By Leta Hamilton
September is here and school is in full swing. The summer passed in a flash and now a new era begins. My oldest, who is six, is in first grade. Last year we did half-day kindergarten, so this is our first year of the Monday to Friday 8:30am to 3pm schedule. With two other children still at home, I have yet to enjoy the freedom I hear so many mothers speak of when they talk about the life that opens up to them when their children are in school. We are still finessing our routine, but I feel it sinking in and it feels good. I am organizing my weeks to include hours where I can work in peace – child free, that is. It costs. Money is the price we are paying to afford this time for me to keep up with my writing projects and radio show preparation. Every moment of every day is about balancing one thing or another.
In this moment of quiet while my baby naps on the couch behind me, I am juggling the laundry with the work. Write one chapter of my book, change loads, write an article, grab a snack, check emails, pray my baby does not wake up before I am done with at least half of my to do list completed. I am still learning how to focus on work even when the kids are home. Is it even possible?
These lifestyle choices are of my own making. I prefer this to going to an office. Will the work I complete during these few precious hours and my feeling of accomplishment give me the internal resources to deal with this evening’s battle to get my oldest to do his 20 minutes of homework? His protests make me wonder if he thinks we are asking him to read War and Peace before bedtime. Yesterday he asked me why I was on his teacher’s “team” instead of his. He constantly reminds me that he is only a kid and that I should not be treating him like a teenager. “There is more to life than reading” is another statement he is fond of making during this battle. All the while he is crying a river of tears.
Every day I wonder if I will handle this evening battle any differently tonight. If I will somehow learn to say just the right thing to make the 20 minutes of homework take less than 60 to even begin. My fear is that by the time I master motherhood, it will be too late and all my children will be out of the house! Whatever personal growth I achieve will benefit my youngest most of all, I fear, leaving my oldest to bear the brunt of whatever shortcomings plague me now. All I know is that the homework keeps coming and somehow, together, we will need to figure out a way to do it without so much drama.
The new challenges we are facing with the new school year pale in comparison to the realization that I must begin now, in earnest, the process of letting go. My oldest is not my “baby” any more. He is growing up, asserting mightily his own point of view, asking me for space, for permission to walk himself home from the bus stop, and for recognition in a thousand small ways that he is no longer so influenced by my way of thinking. I delight (most of the time) in his personality and want to encourage his sense of self without imposing my will on his. This is the lesson of first grade. It is my lesson. Like he shows me so well, the only thing to do is to take life one day at a time. The solution is to realize that there does not always have to be a solution – just the ability to wake up each morning knowing that we have the wherewithal and independence to determine our own destiny.
Leta Hamilton is the author of The Way of the Toddler and also hosts The Way of the Toddler Hour on Seattle’s Alternative Talk Station KKNW 1150am.