress for the part; running his own college classroom required different costumes than running a high school classroom or doing the grad student thing.  His prior dress-up wardrobe hadn’t seen any new additions since high school – really, no joke – and so we had to go on something of a spree to get him ready for the new situation.

And, may I just say, that the man can carry the shirt-and-tie look just fine?  Yum.

So, he’s doing well, and seems to be enjoying himself.  This is no small feat, because it has been far too long since I’ve seen him show this much enthusiasm toward any new work-related endeavor.  I have to imagine that it helps that the kids are doing well and I’m infinitely, immeasurably happier here, in this apartment, in this town, with this lifestyle, than I was in New Hampshire.  We’d have muddled through, if we’d remained there for another year or two, but this is just so much better.

The following day, Wednesday, was Emily’s first day of fourth grade.  She expressed the typical new-school worries (“What if I can’t make new friends?  What if I get lost in the new school?” – not an unreasonable concern, since the new school holds about the same number of students but is easily three times larger than her old school – “What if I get off at the wrong bus stop?  What if I don’t know anything that the teacher is talking about?”) but her doubts always seemed to have a certain rote, obligatory nature to them.  As though she felt like she should be nervous or doubtful, so she played the part even though self-doubt is not a regular player on Emily’s stage.   That first morning, I tossed her on the bus and then drove the van over to her school for an extra good-bye and a few more photos, and in that space of 30 minutes, she had already made a new friend.  By the time she arrived home – and that homeward-bound bus ride is a killer, so far each day has seen a 90-minute ride though in theory it should be more like an hour – she was bubbling over with her typical bravado and storytelling enthusiasm.  I’m keeping a close eye on her, because (and it occurs to me that I still haven’t written this out, and should, sometime soon) she does have a new diagnosis of ADHD and we’ve made some changes to the tangible operations of the household as well as to the intangible something-or-other that forms our relationship.  So far, it all seems to be changing for the better, but still.  A little watchfulness is in order.

And then there’s Jacob.  He had a few extra days at home, because kindergarten didn’t start until yesterday – Monday – five days after Emily started.  Oh, he was so jealous of her, and so excited for school.  If, in the days leading up to his first day, you asked him about school, he would smile and actually laugh out loud, just from sheer excitement and joy at the thought.  He was ready, and so he told us repeatedly.  Ready to do the work, and to play, and to make new friends, and just to be a kindergartener again.  (You may or may not remember, he already has been in kindergarten, from September ’08 to January ’09 – then the head teacher left, I hated the replacement teacher, and since I was still home and unemployed it didn’t make sense for us to pay to send him to spend time with someone I didn’t trust around my child.  So the process, the idea of being away from home and learning things, that’s all old hat to him, and he missed it something fierce.)

But, on the flip side, Jacob is still Jacob, and he has always been a more firmly attached, Mama’s-boy sort of kid.  Not to the point of unsocial behavior or inappropriate enmeshment; he loves to spend time with other kids and did a fine job of just doing what his coaches wanted in t-ball,  instead of looking to me for support or guidance during games.  He’s able to separate pretty well, but in any new situation, he needs to take a few moments to step back, observe,  and then ease in.  And there’s just something different about climbing onto a bus (even though both kids insisted that they would rather ride the bus than have me drive them in each day) and being away at school for a six-hour stretch, then climbing back onto a bus to get himself home, than spending his days in the kindergarten room that was just adjacent to the preschool and toddler rooms where he’d been for the prior two years.  There’s an independence now, a need for him to establish his own personality and presence, instead of being able to rely on Mom, even at a slight distance, to help run interference for him and let him ease in.

So, I’m watching him just as closely as Emily, just to watch the process unfold.  He’s becoming Jacob, in a more full and independent sense, instead of seeing himself as an extension of me, or Willem, or Emily.  Emily had a similar separation process, I’m sure, but her personality has always led her to hold herself a bit more independent from the beginning.  She was never a kid to hug my leg at the bus stop, and has always grabbed for any opportunity to be more in charge of her own self; even when it comes to play time, she has always preferred to be on her own, or better yet to find someone else to lead around, while her brother will always, never fail, opt to take his toys and set up right next to me, whenever possible.  Jacob has just spent more time cuddling in and interacting with us, and so he has a different set of changes to make, all at once.

Already, I’ve seen little bursts of bravery and honesty and heart that make my own heart swell to the point of aching.  From both kids.

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