eight month anxiety
On Memorial Day we went to Lake Michigan with some friends. The day was hot and genuinely summery, the first occasion so far this year to warrant the use of sunscreen. Lake Michigan is about an hour from where we live, and since there were seven of us, we took two cars, and separated by gender. As we drove to the lake alongside the guys’ car, you could almost feel the ridiculousness emanating from within, especially when we stopped for gas, and Rob burst out of the store using a bottle of diet coke as, I think, a microphone, and danced around the parking lot with exaggerated gestures as if performing on stage. Naturally, things were more serious and mature in the ladies’ car, where we spent almost the entire hour talking about more weighty issues such as childhood education– our own and that of our children, and/or future children (didn’t I say weighty?). The choices are: public, private, home school, public, private, home school. We went around the circle several times. Home school is always so quickly dismissed for obvious reasons, but then revisited and reconsidered when the ills of public and private are enumerated. Beth and I were able to testify to the myriad ways we were failed and dumped upon by public school, but then Sarah chimed in with her bitterness toward her private education. On the other hand, she now teaches seventh grade at a public school, and also contributed a handful of grisly statistics about pregnancy rates and sexual activity among fifth graders.
The further we went into this conversation, the more I started feeling something nasty in the pit of my being. Esme, the tiny thing, was asleep and silent and practically non-existent in the car, her little body encased in her rear facing car seat, out of sight, almost out of mind, except that I was now obsessing over her future as a kindergartener. I started remembering the fact that one day I’ll have to make a decision about her schooling. I remember how much I hated elementary school, and felt lost in the shuffle of large classrooms and burned out teachers. Only, when you’re a child, you cannot reason with yourself that the student-to-teacher ratio is the reason why your day at school feels long and loveless. On the other hand, home schooling has never seemed like a viable possibility for me. Private schools, depending on finances, may or may not even be an option, and anyway, they have their own set of huge problems. Basically, childhood is problematic all around, and the idea that I am responsible for making these decisions for a child makes me tremble sometimes. I don’t want to protect her in an artificial bubble, but I don’t want to throw her to the wolves either.
Now I’m thinking, though, that maybe us girls were being ridiculous too, because we were discussing something so concrete as if it was theoretical. I mean, everyone has a different experience of school. My oldest sister, for example, went through the same schools as I did, and loved them. She had tons of friends, and was always really involved with extracurricular activities, worked as a cashier at the grocery store in the afternoons, and basically breezed through with none of the sulkiness that I suffered in reaction to the torture of each grade level. Same parents, same upbringing, same schools, different experience. I don’t know how to make sense of this. I might not know how to make sense of it for Esme either.
Esme is hitting a new stage right now in which she isn’t so sure about letting just anyone hold her. She screamed when our friend John picked her up, probably because of his dark beard, when in the past she has always been very friendly with him. My mom said that, in her child development classes years ago, this was called eight month anxiety. I was glad to put a name to it, and it’s nice and neat when your child behaves according to the book (she just turned eight months old). I suppose the tension and differentiation between family, friends, self, and strangers is finally beginning for her, and will keep on evolving in some form for the rest of her life.
I finally concluded that the only thing I can really do as Esme’s mom is just give myself to her, and to our whole family, in the details of our lives together. I’m trying to do that now, every day, and hoping that, in the end, it will help protect her and bolster her against all of the potential disappointments, dangers, and turmoils that wait for her at her terrible but necessary future school.