Saturday, June 11, 2022

See Ya!

 It’s a celebratory time of year. The time of year when the kids are mostly thrilled to be done with school and the parents are teary about the transitions ahead. I am going to need to book therapy sessions now in advance for four years from now when both my kids have a graduation ceremony at the same time. This year my daughter commenced her middle school experience and what an experience it was. She started out as a petite sixth grader all too aware of the size difference between her and her peers. She experienced the overwhelming fear of not knowing where her classes were, she was afraid of being trampled in the hallway and dealt with mean kids asking her if she was old enough to be in Middle School. It took a few months for her to get her footing, and get comfortable. 

She made new friends and connected with her teachers. She got used to the layout of the school and learned where to find her classrooms. She still occasionally got made fun of for being small, but she took it in stride. She was finding her rhythm and even seemed to miss school when it shut down. She would not return for over a year later and by then everything in the world had changed. Isolation for a middle schooler was really tough socially. Very few kids knew how to keep up relationships through a lockdown. She saw one friend and as many middle school friendships ended, it just ran its course probably due to just too much pressure. Despite the challenges of virtual schooling, with the exception of the nine total short days she did get to go in person, if there was one year of Middle School to miss, seventh grade was it.

When eighth grade started she was all in. Knowing it was her last year she took advantage of all it had to offer. She took improv, played on the tennis team, was on student council, and did both the fall and spring theatre productions. She settled into a great group of friends who were both supportive and smart. They inspired each other by doing projects and helping each other study. There was an awards night and each friend as well as my girl, got an award for excellence. Two of her friends were even the valedictorians. It was a special night. The commencement ceremony was yesterday and it was fun watching all of these kids dressed in their best. There were definitely some awkward shoe situations for many of the girls. My daughter, included, looked uncomfortable trying to navigate in her ill-fitting first pair of heels.

As each name was called cheers rang from different parts of the bleachers. Everyone was happy to be together in celebration of all the kids. The student body president spoke about conquering Middle School and what lies ahead in High School. She warned that it would be hard, but that they all lived through hard already. I am sure the workload and responsibility will be a bit heavier, but I have faith that after she settles in, she will shine in High School, just as she did in Middle School. She has learned that life can be full of surprising challenges, but that it also can just be full. May her cup runneth over.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Oh Boy!

 Today is the last day I will have a nine year old boy. As I reminded him of this before school this morning, we said that he would be entering double digits for a long long time. He responded with wise words.

“I hope I will be double digits and live long enough to be triple digits one day.” 

I told him that was a good goal and with any luck and some good genes, he just might. I watch my child before my very eyes grow into this sensitive, beautiful boy. He has one toe in little boy and one toe towards tween. I love the rare occasions he still wants to snuggle in bed with me. I love his hugs, the way he puts his arms around me and moves his fingers in my hair, and his unsolicited kisses. The way he used to physically cling to me is gone, but in its place is one active, adventurous, fun-seeking kid. 

Like many boys his age, he loves being silly, and often he doesn’t know when the right time to turn on the serious switch is. He gets carried away and doesn’t always pick up on the cues when not everyone around him thinks what he is doing is funny. He is overall a really good boy and is lacking a bit of maturity. What he isn’t lacking is a sense of fear that didn’t exist prior to the pandemic. He has separation anxiety, and if he is heading off to a new class or camp will be up the night before worrying about it for hours. He needs reassurance that he will be okay and safe when he gets there. I have promised him at times that he would be and I wasn’t exactly right. The past few years shifted everything as we knew it, so the way I thought things might work out didn’t always go as planned.

What I wish for him as he turns ten is that he taps into the reservoir of his bravery that he doesn’t even know he has yet. I hope that his bravery will be stronger than his fear. I hope that he can get beyond what scares him enough that he can reach his full potential. I see glimmers of it now in moments where he is able to turn on his focus despite whatever negativity he has lingering about. He has proven to be quite the athlete and I believe his confidence has grown from his accomplishments on the field, or in the skate park. I wish for him that he knows that he is smart, kind, sensitive, and sweet, and that at that I love him to the ends of the earth and back. I want him to know that we have his best interest at heart and that we have his back.

I once read that girls are difficult to raise and that boys are difficult to keep alive. This is relatable and makes me laugh. There are times when I am watching my kiddo drop down into a twelve-foot skate pool and skate around it at crazy speeds, or fly through the air as he lifts up off the top of a ramp. I watch these things thew the space between my fingers as my hand covers my face. It is hard to watch sometimes but he usually is fine. After all, we made it to ten, and he continues to soar! I can’t wait to see what is ahead for this sweet boy.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Two Years

 It’s been two years since our lives changed overnight. Two years ago we had each had a foot in both the pre-pandemic and pandemic worlds, one of which we were so familiar with and the other was entirely unknown. Everything prior to March 13th two years ago will be known as the before, the before the pandemic, before masks, before lockdown, and before all things zoom. It is important for me to commemorate this amount of time because we all went through a lot. Collectively and alone we suffered, we struggled, many survived and many did not. 

Text messages went between my friend and me about what was happening in Italy. That seemed so far away so if they were closing their schools, it didn’t seem evident to me that we would be closing ours so soon. Another friend and I met at the park and talked while our boys played. She had already purchased a new play structure for her backyard because she was worried that if they closed schools that she wanted her kids to have something to do outside. Another friend bought pounds of dried beans and rice in case stores ran out of food, while another stocked up on anti-bacterial wipes. I watched them all thinking they were all over-preparing. I was one of those ignorant people who thought that it might take a few weeks but then everything would go back to normal. I was so wrong and they were so right.

Honestly, when schools shut down a week early for spring break, I was happy. I wasn’t happy with what was happening around the world, but I thought the kids could all use a break and we would all be back in three weeks anyway. I remember reading an article about how people were getting themselves more worried about Covid-19 than they needed to be and the anxiety they were causing themselves was worse than the virus itself. Whoever wrote that article was also very wrong. What started as an extra week of vacation turned into everyone's worst-case scenario. Hospitals were filled with dying patients. The virus was more contagious than anyone initially thought. People did indeed panic buy food leaving grocery store shelves bare. We were afraid to walk out our front door, afraid to touch our own mail, we wiped down everything from the outside world and stopped seeing other people. 

After it was clear we would not be returning to normal for some time, we wondered how and when kids would be allowed to return back to school. When my friend told me that they wouldn’t reopen it at all that year, I couldn’t process her words. Unprecedented was the only word that would stick in my mind. None of us knew anything and we just got through the day as creatively as possible while wearing so many new hats. Teacher, chef, entertainment coordinator. I would clad a mask and take the dog for so many walks just to get out of the house. At one point early on I started to feel claustrophobic and asked my husband to take over while I went for a drive. I couldn’t be inside anymore and yet we weren’t supposed to go anywhere. I had to see something that hadn’t changed so I drove to the ocean. I didn’t even get out because we were not allowed on the beach. I just rolled the windows down and breathed in the salty air as I stared at the ocean. I was envious of its crashing waves, the tide moving in and out despite the pain that people were feeling everywhere, it kept moving unaffected by a lockdown. It made me feel at peace even if it was only for a few moments.

That last Friday before the lockdown began the final school bell rang and I walked my kids over to our friend’s house. We were unsure if we should be socializing, but we knew it might be the last time for a while so we let the four kids play in the house together while my friend and I had tea. This was all before masks and social distancing were in our vocabulary, yet even so we were afraid to get too close. We were careful to wash the mugs and spoons we just used because we knew nothing about how this new virus could spread. When we said goodbye that afternoon, little did we know how very long it would be before we would step foot in each other’s houses again?

The last day of school came and went without any ceremony. My daughter was in sixth grade and after such a challenging transition to Middle School, she had finally started to like it when it all shut down. Middle school is hard enough to get used to in the best of times so if there is any age to avoid your peers I suppose I would choose to lose out on middle school. My son was in second grade and having the best school year. He loved his teacher and had a wonderful class of kids. For him, it was devastating to end the school year with zero closure. That summer came and there were no camps to send kids to. There was no traveling to see the world. There were no family get-togethers, so my friend and I tried to make the summer as interesting as possible. We took lots of trips to the beach, which had opened again for the summer.  We “traveled” by doing crafts, eating new foods, and learning about other countries. We did scavenger hunts. My kids and I painted rocks, did a lot of sidewalk chalk, we raised chicks, fostered kittens, and played a lot of board games. 

That August we took a family road trip because it was safer to manage than getting on a plane. It was one of the best experiences we have had as a family and one that we talked about doing but only made happen because of the pandemic. When school started up again it was all online which was a nightmare that was only countered by the fact that we could get out of town and zoom from anywhere, so occasionally we did just that. These little trips were our self-preservation. I baked more, cooked more, read more, and created more. The quiet time together wasn’t all bad. I am forever grateful to have had one year that went by slowly enough to really see my children. When it was time to go back to school, all of us were ready. I would be lying though if I said there weren’t things I missed about the slower pace the pandemic made us take. 

Now two years later, things are back to a new version of normal. We still wear masks a lot of the time. We still don’t just go into each other’s houses. Lots of people just work from home, but school is back in person. In some ways, I am still really missing the interaction I had a few years ago. In other ways, I am content with a simpler life. The virus has been a roller coaster but it now seems a lot more in control and a lot less deadly. The world is by no means in a great place these days, but we have come a long way together, and I will take whatever peace comes my way. May we all be healthy, safe, and at ease again soon.

Friday, March 4, 2022

A World Without Ned

 As a teenager, I met Ned after he came to see the Off-Broadway play I was in. He was looking for a young girl to play a role in the play he wrote called “Funky Crazy Boogaloo Boy.” He asked if I would meet him at a pizza shop by a subway train stop downtown to show me the script, and see if I was interested. He explained the play was going to be done at his theatre company, Naked Angels. As he explained this to me on the phone he must have heard my hesitation, between the word Naked, meet him at this pizza shop, and the fact that I had no idea who he was. He asked if I wanted to bring my mom or dad with me, and that is when I knew he was a good guy. 

The play that he came to see was directed by Liz Swados about racism and antisemitism. It was creative, educational, loud, heavy, and intense. It was an incredible theatrical experience, both for the audience and for me in the cast. This play was many things and meant so much to me, but it was far from what would be considered a traditional play. Liz was just as eclectic as her art. She was unpredictable, extreme, and fiercely protective of us. Our cast was made up of mostly teenagers and for the four years we worked together she became our theatre Mama. It was sometimes a complicated relationship but we loved her, and she loved us.

When Ned met me for a slice of pizza he handed me his script and told me a bit about his play. It was the story of a Jewish teenager falling in love with a Black girl. It took place in the sixties when navigating each other's communities was nearly impossible. It was such a beautiful, funny, and poignant story. In comparison to what I had been working on with Liz, it was a much more traditional piece of theatre. I liked and understood what his vision was right away. Before I even got my slice, I knew I wanted to be a part of it, but I waited to hear everything he had to say before saying yes. He gave me the script and told me the role he wanted me to consider was the fourteen-year-old little sister. She was annoying and irritating to her brother because her music and makeup seemed trite compared to his real-world relationship problems. I fanned the script glancing page by page to see how many lines my character had. 

Ned laughed and said, “You are a true actor right there, counting your lines before you commit.”I laughed because I realized at that moment just how obvious I was being about it. 

Ned was kind, patient, and had smiling eyes that seemed to beam out joy. I was excited about the script and excited to work with him. The schedule worked out perfectly with the other play and along with my friend Shawn, we were able to be a part of both these fantastic productions. My days were full of rehearsals for Ned’s play and performances for Liz’s play. I felt like both provided a sense of family with both these theatre parents guiding the way. The contrast between the two of them was clear. Liz was the tough one, and Ned the gentle one. I loved them both.

Ned was warm and welcoming to everyone who was part of the play. Every time we walked into rehearsal he would say “There he is, or there she is.” making all of us feel so important to him and to the production. This was his way, not only did he make you feel like he was happy to see you, he legitimately was happy to see you. The play was a great experience between getting a chance to work with a great cast of actors, and meeting a slew of successful thespians who came to see the play. When the run was over I was disappointed to have to say goodbye to everyone. Many of us stayed in touch, including Ned and me. I finished college and found my own tiny apartment on the upper west side. By chance, my new place was a block away from Ned and we would occasionally run into each other, or plan on a walk or cup of tea. When I moved to Los Angeles Ned sent me off with a piece of paper with a name and number on it. He told me when I got settled in I should give his friend George a call. I was twenty three and leaving the only city I ever knew to try something new. I had mixed feelings about leaving my friends and family in New York, and I wasn’t sure how long I would last in LA, but I had to give it a chance.

I called George a few weeks after arriving and it was like talking to a piece of home. I didn’t know him, but because he was Ned’s friend he felt so familiar. They grew up together and were high school buddies from the Bronx where my mom also grew up. George and I became close friends. We went to movies together, he introduced me to a lot of his other friends and helped me get work when I needed it. We talked about seeing Ned whenever we went back to New York. George shared the news with me when Ned got married and later had his son. When I met my husband and later when I had two kids of my own, I stayed in contact with Ned and George. 

A few years ago I found out that Liz passed away and it shocked me. I didn’t know she had been sick. I always thought I would go back to New York and visit her again. As I get older and more people I know pass away, I am trying to find a way to process loss. There are moments when because of the time difference it is too late or too early to call my dad in NY. I sometimes wonder if that feeling of missing the chance to talk to him is what it will feel like when someone I love is gone forever. 

One day while my daughter was at school and I was home with my toddler, George and Ned surprised me to come for a visit. They arrived at my house together and it made me so happy. I could see the sweet relationship they have had over the years, and when they both walked in Ned hugged me, took a look at my son, and said “there he is.” My son was barely one and smiled up at Ned with his mouth wide open and his two little teeth gleaming up at him. We had a wonderful visit the four of us. I never imagined it would be the last time I would see Ned.

We stayed in touch checking in now and again. George would fill me in on what projects Ned was working on, how old his son was, and how his family was doing. George would always tell me when he saw Ned and would send me his regards. A few days ago when I saw Geroge’s name pop up on my phone I smiled, but my smile fell instantly when Geroge told me that our friend Ned had died. He lost a battle to two types of cancer. A battle he barely shared with anyone. In true Ned form, he kept the light in his eyes strong even as he suffered so that he could go to work and could provide health benefits to his wife and son. 

I can’t believe that I won’t see his smiling eyes again. The world lost another good guy, and I lost a great friend. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2022


 There is a recurring dream I have often enough that it is clear enough in my mind that I have to remind myself it is just a dream. I am standing on two feet, I bend down and lift straight up off the ground. Once I am high in the air I lean forward and soar. I fly through the air watching the ground below me as I pass it by. It feels so real and so effortless to fly up and above the ground below. I am alert, aware, and present in my body. I have to lean a certain way or I get shaky, but I know what I need to do to correct my positioning and steady myself.  

Flying dreams are not uncommon, and I do wake up realizing that I can’t actually fly, but the feeling isn’t unlike when I used to figure skate. Every Olympic year a flood of memories of my skating days rush in. I became a figure skater when the 1988 Olympics were barely over. I watched Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkoff skate.  I  was so enthralled by their speed, their grace, and their enthusiasm. I wanted to do what they were doing and couldn’t wait to try. I begged for my parents to sign me up for a skating lesson and loved every second of it. My first coach is still a close friend to this day. 

I rarely skate these days. My daughter who now is the same age I was when I started competing, really loves to skate. A few years ago she showed interest in taking lessons but there isn’t a rink nearby and the closest one is a fancy expensive training facility that was just too expensive. There was a local rink right near where we now live but sadly it was closed down the year before we moved in. I have a feeling if it was still there she would have followed in my skate steps. Similarly to me, she was inspired to skate from watching the Olympics. Last Friday night I took her, along with her friend, and my son to skate down at the fancy skate center. I decided to skate too since I didn’t want to sit in a cold arena. I pulled out my old skates from the garage and when I laced them up at the rink the foam from inside the tongue fell apart. There was no edge left on my blade since I have had these skates since I was seventeen. They weren't as comfortable to put on as I remember. 

I took the ice and it felt familiar enough to skate around holding my son’s hand. He has only skated once before and wanted my help. Once he felt comfortable enough to let go, I tested my own comfort level. As a skater I was always taught to skate into the ice as opposed to on it, meaning deepening my knee bends and connecting to the ice a bit. I found this more challenging than I remember it to be. I used to take off speeding on the ice, turning backward, and doing crossovers around the rink. My blades didn’t feel sharp enough to skate into the ice and it had been a long time since I flew around the rink forward or backward. I asked myself if I missed it, and I didn’t, but I did miss the feeling of coasting off the earth. I missed the feeling of being in control at a faster speed than I am off the ice. I missed feeling the cool breeze as I glided around the rink. At the end of the session, all I could muster up the courage to do were a few single jumps and a few spins. 

Friday nights at the skating rink are a teen's hangout. It makes sense and I was happy to see so many kids doing a fun activity together. My son and his friends were the youngest on the ice, and without a doubt, I was one of the oldest. It felt odd to see figure skaters practicing that weren’t even born when I was practicing like them. In my mind, I thought I would one day get a coach, relearn everything I used to be able to do and maybe even compete again. I don’t have that drive anymore though. I stumbled onto a Facebook page for figure skating adults and spent some time reading some of the posts. People complained about how much ice time and lessons cost. Or they were looking for a certain type of blade soakers, that you use to soak up the water after you have skated. They posted about finding time to skate around their work schedules. I didn’t join the group, this wasn’t me. I don’t think being an adult skater is in the cards for me again. Surfer yes, skier yes, swimmer yes. I do think I get some of the same feelings from those three activities. I don’t have as much confidence doing them as I used to on the ice, but especially swimming quenches my thirst for soaring off the earth. I love being underwater and moving in what feels like another world.

My daughter wants to go back to skate again tomorrow with her friends. I will gladly drive them to the rink, but I won’t be bringing my skates this time. As I stay in touch with my skating friends they update me on the skating world that they are still very much a part of. They all had daughters who are now skaters themselves. They are again waking in the early hours of the day to get to a skating session before the school day begins, only now they are just the drivers like my dad was for me. I am grateful for all the chauffeuring around my dad did to get me from rink to rink. I am often the chauffeur now and it can get old fast. My daughter still asks me from time to time if she could try a skating lesson sometime, she knows that her schedule is pretty full these days with other passions she has. She is in the school play, plays tennis and loves filmmaking. If I can help it she will keep pursuing areas where she can soar off the ice. The competitive world of figure skating can be pretty cold. I’m happy to have her skate with her friends on those teen Friday nights. I will drop her off next time though. 

Monday, December 13, 2021

Stay Gold

 After three months of rehearsal, my daughter got to participate in her first play this past weekend. She couldn’t eat for two days leading up to the performance, and the morning of opening night, she wasn’t sure she could make it through to the evening with the nerves she was feeling. She went through a series of “what if” questions with me, and I did the best I could to reassure her that it would all work out in the end. This was an experience that she and I had both hoped she could have experienced earlier on in her middle school, but if she gets to finish out eighth grade in person then this year will be her first, last, and only year of middle school. 

For years to come, I think I will mark the passing of time by before and after the pandemic. Photos, trips, and memories will be defined by mask wearing. Despite the incredible advancement of science stepping in so quickly, I think it will take quite some time until the impact of last year’s lockdown lessons. My two children have lasting memories of the challenges they were dealt with during school last year. My daughter seemed to lose all muscle memory of socializing with her peers. This happening when socializing with peers at this age was arguably the hardest even without the pandemic was like salt on the wound. She stayed in her bedroom hour after hour trying to stay as engaged as possible while she stared at her screen. She was comfortable reaching out to friends on her own but also didn’t want me to reach out for her. Other than the memories we made together as a family, it was a lost year for her.

My son had a hard time navigating school on a laptop, but it was fewer hours. In hindsight, I should have gotten him help to supplement how little he was getting, but my priority was to keep him moving, social, and outside as much as possible. He was younger and so it was a lot easier to make that happen for him than it was for me with my daughter. He seemed to be getting by okay, but his very rocky adjustment back into school as a fourth-grader makes it apparent how much he lost by missing a year. He is still struggling to catch up and as a parent, it is painful to watch his self-esteem drop the way it has recently. We are giving him the extra help he could have used last year – better late than never.

My daughter’s adjustment back into school this year could not have been more opposite than that of her brother’s. She was a wilting flower that got a drop of water and came fully back to life. She found her ability to socialize again, which I am sure was challenging for all of them, but so very needed. She was so excited to be back in school and took advantage of all it had to offer. She made the tennis team, joined improv again, got super involved with the student council, and auditioned for the play. 

In seventh grade, part of  the required reading was the book “The Outsiders.” This year the school decided it would be the play they would do. One of the many reasons for this choice was that like the characters in the play, the students had all endured a difficult life experience living through the pandemic. Everyone could identify with accepting their situations, trying to re-identify with themselves, and trying to overcome hardship. The play was also about gangs, violence, and the ongoing battle between rich and poor, which in reality was also relatable to a lot of the kids who participated in this production. It is a large school so the roles were double cast to allow more students to participate. 

My daughter got the news that she was cast as Pony Boy, who is the lead character who not only acts with the other characters on stage but also talks directly to the audience narrating as the play moves along. She had wanted a part in a play, but she wasn’t prepared to get the lead, nor was she so sure she wanted it. She worked hard though and in the end nailed every single line. I don’t think I let out my breath until intermission. She blew me away with her focus, acting ability, and dedication. I was proud, I am proud! 

There is a poem by Robert Frost that Pony Boy recites to his best friend Johnny.

Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf’s a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.

Later in the play, Johnny from his death bed explains why he disagrees with it and tells Pony to “Stay Gold.” It is a sweet moment that became the famous quote from “The Outsiders.” Admittedly, I am guilty of poking fun at how cliche that line can be. I even bought my daughter a sweatshirt with the quote on it, because I thought it would be “cute” to have as a memory from her experience. As I watched her on the stage, the words took on a new meaning for me. I watched her with a group of friends, some old, some new, all working together. I watched how she was part of this production along with all the other kids, after being locked inside alone last year. I watched as all of these kids, despite what the world has gone through, were gold again.

The play wasn’t without flaws, it is middle school after all. The wigs were all a bit odd, there was some backstage rumbling into hot mics, and the kids had to do the entire production from behind their masks. It took some effort to figure out whose line was being said by who, since we couldn’t see their faces, but despite it all, they all came alive and were shining. 

The other night my husband was telling me how he had caught up with an old friend. He told me that when they asked him how he was, he had answered that things were really good. I was surprised at his positive spin. He is and has always been a glass-half-full person, but after every blow he has been hit within the last few years, he is still able to focus on our health, home, and family. I admire him for that. I have had a harder time finding all the positives when I can’t quite see the finish line clearly. I appreciate that we are on our way, but I miss working together with people. I miss a sense of community and teamwork. I catch glimpses of it in bits and pieces, but I don’t feel connected quite yet. I feel hopeful and watching these kids reminded me that we can and will all shine again. Even behind the mask, there is a light in our eyes that has been able to “stay gold!”

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

By November

 When my daughter started Kindergarten she cried and clung to me on the first day of school. The teacher’s aide had to take her from my arms as I ran out so no one could see me crying. The next day she wrote a note to us saying, “I’m not goin to school” and then clung to the couch when it was time to go. Other than the missing “g” she had written her note so well that I thought maybe she didn’t even need to go to Kindergarten. We kept taking her back and in those first few weeks, the drop offs didn’t get any easier. The teacher let me know she was okay once she settled in for the day, but saying goodbye each day was brutal. In the second week of school, a mom who had been watching me suffer each morning told me something that I keep reminding myself of lately. She explained that she was a teacher before she had her own kids and she always noticed that each year for some kids, it would take until Halloween for them to settle into the school year. She said there was something about Halloween that helped bring the kids together as a class and she hoped that would be the case for my daughter as well.

She was right and by November my daughter stopped crying at drop off. She started again after every vacation, even after Spring Break with only weeks left to the school year, but she eventually got comfortable at school. Every year since has included some tears, fears, and in most cases both for both of my children when it is time to go back to school. This is hard to watch as a parent, but not unexpected since I also struggled every year to settle into school. At around third grade, my daughter stopped crying on the first day of school, but she is yet to eat anything for breakfast on those first few days due to nerves. In sixth grade, at the beginning of middle school, she had an especially difficult transition. She would get into my car after school and plead with me to let her stay home the next day or to homeschool her. Little did we know then her wish would come true, but by then she had finally settled in.

It is difficult to know as a parent, when to save your child, and when to keep trying. This year my daughter was nervous, didn’t eat, and was not excited to go to school, but it didn't take her long to sink her teeth into school. She acclimated so well this year, which will hopefully be her one (and only) full year of middle school. My son was more excited to go back to school this year. He has had some teary start days in the past. He has gotten scared, clung to me, and needed to be the kid that gets to help the teacher in the morning, so he can be distracted from his sadness. Historically his morning jitters start to pass after the first few weeks. As a second-grader he really loved his teacher and had a pretty great class of kids, but then the pandemic struck and school hasn’t been normal since. 

Last year being home all together, all day, every day, had its challenges. For my son the loss of learning and the loss of the love of learning were impossible to ignore. He would sit in for his obligatory zooms and then the struggle would begin to get him through his independent studies the rest of the day. His tears last year were followed by begging to return to school. When the doors finally opened for the last two months of school, he literally hopped into school he was so excited. Again, he loved his teacher and was so starved for social interaction that nothing could damper his mood. When it ended at the beginning of June we were all sad.

This year he is in fourth grade and after so much loss of learning and loss of time at school, he and a number of kids are working with a staff of interventionists to get them up to par. The school has had a lot of turn around lately though, and with a new teacher and a new principal, it was even more challenging to return to school. Fourth grade is also the year the class sizes go up from twenty four children to thirty. The first day he went in happily since he was thrilled to be back with friends and back to a full day. When I would ask him about his teacher he would respond with one word answers. He went off the second and third day fine as well, but then things started to shift. There were a few situations that came up that seemed out of character for him. He was having trouble navigating conflicts with other kids, being silly when he should be focusing, and shutting down when he didn’t understand school work. A particularly challenging kid is in his class and that has presented more than a few issues. I have received calls, had zooms and emails with his teacher. I even got my first phone call from the principal this year, and I’m taken aback how quickly a child’s disposition can turn so quickly.

It is really a perfect storm of post pandemic, missing a whole grade, and a lack of academic confidence. He has started to cry on the way home from school because the day was hard, crying himself to sleep at night because he doesn’t want to go the next day, and then crying in the morning because he is afraid to go. My husband and I are trying to give him tools to help get him through the day. We try to remind him to take one section of the day at a time. We remind him of the good parts of school that he likes. I pack him up with an arsenal of snacks, positive reinforcement, and a promise to see him a few hours later at pick up. What he is feeling is anxiety and I know it all too well. As someone whose makeup consists of the same fear of new beginnings, my heart breaks for him. I believe in genetics and that generation after generation passes down the will to live, and also the worries about living. Since it is in my nature to lean towards the more anxious side, I need to find ways to nurture his nature now too.

The day-to-day can be considerably more daunting when you add in anxiety. Things seem harder than they need to be, mean more than they need to, and feel scarier too. We are working with him to remind him that he has the ability to turn some of that noise down to a calmer, safer, and healthier volume. We have our work cut out for us, but I also am holding out hope for a magical Halloween, and that things will begin to settle by November.